By Mujahed Mifleh
“I wish that they release me at night so that no one sees me rushing to the first barber I find “, I said with laughter before giving up and putting my head in the hands of Nadeem, who suddenly found himself the barber of section 5 in Magiddo jail.
How did you become a barber, Nadeem?
“Very easy!”, he confidently answers like an expert. “There was already a barber prisoner but he was sent to another jail, and that’s how I started.”
“No one likes to be the barber… It is very exhausting”, Nadeem says. You spend your whole day moving from a head to another. However, Nadeem says that being a barber gives you “advantages”: good relations with everyone, you never get bored, and you spend most of your day in the Jail courtyard.
Every day, Nadeem gets an old rickety shaver and scissors that barely cut from the administration of the jail then returns them at the end of the day. His plastic mirror is a lifesaver as it provides a blurry vision and doesn’t help the customers a lot.
The section contains nearly 60 prisoners. Only a few types of haircuts are on the barber’s list as he found himself a barber “out of the blue”. However, what could make him an expert in record time is that the prisoners “have nothing to do”, so some of them have haircuts twice or three times a week!
In the shower room, Nadeem sits in his “barbershop”, shaving heads while looking from a window that overviews the jail courtyard, watching what happens. He knows everything about everyone: the prisoners, their charges, the times of discharge, their villages, friends, what they like and don’t like, and their favorite sports. His imagination takes him to his village “Talfit” in southern Nablus, where he plans to open “Abu Nadam Barbershop” after he gets his freedom.
Mistakes happen here and the clients mostly understand. There is an obvious and agreed principle here: “When I mess up anyone’s haircut I immediately shave it without even consulting him.” If the prisoner was newly jailed, he will find dozens of ready justifications waiting for him: this just makes your face look better, your hair cells need to breathe, and “anyway, we’re all trapped here and no one will judge you!”
As soon as you sit on his plastic chair you will have to accept anything he does. He may shave a line on your head then go for a break in the courtyard or to continue a table tennis game with a competitor. You will have nothing to do other than sitting, removing the hair from your face, and watch the game waiting for relief.
Reserving a turn here is different from it outside the jail. Whoever comes will hear the sentence “wait until I complete my work for this guy”. The sentence will be repeated even when there are five costumers waiting for their turns. Nadeem has nothing to be afraid of; he will neither lose his reputation nor lose costumers.
“My job is not only doing haircuts to the guys”, he says before having a moment of silence. I feel curious to know about his additional super missions, so he continues “I make the guys laugh and have fun. Sometimes, when I mess up a haircut I call everyone and we laugh our heads off. We keep talking about it for a whole week.”
When he gets his freedom, I will make sure to visit Talfit and have a haircut at “Abu Nadam Barbershop”, and he will laugh his head off when he knows that he was the last barber, who shaved my head 46 days ago.
* Mujahed Mifleh is a journalist in Altra Palestine. He was arrested in February 2020 over posts on his personal social media accounts, however, he was released one week later.