Barber Shops in Beirut are a complete mystery. Every time I go to get my beard trimmed or my hair cut, I always end up surprised. From the gossip, to the weird sex jokes, to the religious satire; everything and anything can be expected at a barbershop, except for a decent haircut…
Stepping inside the small crowded store in a small crowded alleyway, I entered Imad’s Barber Shop: the most famous barber in Mreijeh (the area where I live, in the Southern Suburbs of Beirut).
“Hello come in come in, my place is your place. Hussein! Come and set up Ibn l Hakeem (that’s what he calls me, he has called me that ever since I was a little boy. I bet he didn’t even know my real name. It means the son of the Doctor, yes it’s because my dad is a doctor, so I guess it’s just easier to do that).
Hussein, a little child from a poor family around the age of eleven came over and greeted me warmly and led me to the chair. Workers like Hussein are typical and easily found at any local barbershop. Barbers usually look for cheap laborers to clean the hair off the floor and to trim beards when they don’t feel like doing anything. Hussein was new. The last time I was here it was Adam. These small kids get paid 200,000 L.L (more than a 100$ in a wee bit) per month. But here’s the twist, the barber tells them it’s some sort of an internship. If the kid turns out to be a learner by sight and picks up the craft by observation, he’s hired! That obviously didn’t work out for Adam, and I fear the same fate for little Hussein. When I asked Imad why he doesn’t clean up the hair after he’s done with each client, he simply said that he can’t lower his back down much often and the extra pair of hands is always needed. He finds these kids wandering around the streets trying to sell tissues for the passing car passengers. Having to think of it, he’s somehow getting them off the street. He also added that hiring Hussein was a big hassle to him because his father wanted a piece of the money. He just had to hire him. He felt pity for him. Imagine living in a small canned house with a drunken father and seven other children. That’s no life at all. At least now Hussein has a steady income (even though the amount is absolutely nothing), and his father is getting a small bribe from Imad. It’s a win-win situation for all sides concerned.
The place looked like one big rectangle crowded with cheap leather couches and hair grooming equipment. There are three seats for the barbers to operate on and just on the side behind the entrance a small stand where you can buy some hair gel (this is how he makes most of his money as he told me).
Having skipped the wait, I was surrounded by fierce looks from all over the store. “Who’s this guy to skip after all of us? Is he the son of a leader or something?!”
I felt really bad at that moment. I mean if it was for me, I’d wait for my turn. But the irony is that I can’t wait for my turn. If my father finds out I had to wait in line at the barbershop, then no free medical care for Imad! This country works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it?
Twenty minutes have passed and Imad has yet to come to give me my haircut, and the customers are growing impatient. Just behind me was a mother with her twin sons. They had long blonde curly hair, dangling down to their shoulders. They were exceptionally quiet. Kids usually turn into the spawn of Satan himself in a barbershop. Just beside the family on the couch to the right two guys with short hair, VERY long beards, and had shoulders and muscles the size of my big head. They look kind of like your basic Lebanese gym freak who clearly has an insanely imbalanced set of hormones.
To the left however two old mean who clearly already had their hair cut, were just sitting there arguing whether the Syrian struggle will be over anytime soon, and both of them with great disappointment, felt that no current solution will occur.
After many prayers Imad came to me after a mere forty-five minutes, not that much of a wait, no? Not that much of a wait to be honest. The past year I remember waiting for an hour or so hours because Imad wasn’t there and I had to get a haircut by one of his employees.
“How do you want your hair cut habeebi (which means my love, I know it’s weird)?”
“As you like, everything is fine”
“All your life you’re a man of style! For your eyes! The best haircut for you!”
As I was getting my hair cut, Imad drifted every two or three minutes to have a chat with one of the customers. I’m used to it. He does this all the time. It just fascinates me how he’s still running this business and how come he’s more successful than any other barbershop in my neighborhood. He’s slow, doesn’t tend to the needs of his customers, favors them over the other based on personal interest, and doesn’t give a rat’s bottom about the hygiene of his place and yet, his crown is yet to be taken.
Imad the king of barbers, the best there ever is. Just be sure before deciding to have your haircut here to free your schedule. You’re in for a long wait.