Beauty Schooled in Qatar
Lisa L. Kirchner
As a businesswoman from Pittsburgh, I expected challenges when I moved to Qatar to run a university's marketing department. Qatar is, after all, a Wahabbist Muslim country, and I knew that leading a team in one of the world’s most patriarchal countries would… well let’s say I knew it would be an opportunity for growth. But I took the job because moving to the region was going to be great for my American journalist husband. What I was totally unprepared for was my other half ending our marriage over the phone. From another country.
While I did have my challenges as a woman running a team in a Persian Gulf country, those roadblocks turned out to be not so different from the sexism I’d experienced in the U.S. Learning how to cope with divorce in a country where women are primarily valued as wives and mothers, however, changed everything.
Following his stealth, intercontinental departure, I was so crushed I barely looked in the mirror, and every time I did the picture kept getting worse. I’d already adopted a French twist “style” and, horror of horrors, began coloring my hair myself. I joked that because the local women covered their hair, I didn’t need to worry about mine. In fact I’d had a tough time finding a salon where I fit it; the Filipina women who ran the ladies haircutting cartel in Doha had no idea what to make of my limp American locks. Then after the divorce I told myself it didn’t matter because I was living in a country where it was illegal to date.
Months passed. My 40th birthday loomed. As luck would have it, Michel – a hot stylist from Lebanon – hit the scene. I was ready for the passive transformation of a salon.
At the entrance to his shop I was greeted by a woman who fastened a gold lame cape around my neck then led me to my chair. Michel was working the room, chatting up his employees, three very attractive men who seemed to be his old and dear friends. There was a playful banter in the room, a combination of French and English and Arabic that was so particularly Lebanese. Umm Michel, mother of Michel, I heard one of them say to the woman who’d put on my cape. How adorable. Only a hairdresser would bring his mother to Qatar.
As he massaged my head and we talked about styles, I was amused to feel aroused by his caresses. Given my situation however, I imagined I’d have felt the same had it been his mother palpitating my scalp. Besides the fact that I was in my sexual prime, there was something about living in a country where the women shrouded their bodies and the men wore dresses that had me thinking about sex all the time.
A beautiful woman walked into the shop. She was heavily made up and stuffed into a tight t-shirt and jeans. Michel bounded toward her for three kisses (hello, hello, hello, the Lebanese tradition). Then he turned to introduce us. “My fiancé,” he smiled.
Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but a bad experience with a straight male hairdresser had made me vow never again. Unaccustomed to the undivided attention of a heterosexual man taking scissors to my head, I’d paid scant notice to what he was actually doing to my hair. I figured he’d know best what would make me sexy. I ended up with two dangling tendrils on either side of my face, Billy goat style. Not that I could blame him, I’d gone along with him every step of the way. And back then I was doing just fine. In my current state, I dreaded the thought of what hairstyle I might get.
Or maybe Michel was gay? More to the point, how will I ever get back on the dating scene if my gaydar was broken?
I took a deep breath. Life in Qatar had made me acutely aware that my preconceived ideas about people and their motives were not serving me well. What I did know was this, when I didn’t know what to do, the best thing to do, was nothing. That was why I hadn’t left the country, and why I stayed in Michel’s shop.
One of the assistants took me to the back to wash my hair, and by the time I returned Michel and his fiancé appeared to be arguing. I stared openly, wanting to understand.
What made people decide to be boyfriend and girlfriend? How did you make the leap from, “hello” to, “good morning”? Was I really going to learn someone new? Figure out how he liked his coffee, how he felt about his mother. How he felt about my mother.
Then the hair dryer was out. An hour and a half had passed with me in that state. Michel looked jubilant in the mirror. “Now you are more you,” he pronounced, fingering my hair. “Beautiful and a little bit wild.”
It was a ridiculous thing to say – this guy didn’t know what was more or less me – but I lapped it up. I blushed in the mirror as I tried to think of a pithy reply, always good to practice.
Before I could come up with anything, Michel undid my cape and moved his hands to my neck and jaw, to tilt my head back and kiss me, if kiss would be the right word to describe what happened. His “technique” employed a suction action, wherein he clamped down on my lips and vacuumed them into his maw. He released me just as an employee/friend rounded the corner.
Was that weird or did I like it? Did I want him to do it again? Was that how all Lebanese men kissed. Would he do the same between my legs?
The next step in the process was typically payment, so I grabbed my bag and moved to the register where Michel waited. He accepted only a fraction of the cost. Why some? So the employee/friend didn’t get suspicious?
I was almost at my car when I heard the footsteps. The air rarely dipped below body temperature in Doha. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d heard the sound of someone overtaking me. No one walked anywhere. It was Michel.
Between panic, recognition, and opening my car door, I decided I wanted him to maul me a little. His relationship troubles weren’t my problem, and maybe gave us both reason for discretion. My marital status was directly tied to my employee benefits, and I’d not yet made public my impending divorce. “Drive,” he said as he got in the car.
When we parked Michel rubbed his thick yet nimble fingers over my body, suctioning and pawing while my internal stupor continued.
Could I possibly go through with this? Should I blow off the dinner I was supposed to be going to? Was this going bruise my lips?
Then suddenly his penis was in my hand. Not since high school had a cock in my palm felt so out of place. Much as I wanted to move on, I wasn’t ready for some clod who didn’t know me well enough to sense my hesitation.
“Oh, hey, I have to go!” I said as I shoved both hands into my pockets. “I have a dinner party to get to.”
“Finish me,” he panted.
What? Finish you? What about me? Didn’t I meet your fiance two hours ago? Get her to do the job. Then you can finish me. Except, never mind, because you just showed me everything I need to know about you.
“Listen,” was what I said. “Be a good boy and show me you know how to wait and draw out your pleasure. Because I really have to leave.”
As we silently drove back to the salon I wondered what had become of me. There was a time I would’ve booted him out the door and made him walk back in the blistering heat. At least slapped him. What happened to that chick?
As I pulled away however I caught my reflection in the rearview. I did look fabulous. “I hope I can go back,” I thought as I approached my colleagues at the Movenpick’s Saturday buffet. It was a weekly gathering that it had taken me two years in Qatar to even be invited to join. Before marching over to fill up a plate I leaned in for hello kisses. We all did that now.
“Hey, Lisa,” said Ben, rising to pull out my chair. Ben was a relative newcomer to campus, but he’d wormed his hot young self right into this group. As we sat he leaned toward me and lifted his hand to my face. Had Michel made me irresistible?
“Is that a bruise on your lip?” he asked.
I did return to Michel’s shop, and the transformation continued. Part of that was understanding what I brought to the table in terms of my own sexism. I was fully willing to put my own preferences aside for men, and I didn't see it at the time. I love Women's History Month for recalling the stories of our past, because that is how we move forward.
Lisa Kirchner is an author, storyteller, and yogi her book Hello, American Lady Creature: What I Learned as a Woman in Qatar, is due out with Greenpoint Press in March, 2014.