15 Minutes with Anshu, Expert Eyebrow Threader and Community Builder
I might’ve said too much for a first visit, but Anshu’s warmth had a way of dissolving my worry. To my emotional overspilling, Anshu said she will take care of me from now on.
I told Anshu how excited I was to have a threading salon down my block. I also told her how insecure I had been feeling in my literal and figurative skin. I noted the blemishes in my skin tone and ascribed them to the drabness that permeated my general mood. I even told her about how I came to this neighborhood: my self-inflicted obligation to college friends.
Beyond my peers, I had a deep desire to find a community here, as a way of dissipating my feelings of stagnancy. I might have told her a bit too much for a first visit, but her natural warmth already had a way of dissolving my worry. To my emotional overspilling, Anshu said that she will take care of me from now on.
Anshu has always been a restless caretaker. Right now, she’s in the business of taking care of her customers’ facial hair and skincare needs. In her past life, she was responsible for taking care of her clients’ financial needs. I learned this on a summer afternoon when Anshu asked me about my job. She might have been the first person to ever light up at the mention of my career in finance. She herself used to work as a banker for six years in Kathmandu, Nepal. She was born in nearby Nawalparasi and had moved to Kathmandu when she was sixteen to attend high school.
In 2012, she reconnected with an old school friend, Mahan KC, who later asked her to be his girlfriend. Mahan had been living in America since 2008 and was visiting home. She denied the request and instead suggested he consider marriage. Anshu was twenty-five, which was too late, she said, to be noncommittal. They married that same year and Mahan left to go back to America soon after, while she continued her banking career in Nepal.
Anshu rejoined her husband in El Cerrito, California, in 2016. “When I got here, some of my friends said that, if I wanted a job in finance, I needed to work really hard,” Anshu tells me. “My English wasn’t so good either, so they suggested I do something in the beauty industry.” After only a month in America, she started esthetics school. She doesn’t talk much more about her time in finance, other than that she knew she was good at her job—a sort of blunt self-assurance I wish I possessed about my own career.
At school, she learned the ins and outs of waxing, facials, lash extensions, and makeup application. Anshu studied one part of the week and worked the other in a threading salon in Walnut Creek, where she picked up her main trade.
“My first one and a half years in America were really hard,” she tells me on the afternoon of our interview. We had decided to meet at the park across from Allure on a Monday she had off, so that she could take time to form her words without the stress of running her business. “During that time, I felt like I was going into depression. I haven’t even told my husband, but I am telling you.”
I smiled at the thought of her digesting her own past as she inculcated me with a desire to unpack my own. The last time we spoke about my own mental health was a couple months prior. I had an especially bad day and Anshu offered to give me my first facial. As she turned off the lights and smoothed my face over with toner, she whispered kind words until I felt so calm that I fell into a quick nap in her salon chair.
At the park, Anshu recalls her muddled mental state when she first came to the United States. Above all else, she says, she just felt that everything was too new. She had jumped into school not knowing anything about beauty. She knew English and she could understand it when she was in Nepal, but she could not keep up with the pace people spoke it here. It had all become too much, too fast.
But her husband and her friends provided her with the safety net she needed, giving her the space to speak exactly as she intended. As she gained more confidence talking to her peers and to clients during her part-time work, she began to trust her soft demeanor and kind intentions to fill in the gaps of her words. It was after she finished school and worked full-time in a salon that Anshu rediscovered in herself the person she thought she left behind in Nepal.
Her words accelerate as she tells me, “I felt like I could see my vision again. When I was in Nepal, I always had a vision for the future, but when I came here—nothing, it just stopped. My future finally came back.”
As much as Anshu claims she has let go of her past in finance, I cannot move past her natural business acumen. She made the leap to follow her vision early on, from the moment she decided to leave a comfy post at a well-known salon in Rockridge, a different Oakland neighborhood, and to start her own venture as Brow N Beauty Lounge within Allure Salon. She saw little to no customers when she first started renting a chair. The neighborhood was new to her and she was new to the neighborhood, but she quickly took it upon herself to change that.
For two months, she flyered her services outside of the Walgreens by the 19th Street BART Station and at the weekly Grand Lake Farmers Market. Nowadays, she’s flush with clients needing her skillful touch. Her exclusively five-star reviews on Yelp are littered with lengthy professions of her gentle nature, kind words, and caring disposition.
“When I was in Nepal, I always had a vision for the future, but when I came here—nothing, it just stopped. Then my future came back.”
When I bring this up to her, Anshu confesses, “I get really tired, actually. But my customers are not like my customers; they are my family. They give me strength.” Her tiredness is rooted in both a mental and physical exhaustion; standing for nine hours a day, six days a week is a lot, especially when you’re pregnant.
She has become a neighborhood staple for many, tending to people’s most base desire to routinize community institutions. A particular Yelp review by a Snneha N. declares, “As someone new to the area, finding permanent go to places is important and I have definitely found mine!” Anshu must have felt the same when she first moved to America, when she only had her husband and a few friends to fall back on. Now, she is building a microcosm of the family she had left back in Nepal within the confines of her corner at Allure, calling her clients her sisters and her aunts.
In the time I’ve known Anshu, she’s quick to cut her sentences short, afraid she might say something that does not make sense. It reminds me of my mother, still shy that her English does not wholly encompass her true intentions. Like Anshu, my family had moved to America with little knowledge that the population spoke a brand of the language entirely foreign to them as British-English learners. Eighteen years have only barely chipped away at my mother’s insecurity to capture the nuances of her feelings through English, although she often forms the exact words I’m searching for. Like my mother, Anshu ends up saying the exact right thing.
When she talks about her dreams, Anshu exclaims with a wariness that she might misuse her English: “I really love what I’m doing. I want to do more and more and more. It’s a really small thing—the beauty industry—but I feel so vast.” When she discusses her newfound vastness, I know it’s through the vehicle of her customer’s happiness.
Her future, as she sees it now, is a salon that feels like a home for her and her clients. She is careful to never leave them out of her narrative. Recently, she held back tears as she told me she finally found a location for her very own salon as a result of her clients texting her “For Sale” signs on their routes throughout Oakland. Her clientele is the basis for the community that makes her feel so vast.
Every few weeks, I close my eyes and catch up with my own breath as Anshu follows the arch of my eyebrows with her fingers—an arch that she created and works hard to maintain. The eyebrows of one individual are as much within the scope of her vision as the outline of her eventual full-fledged business. Her care is, in every single emotional and physical plane, full-service.
The first time I met Anshu, she told me, “Your eyebrows look good now, but they have the potential to be so much better. I will help you make them so much better.” In so many ways, Anshu has become my friend, my sister, and my auntie. She is familiar, a root that has landed me a sort of intimacy with my surroundings of which I had so little before her.
Nowadays, a spread of spaces—the gym, my home, the Thai place down my block—create a web of self-appointed neighborhood institutions that ground me, but Anshu will always be the first that served as a much-needed conduit of familial intimacy. She has made my eyebrows and me so much better. •
Anshu Thapa now runs her own salon, The Brow N Beauty Lounge, at 3612 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA.