You know that awkward moment when you sit down in a barber’s chair in a foreign country where you don’t really know the language and sincerely hope that the few words you do know will convey the correct information for the cut you want? Well, now add to that, the barber’s chair you sat down is operated by a barber that you know is a refugee, but exactly from where you are not sure. The plastic curtain thing is draped over your body and cinched in tight at the neck…you are all in now.
You sit there, wondering if there will be any small talk. Typically you try to avoid small talk, it has never been your strong suit and does not come naturally to you. Well, your barber has had a slow day and is in need for some talk. As you came in speaking English, he is pretty confident that you are an immigrant/visitor of some sort, so he opens up the conversation with…
B: “Where do you come from?” “The United States.” There is a slight pause, he glances at your face through the mirror. “Oh.” The comb pulls your hair and cold water is sprayed on your head. “Where do you come from?” You ask to return the pleasantries. “Iraq.”
Silence follows. He did give you a look in that mirror, but now is intent on selecting the right fitting for the shears he has just plugged in. The silence has a weight to it, one that speaks volumes though you yourself don’t know what to say. You know that Sweden has accepted many refugees from the wars that your country has started. It is pretty safe to assume that your barber is probably a war refugee, a refugee trying to make a living in cold rural Sweden as a barber, a refugee from a war that your nation started. You left the US in part to distance yourself from its policies and politics, but unfortunately they seem to find you where ever you travel.
B: “So, have you ever been to Iraq?” “Um, no. Where in Iraq are you from?” “Baghdad.” More silence and that awkward feeling continues to build. You swear he keeps looking at you sideways through the mirror, but now he is intent on buzzing your hair off, and the clippers passing over your neck with that loud mechanical screech in your ear, you get goosebumps. You try to remain rationale, but suddenly you are very worried that this might be one haircut you should have avoided. Could this guy really hold a grudge enough to do something…”drastic”?
“Is Baghdad nice?” You ask and immediately regret. Its a fucking war zone, has been for over ten years now. Not exactly a place to go for a picnic. He stops buzzing and looks at you through the mirror, poised over your head, “It was beautiful once…under Saddam Hussein.” He puts the clippers down and goes for the scissors.
He starts cutting your hair in earnest, but stops to brush some strands from your face. You take this opportunity to thank him using one of the few Arabic words you remember from your college classes, “Shukran.” He smiles, “You speak Arabic?!” “Idruss luga Arabia fee gamia, but I really can’t say more than that.” He laughs and the awkwardness fades away as you steer the conversation towards matters of family and children. He is a new poppa to a six month old and is very happy to talk about his baby. In the middle of the cut his wife calls to remind him of something and we laugh about nagging wives.
Yep, once you get through the political BS of the world, folks are just folks. And in the end, I got a pretty decent haircut out of the deal.