Words of A Barber
By Jacob, Volunteer (Staj 100)
I had just gotten home from my region’s book club when Said called me,
“Come over to my house so we can talk about next week.”
“I don’t know where your house is.”
“Just ask, tell people you’re looking for where Said the barber lives.”
I had asked Said a few days before this if he would come with me to the Peace Corps’ Project Design and Management training (PDM). Back in February, I had learned that one of the barbers in town was also a prize-winning painter. Intrigued and excited to introduce myself to a potential collaborator for youth activities, I went to visit his shop. Behind the bakery, a set of rocky steps leads up to double steel doors painted sky blue that on market days are flung open wide to display the word “barber” painted across them in yellow paint. When I arrived at the threshold, Said welcomed me warmly and motioned me to a bench inside with his razor. I joined a group men and boys at the back of the small room. Some were half watching the Bollywood movie playing on the tiny TV suckered to a shelf near the ceiling, while others were chatting with Said as he worked. The conversation instantly shifted its focus towards me as I sat down. Said frequently paused as he buzzed fades and lathered chins to ask me questions: where was I from, what was I doing here, could I speak Shil7a. People have asked me such questions before with a barely concealed sneer of mistrust, but Said’s curiosity was genuine and friendly. We chatted animatedly for a solid hour. I told him about how much colder the weather was back home. He asked me where I had traveled in the world. I explained how fried insects in China are mainly sold for the benefit of adventurous foreigners. He complimented me on my Arabic and told me to keep coming back so he could teach me “authentic” Shil7a. I left his shop delighted with this new gregarious acquaintance. I hadn’t mentioned his painting at all, not wanting to immediately pressure someone who was still getting to know me to become a work partner. Later that day however, I ran into Said again on the street, and it was he who asked if I would be interested in starting painting workshops for the youth of the village. I told him I would be thrilled, but that I was about to leave for a week-long training in Marrakesh, and that we should talk when I returned.
Almost four months have passed since our first meeting. I had visited Said’s shop occasionally in the interim to hang out and chew the fat. Unfortunately, there had always been an upcoming training or the beginning of a holiday preventing us from starting any serious discussion of art classes. A week after Eid Al-Fitr, after a few unsuccessful attempts to call his service-less phone and a day when I visited his shop three different times hoping to catch him during a lull, I had finally managed to explain PDM to Said and ask whether he would be interested in coming with me. He had agreed. Now there was some paperwork to fill out, which is why he needed me to come over.
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