Mundua: Arua’s barber who has mastered the Janet cut

Sunday September 12 2021
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Man at work. Mundua attends to a client . PHOTO/ ANGELA NAMPEWO

By Angella Nampewo

When I travelled to Arua, I had it at the back of my mind that my hair needed trimming. Since I cut my hair a few months ago, only one barber has touched it up, in Kampala. The hair had now far outgrown the regular two inches or so. I knew I would not be able to live with it for a fortnight in Arua. 

I found Yasmin Salon by accident. It happened to be in the neighbourhood of a supermarket I went to for last minute supplies, having landed in Arua by night the previous evening. The salon appeared busy. Through the wide entrance, barbers were visible across the street as they went about their craft. It seemed to be a polished establishment on a well-kept street corner on Central Lane in Arua City.

The salon is one of about three high-end places in the city. It is furnished with padded leather seats in lime green at every station, fancy fittings and the kind of customer service that goes the extra mile. The ambience certainly inspired confidence that they knew what they were doing. I made a mental note to return and cut my hair there when I had the time. 

My first Sunday afternoon in Arua seemed like the perfect time for hair cutting. The salon was busy, with every barber and hairdresser station engaged. The receptionist seemed to know straight away which of the barbers would deliver the perfect hair cut for me; a dark-skinned guy of medium height with a clean-shaven head who was finishing up on another client’s head. While I waited, another member of staff walked by to confirm my order and when I said I needed trimming, he pointed to the same guy I had earlier been shown and assured me, “you will not be disappointed.”

The Jackson
That guy was Jackson Mundua and when he cut my hair, I was not disappointed. He cuts with every modern barbering tool and then some. I was particularly impressed with his handling of the scissors. I was soon to find out the secret behind his expertise. 

Mundua asked only one question before he began cutting. He inquired how I wanted my hair cut. I said I needed a trim for the hair to regain shape. Then he proceeded to cut and within minutes, he had converted my unruly and curly afro into a shapely cut, which surprised even me.

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Fortunately, Mundua works fast because almost as soon as he was done cutting, there was a power outage. Electricity supply in Arua can be erratic. It is an old problem that continues to plague the rapidly expanding city. Arua is one of seven municipalities that were elevated by Parliament to city status in July last year. 

Mundua’s haircut which was accompanied by a facial scrub and vigorous shampoo by the friendly salon staff, transformed me straightaway into a respectable figure. I had arrived in the salon looking like a tourist and now I resembled a lady. Apparently, I was not the only one who thought so. A male customer—a total stranger—moved up and struck up a conversation as I waited for my regular boda boda cyclist to pick me up. This chatty stranger asked if I knew one of the female Members of Parliament. He said they were friends and she had just got a short hairstyle like mine after the January 2021 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. When I inquired why he was asking me about her, he said the MP had told him that some women tended to cut their hair a certain way when they were getting close to the circles of political power.

This stranger then asked me point blank if I had any links with State House. As my boda boda later remarked, Mundua had given me what is popularly termed the Janet Cut and apparently Mundua is well-known as the go-to guy in Arua for women who want to cut their hair this way. The short haircut is so named after the familiar cut of Uganda’s First Lady Janet Museveni’s hair. 

Mundua who has been in the hairdressing business for at least 24 years now, started with what he calls “the local machine” (clipper) and scissors in his neighbourhood when he dropped out of school in Primary Six after his father’s death. With no prior training, Mundua and his cousin started their barbershop under a tree near the airfield in Arua, cutting hair with scissors and the crude “clippers”. 

Tough background
Mundua spent most of his childhood in Congo when his family fled into exile during the war that ousted Idi Amin.The family returned to Uganda from exile in 1987. Mundua’s father returned first, to Ariwara, then later brought his family to Arua.

Following his father’s death in 1996, Mundua’s family was left without a breadwinner and the boy had to step in to support his siblings. Mundua is the first born of his mother’s six children. 
“My mum separated with my dad in 1990. In December 20, 1996, my father died and I started looking after my followers [siblings] who were alone. My mum was also moving up and down, looking for something for survival,” he recalls.
It was then that Mundua decided he could not go back to school. There were more pressing matters to handle at home;—food and school fees for his siblings Mundua dropped out of school in Primary Six. Like his hairdressing skills, much of his spoken English is self-taught. 

“We start[ed] this business with my cousin (brother), with scissors, [cutting] ladies’ hair. From ladies’ hair, there is a friend [also getting interesting on us], who said, let me buy for you these local machines. Then we opened under the tree near the airfield,” Mundua explains in basic, fractured English.
One of Mundua’s friends who saw him operating his makeshift barbershop under a tree in the village, told him, “You cannot keep working here. You must extend to town.” That is how Mundua came to set up shop as a barber in then Arua town. 

Moving

Moving from the village at an early age to strike out on his own in the city was no piece of cake but as Mundua says, he had no choice. His family had to survive and the responsibility for that sat squarely on his teenage shoulders. 
“That time, there was [hardly any] electricity in Arua. There was electricity but it would start at six in the evening. They [the power company] would switch off at midnight, so you had to work during daytime at the local (village) salon and then in the nighttime, you come to town.” 

Asked how they managed to juggle such a schedule, especially as young people working after hours, Mundua says they would sneak into town when municipal offices had closed and the staff had gone home. His boss eventually bought a solar kit and a battery, which made it easier to work in town. With work more steady in the urban centre, Mundua left the village operation to his cousin and settled in town to make a living. From the two operations, the cousins would share their earnings.

“I can plait hair, I can treat hair,” says Mundua, who says he learnt it all on the job. Trainees from hairdressing courses now come to Mundua to practise their craft and “prove themselves” and for that, he charges some fees, which he shares with the salon owner who provides the space for this training.

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The man. Jackson Mundua cuts a pose during the interview. PHOTO/ANGELA NAMPEWO

Plans
Mundua would like to retire soon from hairdressing but going into retirement without an alternative steady income has proved a challenge for him. He has undergone training to learn how to make culverts but as a sub-contractor on road engineering projects, he has fallen prone to the often long payment delays, which affect his earnings and investment. 
Mundua is also faced with more family responsibility. He is married and has four children. He has built a house for his family. His five siblings have grown up and now live independent lives, in and outside the country. 

“All of them have finished university and all of them are working,” says Mundua, with pride. Mundua did what he could to educate his siblings until his aunt, who is based in Kampala, took over. Mundua feels that he has done well, at least managing to build his family a house; something his dad was unable to do before he passed away. 
“I am used to this life, because I can get anything I want. I can get (small) money for my kids and I can take them to school,” explains Mundua, who says his occupation pays him enough to get by for now.  

From his salon job, he earns a percentage per head. For every day not worked, Mundua does not earn. 
“Very soon, if God says yes, I want to retire,” says Mundua, adding that after two to three years, he will be unable to send his children to secondary school on his current income.

“I am still looking for a way to earn more money. I did not go to school but I want my children to go to school,” he concludes. 

Try the short hairstyle
When I tried short hair, I felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders (both literally and figuratively). I always hid behind my long hair; it was like my safety blanket.

When I first discussed cutting my hair short with my friends, many of them expressed concern that boys wouldn’t find me attractive with shorter hair. Some people applauded my bravery for cutting off my hair and said they would never be able to pull it off. But you can and should try short hair. If you’re happy with short hair, then no one else’s opinion should matter. Feel free to redefine societal beauty standards! Here are some perks of having short hair.

It’s a liberating experience. 
I feel like an entirely new person. Short hair gave me confidence and a more professional, polished look. I even feel more feminine with shorter hair. Short hair can be more flattering than long hair as it brings more attention to your facial features. It’s a great way to change up your look. If you’re thinking about experimenting with short hair, a long bob or “lob” is a great starting point.

It’s low-maintenance
With my long hair, I was either straightening it or curling it every morning. Now I can embrace my hair’s natural texture. I wake up, tousle and scrunch my naturally curly hair, and maybe add some product to define my curls. Sea salt spray is an easy way to get that beach wave look. Short hair also air-dries incredibly fast. This means I can sleep in longer since I can get ready faster with less styling time.

It’s convenient
I never carry hair ties anymore because my hair is always off the back of my neck. I can go to the gym or dance practice without worrying about my hair. It also helps during the summer to combat the heat.
It’s fun. Hair flips and dancing with short hair are some of the best feelings. Lighter locks naturally give your hair better bounce and movement.

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