30 years clipping hair under a tree

Monday March 5 2018

clipping hair, under tree, Emmanuel Byaruhanga, Barber, Denis Okaka

Byaruhanga applies soap lather on a client’s head before shaving it. PHOTO BY MORIS MUMBERE.  


With the advancement in technology world over, some machines could almost be rendered obsolete. However, Emmanuel Byaruhanga, 47, in Kasese district has defied this and continued to make ends meet daily by trimming his customers’ hair with his old manual hair clipper. This is hand-operated by pressing the two handles and spreads back to position by help of a spring fixed in between. It has two blades that slide over each other as one presses the handles to allow the blades to trim the hair in the same way the electric shavers do, but faster.

Byaruhanga maintains his makeshift under the tree salon which he has run for the last 30 years in Kasese town and his customers have not let him down. It remains the only such salon in the district. “I receive more than 30 clients who pay Shs 2,000 each daily,” Byaruhanga says.
The modern salons that use electronic hair trimmer charge between Shs 1,000 and Shs 20,000 depending on status quo and locality. Thirty years down the road, the father of four regards his trade as the most beneficial job which has improved and made life easy for him.

Byaruhanga who hails from Kanyarubonga Village, Bulembia Division in Kasese Municipality always watched people trim hair at different barbershops in his village and he picked interest in the trade.

In his village, it was done under trees too but using a pair of scissors. With the advancement of technology, came the hair clippers. And he chose to join the venture.
“I started shaving hair with Shs 50,000 which I used to buy three clippers each at Shs 10,000 and one chair at Shs 20,000 in 1987,” Byaruhanga recalls.
“During that time, people were not familiar with the practice of applying [methylated] spirit after shaving and protective sheets to avoid hair dirtying the clients dressed up clothes,” he says.

To ensure cleanliness Byaruhanga applies soap on the head of the client before shaving to soften the hair so that it does not cause a lot of pain while shaving. He makes sure all machines are cleaned with disinfectants before using them on any other client to avoid spreading germs to other clients.

Why people love clippers
Some of his clients prefer the environment at Byaruhanga’s salon. because of fresh air. “I do not sweat profusely like in other electric-operated salons,” Joy Kagango, a client says. Others who will swear by a manual clipper like Moses Mumbere. “The clipper Byaruhanga uses does not cause pimples and other skin diseases compared to the electric shavers which are said to cause skin rashes.”
Other clients say Byaruhanga is more mature and hospitable compared to the many youths who work in most salons and barbershops in town. And that the manual clipper does not heat up like the electric ones.

Swaleh Muhammad, another of the regular client says, “I have used a clipper for shaving for more than 20 years and the day I use the electric one, my body develops swellings, rashes, and I develop a headache that lasts more than two days due to the vibrations.”
He adds, “The moment I use electric machines I’m forced to come back to Byaruhanga to use his manual clipper to remove the remaining hair on my body.” For Naume Biira, the only person who does smart haircuts in the entire district is Byaruhanga. “Those who use electric machines change the actual design of the client’s hair and desired cut due to being speedy and working to get more clients. Sometimes, the latter do not ask what the client wishes to shave,” Biira explains.

Biira adds, “As parents we do not wish to use electric machines on young children since the clippers do best without causing pimples and vibrations which scare children.”
This does not come without challenges, rain disrupts his schedule and he cannot do much about it. “Sometimes it rains heavily and I cannot do much but stay home. I also find it hectic and get worn out when I have many clients,” Byaruhanga says as he wipes beads of sweat using a white handkerchief.

Okaka’s 20 years earning from his tree salon

clipping hair under tree Emmanuel Byaruhanga Barber Denis Okaka

Denis Okaka trims a client’s hair. PHOTO BY ISAAC OTWIIclipping hair, under tree, Emmanuel Byaruhanga, Barber, Denis Okaka

If you went to any bodaboda stage in Lira town and asked for a barber (kinyoozi) chances are Denis Okaka’s name would top the list. Everybody seems to know him. Okaka is known for his under tree salon where he uses non-electric clippers, wooden and plastic combs and razor blades to shave people’s hair.

When you engage Okaka under a mango tree at Mayor’s Garden, Lira Town, he is welcoming, persuasive, experienced and knowledgeable as he lectures you about hygiene. First , the neatly swept work space is hard to miss. Okaka sweeps his site as soon as he finishes attending to a client.
“My clients should not sit or step on other people’s hair. I wipe the seats and sweep away the hair immediately the client leaves. I do not like seeing other people’s hair and I feel the same way for my clients,” he adds.

His site is covered by two mango trees and occupies about a 20ft by 25ft. The trees give a soothing atmosphere. The site is surrounded by green grass making you comfortable as he attends to you or as you wait.
“No one has ever come and left my salon complaining. First of all, I have a natural ‘air conditioner’. I engage with my clients as I attend to them so that they do not feel bored,” he adds.

Okaka says he reads newspapers, watches TV, listens to radio in addition to associating with people who know the trending news in town so that he discusses same stories with his clients. However, he controls himself so that he does not irk his clients.
“I apologise whenever I realise that my discussion could have rubbed my client the wrong way,” Okaka explains.

Cutting his teeth
The 32-year-old ventured into this job when he was 16 years old. At the time he had dropped out of school because his parents could not afford his school fees. While on the streets, he befriended an old man who was popularly known as Uncle Kaviiri a nickname he had earned from his barber job.
“He was shaving hair on a verandah at Oyite Ojok lane. I spent several months watching how he was shaving hair using clippers and razor blades. Later on, I asked him to train me and he did,” Okaka says.

However, uncle Kaviiri could not share his skills free of charge. He charged him Shs100,000 for the training that lasted six months.

Turning points
He believes that was the least compared to what he has benefited from his job.
“This job helped me to get the money I used for bride price. It is the same that feeds my family and the savings helped me build a small family home,” he says.

Okaka says his job does not stress like other jobs. He once got a job at a hardware shop but he could not handle the pressure that came along as he would be expected on job as early 6am and would sometimes leave after 10pm.
“I wanted a job that could earn me more money. At the time I wanted money to marry. But the job I got was stressful and I chose to remain self-employed. This job does not give me much money but it gives me peace,” he says.

Indeed, he does not earn big as he makes between Shs300,000 to Shs500,000 monthly. He charges Shs1,000 to Shs2,000 per head and in a day he earns Shs10,000 to Shs20,000.

Okaka explains that what has kept his clients loyal is because he does not indulge in bad activities such as fighting, rumour mongering and he does not allow gambling around his work place. He advises that any businessman should try to keep a good reputation whether at work, home or any public place. “You will lose clients once you are associated to bad groups. You must be smart and respect clients irrespective of their age and status,” he says.

James Aleppo, a frequent client, stresses that manual hair shaving reduces chances of getting skin related diseases since in modern salons a pair of clippers would be used on more than 20 people in a day.
“I cannot get skin diseases because every person comes with his or her razor blade. They have several clippers and some are treated for hours before they are used,” Aleppo says.
Okaka’s under tree salon is faced with among other challenges rain, sunshine and dishonest clients. “Sometimes it rains for three days and I spend my savings. It is tiresome because it involves a lot of standing and bending,” he says.

Advice to the youth
Do not to be too hungry for money as this could land them into trouble or lose their life. This, he says basing in scenarios where youth have been burnt to death after being caught in burglary or robbery. “I had a friend who was killed by stoning because he was caught stealing. I felt bad because he was a young man who could have used the energy he had to earn money in good ways,” he recalls. Okaka emphasises that youth should not despise jobs, and they should avoid gambling, alcohol, and drug abuse.
Okaka has also bought himself a plot of land where he hopes to build some rentals that would widen his income. Other than money, he says his under tree saloon has earned him social capital and he does not need to introduce himself in the town.
“I can’t imagine where you would have found me if it wasn’t this job. We are many people in this Lira town but it is only me you have chosen to profile. I’m comfortable with my job,” Okaka adds.