I have such deep intimacy for barbershops. Not because they twice a week, without fail, attend to my completely receded hairline, but for the host of art, convenient rendezvous and market place for ideas and stories they are!
As a journalist by training, I listen to every bit of talk with consummate attention. And if you are a keen listener, you might one day walk out of a barbershop with more than a haircut!
Along my love life with barbershops, I have also noticed the knack that goes with their decoration and naming, perhaps adding beauty and allure to their existence.
I have been to many exaggeratedly decorated barbershops, but still have many fond recollections of one in Blantyre’s Nkolokosa Township.
Along the road, tucked under a thick expanse of a mango tree, the structure was a square metre shack, its walls mostly out of cartons harshly nailed to tired eucalyptus poles which were now threatened by a serious infestation of termites.
It had ‘Ataona Anathawa’ for a name, plastered crudely in blue paint across its sides.
Inside, the walls hosted numerous fading posters of soccer greats, musicians with funny haircuts and film actors with bewitching appearances.
In one of its corners would be a thick bunch of hair harvested from scores of customers.
Yes, its looks it may have been a far cry from its cousins elsewhere. But the looks had nothing to do with the quality of the conversation the shack hosted.
The barber was a skinny, shy-looking and acting guy, with a sense of welcome that compensated for any misgivings that was his place of practice.
One day, amid a haircut, my mouth wandered to a topic I had left unwrapped for so long.
“Kodi dzina la barbershop ino linachokera potani? [How did you come up with the name of the barbershop?]”
I saw him in the mirror before me smile and shyly open his mouth in almost an undertone.
“Ndi nkhani ya m’Baibulo ya mai uja wogwidwa ndi chigololo. Yesu atalemba pansi kuti ‘amene asanachimwe ayambe kumugenda mwala,’ anthu ataona anathawa.[It’s from a Bible story of people who wanted to stone a woman caught in adultery. When Jesus wrote on the ground asking that those who had never sinned should throw the first stone, they all disappeared]”
He was not so eager to discuss the name more. But it stands to this day there is always more to the tag than meets the eye.
I have since seen plenty other names that suggest there is more to their names; Mfiti Idzafanso, Asekelere Usauke, Bola Pano, Kwatira Udekhe and many more. In them, I know, lie stories unpacked.
That is art, just like the styles the barbers curve out of the many peculiar head shapes and bushes of hair before them!
At barbershops, you also get to enjoy updates ‘for free’ from all corners of the earth. It was in fact at a barber’s where I first heard about ‘cashgate’ arrests!
You have some of the ‘expert’ analysis-from soccer to politics-at barber shops. Customers freely discuss ‘hot’ matters.
In this build-up to next year’s elections, the unpacking of parties’ race for glory just added more to the flair of topics!
Some barbershops-as shabby as they may be-are so good at their trade that they have the privilege of thirty minutes or more a week or fortnight with bigshots and opinion formers who visit for trims.
Amid such encounters, barbers can overhear phone discussions or get information freely from soft-bordered discussions with their clients.
You therefore need not wonder why some barbers are better informed than officials in a government intelligence unit!
Fridays are my barbershop days! n