On Doing Something Really Well


At my Cairo Hair Salon

As always I am tempted to read on my phone to kill the time, but I decide against it. I‘m trying to be more in the moment and to enjoy the ‘now’. So, I sit and watch as Issam, one of my hair dressers at a Lebanese salon in Cairo, is creating art in my hair for the night’s ball. He is working focussed and with precision, but most of all, with confidence. This is what he does, one can clearly see. His hands are moving easily – combing, straightening, curling, calling for pins from his young helper with two other trainees standing behind, looking on eagerly. One day they will be the Issams of the salon, doing the women’s hair for their balls.

The salon is functioning like a little ‘factory’. On arrival, one is greeted by one or more women at the reception, who might be the actual receptionist or one of the beauty consultants (I know they have a smarter title, but I can’t remember it now) who also operate from the premises. But from there on it is a manly affair. First, your hair will be washed and your scalp massaged by one of the eager young apprentices. They all look still fresh out of school – as if they had just made the trip from their home country. This is the part I always enjoy most – the head massaging. I sit back, close my eyes and relax. Very in the moment.

After this the young one leads you to your chair, clothe you in a white coat – not made of plastic, but of fabric – offers you something to drink, and vanishes to get the drink. Then one of the specialists arrives to do the cutting. My haircutting specialist is Charlie. When I first met him he had long hair, a few tattoos and a bit of a boepie (although he is a thinnish man), but he now fashions short hair, a slimmer waist and has a new tattoo of an ECG image in his neck. I like coming to this salon and I like Charlie, because the whole setup reminds me of my childhood. We lived in the small town of Delareyville where oom Peter Diab, also Lebanese, was our hairdresser. He later moved to the neighbour town, Sannieshof, where he bought the wholesaler, but he kept on doing hair, so when I went to high school there, I still got my hair cut by him. These are fond memories. I wonder what had become of the Diab family and all the other Lebanese families I grew up with?

After the cut, Charlie goes on to his next customer and the blow drying expert takes over. Most of the time the same or another washer will come to assist, holding hair, handing over brushes, plugging in the straightener or just standing, watching. Within an hour of arriving, one leaves the salon again. Hair serviced. They run a smooth operation here.

On Being an Expert

I am what people call a bit of “a Jack of all trades and master of nothing”. I can write a little. I can draw and paint a little. I can do mosaic and pewter and decoupage a little. I can do a little crocheting, knitting and needlework. I can make things and build things (like when my husband returned home from work one afternoon and my son, the gardener and I built a braai). I can teach someone to use a computer. I can take photographs and I can make slide shows and short movies with them. I can garden. When my health still allowed it, I could play volleyball, tennis, squash, golf and almost anything else with a ball.  I cycled, ran half marathons, hiked in the mountains and walked (only if I couldn’t do something faster). On top of these things I continually learn to do or make something new. But, my frustration in life, is that I’m not an expert at anything. I really want to be an expert at writing, but that’s another story for another day.

I always look at people who do something really, really well and I wonder how it feels. How does it feel to be a heart surgeon who can remove a piece of someone’s 3mm-in-diameter aorta and replace it with something man-made, pull the even smaller veins through and make it work again? At least I know how it feels to have that done to me and I’m humbled by the precision of someone else’s expertise. How does it feel to be a violinist in a classical orchestra, playing a masterpiece to perfection? How does it feel to be a steno typist in court, recording what is said by everyone with absolute precision and at the speed of real speech day by day?

These people are really professionals. They do this one thing so perfect that they are in demand in their specific field. They are good at it, because they do what they do for hours and hours almost every day of their life. They are not like me scrambling around the house, doing a bit of writing, then fixing trousers, then decide to make a bag, then try to paint something and then get the urge to make ‘art pictures’ on my camera and then get bored. And at the end of the day, none of those things I made are masterpieces. They might look nice or be useful, or they might be a flop, but they definitely aren’t perfect or even really good. I quite enjoy doing so many different things, because I get bored easily – except when I’m writing. I can do that for hours every day. I just wish I did. Maybe I would have been a better writer then and maybe I would be able to write a masterpiece.

I’m not belittling my efforts at all. I like being able to do so many things – even if I don’t do it all that well. It’s just that I really, really admire that excellent Grade 1 teacher who teaches children to read and write within two months from starting school, or the Djokovich or Federer or Murray who can hit a tennis ball precisely where they want to or the neighbour who’s cake is always a success. I think it must be an awesome feeling to do something so good that you know it will almost never fail, that it would almost always be hugely successful. Because later on, even if you do what you do slightly ‘worse’ your good reputation will pull you through. (Not that it works so well for our country’s rugby players.) Because even if the latest John Grisham novel wasn’t as good as all his previous ones, you will keep reading them, because you know that the next one will be on par again. Excellence breeds excellence. I read another version of the saying “Practice makes perfect” somewhere. It goes something like “Practice until you know you can’t fail anymore”.  I want to do just one thing that well!

It is not only heart surgeons and tennis players who impress me though. People doing everyday jobs, like making burgers or sewing socks or putting products in their packaging amazes me. There are a few of these video clips doing the rounds on the net. I always watch them in astonishment, taking off the proverbial hat to them virtually by liking or sharing the clips. (Some of the footage is duplicated in the clips and the resolution isn’t always good, but I’m sure you will be impressed too.) https://youtu.be/vZK5mzj62Pk, https://youtu.be/494dUevcqJM, https://youtu.be/RsnTNCKMaR4, https://youtu.be/wo7qvyqQ_xE

And if you are one of those people who have the ability to do something perfectly well – enjoy it. I salute you!

© 2016  – I, Fielies (also Riëtte) De Kock is trying hard to be an awesomest wife and greatest lover, finest mom and to write some masterpiece – all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s two cats and the space in my head with more ideas and story characters than I can handle.

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