Mustapha Bembe, Hairdresser

When I was a little boy I hated to go to the hairdresser. I was very proud of my long hair and curls and I couldn’t understand why my mother was so insistent to expose her son to the cruel ritual. I remember holding the sacrificed locks in my fists with the hope that I could glue them back. I can still see the face of my persecutor – damn you the Edward Scissor-hand of my childhood.

In the beginning of the nineties, I was the French version of Serpico or Cat Stevens, beard and curly hair roaming the streets of Paris, Toronto and London. Muslim men were greeting me like a brother as well as heavy metal fans. I was wild in appearance and young at heart. 

My first trip to Africa changed my relationship with my hair. In the Masai Mara, ticks and fleas adopted me almost immediately. I was there to film some wildlife without suspecting that my head was hosting bugs worth of a National Geographic documentary. It was unbearable… I resigned myself to go voluntarily to the local hairdresser. I was sitting in a hut while dozen of amused children and smiling adults were looking at me. The hairdresser didn’t show me magazines or hair style guides. He didn’t ask me what I wanted but instead it was “one cut fits all”. He shaved me completely. I was bold.

I was not upset or sad but instead I felt lighter and younger. I changed my opinion of a whole profession.

In Dakar, Mustapha Bembe is my hairdresser. He has his own salon, next to the mosque and few meters from my flat. Mustapha is a business man. He believes in diversification of activities. In his salon, he is a barber, a newsagent and a grocer. This is surreal and unique: Melons, bananas, passion fruits, mangoes, next to big bags of rice and onions, local newspapers and few magazines in French and of course two chairs and a massive mirror. 

The prices are clearly marked and I know already that it will cost me less than 10 dollars to be pampered African style. Mustapha is a good barber but I takes his time. Correction… his different activities are distracting him all the time. He stops every few minutes to serve fruits, to collect money for the newspapers and to accept deliveries. 

I was not surprised when he stopped one more time to conduct Salat (prayer)

“All service is for Allah and all acts of worship and good deeds are for Him. Peace and the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you O Prophet…”

I looked at my head half shaved and the reflection of Mustapha praying outside the salon. I was the unwilling but thankful witness of his faith. I closed my eyes and allow myself to share the profound quality of his prayer. My barber is a peaceful man of God. I couldn’t ask for more.

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