My silent world: How mobile salon helped Musuya survive lockdowns

Ms Irene Musuya on her way to meet her client  in Lira last Tuesday. PHOTOS/ IRENE ABALO OTTO

What you need to know:

  • In this first instalment of the series, My Silent World, we meet Ms Musuya who runs a mobile salon despite having a hearing impairment. 

Uganda registered its first case of Covid-19 in March 2020. Since then, the government has come up with a number of restrictions in a bid to curb the spread of the virus. 

These include two lockdowns, curfew, standard operating procedures, closing of schools and churches among others.

These have, however, affected many people’s businesses which have since closed after failing to make ends meet.
However, some used the period to tap into new ways to make the businesses continue. 

For those with hearing impairment, the challenge of communication with clients who are mainly the hearing community needs creativity and passion to survive.

One of these is Ms Irene Musuya, 29, a resident of Lira City, who has resorted to  providing mobile salon services to her clients. Ms Musuya meets her clients at their homes or offices .  
“I was not working but when I got training in hairdressing from NUDIPU [National Association of Disabled Persons of Uganda, Lira branch], I gained experience and started braiding clients’ hair. We communicated on the phone and they started calling me to their homes and offices to work on them,” Ms Musuya says with a smile. 

She adds: “I worked in a salon to gain experience and know how to plait different hairstyles. One day, I was plaiting the hair of a hearing person and she appreciated my work. We shared contacts and she recommended me to another friend. That is how I started getting customers to go to.”

Ms Musuya says clients always send her text messages to make appointments and give her directions to their location. 

Ms Musuya decided to learn hair styling 10 years ago after her poor performance in the Primary Leaving Examinations.

She scored Aggregate 31.  Her performance discouraged her from joining secondary school and she later got married in Lira City.  

“When I moved to Lira, my husband encouraged me to do hairdressing yet my parents wanted me to do tailoring,” Ms Musuya said through a sign language interpreter. 
With support from her husband, Ms Musuya has plans to grow and start up her own beauty salon. She says she is free to work as long as she has clients.  

Before the lockdown, she plaited her clients’ hair from morning up to midnight, moving from one client to another.  
At first, she charged her clients between Shs10,000 to Sh15, 000 but as more clients demanded her service and she gained experience in various hair styles including pencil (cornrows), the charges changed to between Sh20,000 to Shs30,000. 

She would plait three to four clients a day but the number has reduced to one or non during the Covid-19 period.  
The curfew that limits movement between 5.30am and 7pm also means that Ms Musuya has to finish her work by 5pm to reach home in time.

On Tuesday last week,  Daily Monitor caught up with her as she was preparing to meet a hearing client who knew basic sign language. 

 By 8am, Ms Musuya was ready to go to work.  She carried a small black bag where she kept her hairdressing tools including different combs, wig, sewing needles, and thread, among others.

She rode her motorbike to the National Association of Disabled Person of Uganda, (NUDIPU), Lira branch to meet colleagues and hopefully get more clients. 

She always hangs around the association premises to wait for clients since her home is about two kilometres away from town. 

Ms Musuya says it is through her interactions with friends that she is able to get clients or connections to do business.

Ms Irene Musuya plaits a client’s hair at her home in the outskirts of Lira City last week. PHOTO/IRENE ABALO OTTO 

On this particular day, her client stays three kilometres away from her home and she plans to ride there in less than 20 minutes.  

She learnt how to ride a motorbike to reduce her spending on transport and be flexible with her schedules with clients. She co-owns the motorbike with her husband who is a builder.  

One would wonder how Ms Musuya manages to use the road without hearing other road users but she says she uses vibrations of sounds around her to stay safe and pays attention to the road safety rules while on the road. 
Her client wanted a cornrows hairstyle (pencil) so she stopped by a shop on her way to buy the braids. 

Ms Musuya always makes sure she is understood whenever she interacts with people. 
If one has not understood her sign language or gestures, Ms Musuya writes down what she wants on a piece of paper. 

Fact...About sign language
Sign languages use the visual-manual modality to convey meaning. 
They are expressed through manual articulations in combination with non-manual elements. Sign languages are full-fledged natural languages with their own grammar and lexicon.

In most communities where there are no professional sign language interpreters and the person does not know how to read or write, gestures are used. 

The gestures or symbols in sign language are organised in a linguistic way. Each individual gesture is called a sign. Each sign has three distinct parts: the handshape, the position of the hands, and the movement of the hands. 

Although both signs and gestures involve the use of the hands (with other parts of the body), they are rather different. Sign is like speech and is used instead of speaking, whereas gestures are mostly used while speaking.  The gestures are just part of the communicative act being performed.

Mr Hamza Oteng,  a sign language interpreter with National Association of Disabled Persons of Uganda, (NUDIPU) says persons with hearing impairment concentrate and are efficient while working. 

“Trust them and give them chances to work. When a deaf person is working, they do not have time to converse because the hand which they use for communication is already busy. So they are efficient and work well with teams is you appreciate them well,” Mr Oteng says.  

He says whereas persons with hearing impairment have challenges communicating with the hearing community, they should be supported to enable their ideas and businesses to grow.