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Gaza barber plays with fire

A Palestinian barber in Gaza is giving his clients a unique haircut by straightening and styling their hair with fire.
Palestinian barber Ramadan Odwan styles and straightens the hair of a customer with fire at his salon in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip February 2, 2017. Picture taken February 2, 2017.   REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa       TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX309MG

When a Palestinian barber decided to use fire in his modest beauty salon to style his clients’ hair, the service was immediately controversial. Journalists mocked and misrepresented it. The negativity angered his customers, and their interest in trying the new form of styling only increased.

Ramadan Odwan, owner of the New Look salon in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, beautifully straightens and styles hair with the help of a special formula that he and his team developed. The formula contains creams and natural oils that protect the scalp, nourish the hair and shield it from the intensity of the fire.

Odwan told Al-Monitor, “The heat from the fire barely touches the hair. We use this method to style hair precisely, and we also spray on another special product, after treating the hair with the protective cream. The formula ensures smooth styling.”

Odwan has been working as a barber for 20 years. He said, “This is an old but [currently] innovative method. … I introduced the idea in Gaza. I learned it, developed it and adapted it to my available resources.”

Gaza barbers have been using fire since 1990 to remove ear hair, preferring it to thread, tweezers or blades.

Odwan says his process is gentle enough for brittle hair and can smooth curly hair for a couple of days. Blowtorching is a handy substitute for hairdryers, which can break or be useless during the power cuts that have become frequent since the 10-year blockade imposed on Gaza began.

Odwan first experimented with wigs and then began using the method on people who expressed interest. The technique soon gained popularity. Odwan said, “Palestinian people are adventurous. Some clients have tried blowtorching out of curiosity rather than need.”

Odwan charges 20 shekels ($5.20) for a haircut and fire-straightening. The popular New Look salon sometimes remains open as late as 4 a.m. Many clients book their appointments early.

Odwan credits his highly competent and professional staff with supporting him early on in his endeavor. He noted, “The staff members are special. We meet daily to discuss business and evaluate mistakes.”

According to a customer satisfaction survey, all customers enjoyed the experience and suffered no ill effects.

One client, Yasser, told Al-Monitor, “I was the first to try out blowtorching a month ago out of a sense of adventure. Although I was afraid and did not know what it was exactly, the experience was nice and I went back for more.” He went on, “I had difficulty styling my hair in the past, as it was quite curly. But after trying blowtorching, my hair condition improved and I can easily style it now. I advise all men to try this out. It is fun and beneficial.”

Another customer, Jihad, said he had shabby hair and gave this service a try around two weeks ago after seeing the amazing results on several customers. He told Al-Monitor, “The fire did not damage my hair at all. [The entire process] was amazing and helped nourish and strengthen my hair and improve how it feels.”

Odwan warned amateurs against trying out blowtorching without using a special formula to protect the hair. He advised against it for children, since children’s hair tends to be more fragile. He said it is also not recommended for women's long hair.

Odwan is always thinking about how to develop and improve on his idea, and he has ambitious plans. He said, “I want to reach world-wide fame with this method. I adopted it to keep abreast of technological developments, and I want blowtorching to replace [blowdrying] and show the world that Palestinians are creative and multitalented.”

Dermatologist Wessam Jamil Sekkar said that using fire in hairstyling can be beneficial, adding, “Heat from fire helps straighten the hair, but its overuse is not recommended. It is better than the hairdryer, though, which weakens the hair in the long run due to the intense pulling.”

She told Al-Monitor, “The idea is not [necessarily] harmful, especially since the fire barely touches the hair and the formula nourishes and protects both the scalp and hair. It is also recommended to use a nourishing shampoo and conditioner that is suitable to one’s hair type.”

The barber trade first appeared in the Gaza Strip in 1965 on Gaza City's Fahmi Bek Street. But the constant power cuts force Gaza's barbers, of which there are about a dozen, to improvise. Odwan is Gaza's exclusive blowtorcher, and his formula is a closely kept secret.

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