I am back in Mexicali (for the time being) but I was so busy during the last few weeks that I didn’t get to finish some of my posts talking about the interesting people I’ve met – and places I’ve seen.. I certainly don’t want to skip over Wilmer Villa.
He’s not famous, nor is he a surgeon – but just like so many of the people I’ve met in Colombia – he has a story to tell. It’ didn’t start as an interview, but then it rarely does – it started out as a visit to a salon on Calle 115 No 59 – 35 with a friend. But as Wilmer talked about his new salon (his first), and we celebrated the one month anniversary of his shoppe, a story started to form.
No, he hasn’t invented a cure for cancer – or even a way to arrest the relentless aging process. But he has managed to create a tranquil little spot in the middle of Bogotá for people to come and enjoy themselves for a few hours.
It hasn’t been easy – but with the help of a good friend (and long-time client), Alcira Acosta de Chaves, Wilmer was able to move out of the previous salon where he had a chair to establish his own salon. It’s a dream that has been several years in the making – which is obvious as soon as you enter the salon.
Everything is immaculate; organized and set out in a classically elegant black/white and silver scheme that evokes the 1940’s heyday of glamour. But it’s more than just a place for a haircut or a manicure, Wilmer. 27, states. It’s the entire package – the total experience, he explains, as he pours a client a cup of herbal tea.
“People can come here and get away from all the negative, and the stress [of their daily lives.] We are here for more than just hair, and make-up. we are here for laughter, smiles and good times with friends.
His cheerful attitude is infectious, and as clients come in, he and Almira take time to explain the philosophy of the shop, and the experience. “I want this place to be different” – it’s not a place for catty remarks, or cutting down of self-esteem. It’s not about malicious gossip or sarcasm, ” We don’t need any of that here,” he says. “It’s a place for people to form long-term relationships, share celebrations, milestones and happy events,” he adds. And he means it – as each person enters, he greets them by name, they share a smile or a silly story.
It’s nice – and certainly different from many of the other salons in the area. It isn’t about the up sell, or preying on women’s insecurities about their looks to sell services*. They seem to genuinely enjoy their customers and in making their clients look and feel their best.
Wilmer, the child of a Colombian mother and a Venezuelan father, was born Cucuta, near the border. He grew up in Chinacota, Colombia near the border with Venezuela. He attended cosmetology school in Perico before coming to Bogotá.
After finishing school, he come to Bogotá to apprentice with several well-known stylists such as Hernan Abandano, and received a scholarship for additional training as a colorist. He eventually received international certifications as a stylist and colorist – and has been a stylist for seven years.
He talks about how these experiences have shaped his life, and his outlook. “I like to meet people from different places, and hear more about their lives. I am learning English because I enjoy meeting and talking to Americans – and hearing their ideas and perspectives.”
Maybe Wilmer isn’t changing the world – but he is making it a more pleasant place.
*There is nothing more disheartening in my opinion than going for a manicure than being offered, “How about if we fix your hair” or “some Botox for those wrinkles”.. Or some other, more personal reminders that beauty, particularly in Latin America, is sometimes seen as more important that what’s inside.