Nail tech Lisa Murphy (left) uses one of the rooms in her rented villa as a nail salon.
Editor’s note: NAILS asked Lisa Murphy, a nail tech living and working in Manama, Bahrain — an island located in the Persian Gulf just east of Saudi Arabia — to tell us about life in that remote region and how she got there in the first place.
I have been doing nails full time for 14 years and for seven of those years I was a salon owner. I owned Courthouse Salon, located in Hanford, Calif., and two years later I expanded and opened Sentiments, an Aveda Concept Salon. I was extremely busy managing both salons; however, I always found time to do what I loved best—nails. Three years ago, thanks to a client, I met my future husband on a blind date. We fell in love and married 10 months later. At the time he was the commanding officer of VFA 125 and an F18 pilot. Right before we married we found out that his new orders would be sending us to the Middle East and his new position would be as an air operation officer of the fifth fleet.
I sold both salons to my newly acquired partner, and in June 2000 we were transferred to Naval Support Activity Bahrain. I had no idea what the nail business would be like in the Middle East, but in anticipation I brought my supplies with me. Once in Bahrain, I only found three salons offering nail extensions out of 80 listed m the phone book.
We rented a beautiful villa and I converted one of the rooms on the main floor into my salon. Word of mouth was my best advertisement and it didn’t take long before I was busy. Since September 11, my business has increased 20% due to the influx of reservists to the region. I now have a full clientele, which consists largely of active-duty and recalled reservist personnel. These women are smart, strong, and exemplify what is best about being American. Most of them are here alone, sacrificing time away from their children and families to help protect the freedom of our country.
Of course, there are regulations about women wearing extensions in the military — the nails must be worn short (no longer than 1/4-inch over the end of the fingertip) and the color must complement their skin tone. Neutral tones, airbrush French manicures, and American manicures are the most popular. I offer both acrylic and fiberglass extensions, with most of my clients wearing acrylic.
Doing nail extensions in the Middle East has been a unique experience. I have found that having beautiful nails is not only a desire of American women, but also a desire of women throughout the world. During my two years in Bahrain I have had clients from England, India, Australia, Canada, Tanzania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and, of course, Bahrain. I thoroughly enjoy the diversity of my clients; each of them brings something unique to my table.
Along with the good, there have been challenges. All my products must be sent from the United States, making inventory control extremely important. The unavailability of professional nail products is also a dilemma for local salons. The lack of proper training and the high cost of extensions are also problems. Most beauty services here are very inexpensive, except for nail extensions. In town, a refill costs from $28 to $45 and the average time for a refill is 11/2-2 hours. Educators are desperately needed here and I feel fortunate I can help fill that void. I have been working with salons and several individuals interested in learning nail extensions. Training has become my second business and I find it very satisfying.
We will be leaving Bahrain very soon, heading for Washington, D.C. — a new place for me to call home and of course, a new adventure. There are so many things I’ve learned during my time in the Middle East and travelling abroad, but the main thing is, there’s no place like home.