Saying Goodbye to a Haircut

Peace Corps / Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Today I began to say goodbye.

I’ve mused before about haircuts in Ukraine. It was a simple post that boiled down to, I have a great woman who cuts my hair here because she knows what I want without me having to jump through hoops in Russian to explain it. I walk in, sit down, she asks, “Как всегда?” and I replied, “Да.” (“Like usual?” “Yes.”). It’s easy and wonderful and I’m going to miss it.

I had planned out my haircuts earlier this year and decided that at the beginning of every other month I’d get it cut, setting the last cut for early October (or December if I ended up staying that long). It’s early October and it was time to say goodbye.

How do you thank a woman who has said very little to you yet understood so well? I’m not good at gifts and I’m trying to get better at expressing my thanks. I asked around and ended up deciding that a box of chocolates would be sufficient (though in retrospect I wish I could have given her a chocolate factory because she deserves it). Boxes of chocolate are standard in Ukraine. I made a trip to the store last night and was ready for my haircut this morning.

I found myself putting it off. I was nervous and afraid to say goodbye. I knew there’d have to be an explanation about why I’m giving her a box of chocolates. I knew there was a chance someone would get a little emotional (knowing very well it would be me, and I did get that lump of sadness in my throat). Then I forced myself to walk across the courtyard to get my last Ukrainian cut.

As I entered the room, she was cleaning up from her earlier customer. I waited, box of chocolates in hand, to say to her in Russian, “These are for you. Today is my last time here because in November, I will return to America. I want to say thank you. When I come in and all I need to do is sit down, then you ask, ‘Like usual,’ and I respond, ‘Yes,’ it makes  it very, very not difficult. Thank you.”

She gladly accepted my gift and set about giving me one of the best haircuts of my life. Once, while cutting, she asked me if I liked Konotop and if I will miss it. I explain, of course I like Konotop. It’s a great city with a calm, but not too calm life. I’ll miss it very much. But it will be nice to be home and see my friends and family again. I know I’ll miss my friends here, too.

Then she finished. I stood up, nodded and smiled my approval of the cut. When I reached for my wallet, she only smiled and shook her head no. I didn’t put up a fuss because I knew she wanted to give me a gift. My time in Ukraine has taught me that gifts shouldn’t be denied. They should be accepted graciously because it’s someone saying thank you, whether you know why or not. I smiled back and said, “Спасибо.”

It’s funny, though, that I never learned her name. I considered asking from time to time, but somehow it felt like it might ruin things. In the end, her name isn’t important for remembering how she affected my time in Ukraine. I’ll remember her face without her name and I’ll remember what she did, without her name. She can embody every Natasha, Vlada, Vika, and Anya that ever did something to make my life a bit easier in Ukraine. She’s every shop keeper, waitress, and postal clerk whose name I didn’t know but who tolerated my broken Russian with patience. She’s my hairdresser and if you’re ever in need of a haircut in Konotop, Ukraine, let me know and I’ll gladly point you in the direction of her services.

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