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How to become a barber in Turkey

Of course, the story begins with me – a professional hairdresser on the way to visit grandpa. He would like to know more about me, how I am doing in Sofia. ‘Fine, I am doing fine, working hard.’ ‘And do you earn a lot?’ ‘I am pleased, I make a good living.’ ‘Sounds good, can you shave me then?’

„Grandpa, I am a hairdresser, not a barber.“ I make fancy hairdos, mostly for ladies, what is all this shaving about!”

‘Well, my boy, if you cannot shave me properly, what sort of a hairdresser you are…?’

He nailed me down, on spot. I thought I was outspoken and sassy, and my grandpa got me.

We parted later that night and I came back to Sofia, determined to learn the barber tricks. And I know the right place to go to – Turkey. As a first step, however, I found and visited a barber in Pleven. In a day or two he gave me a basic training, yet, it was not enough. I liked his stories, I did not like his professional advice that much.

In Sofia Rayna, a friend of mine, introduced me to Meggie, who resides and works in Istanbul. I shared my plans to go to Istanbul. ‘Why do not you come, I will help you’, she said.

PLACE: Instanbul

PARTICIPANTS: Yordan, Raina, Megi, Harun, Haran and grandpa

In a few months (at that time I had already bought an antique barber chair from Durakliata) I landed in Istanbul. I got two bottles with me, a rakiya bottle for Meggie’s husband, and a whiskey flask for the Turkish barbers, we all know that the alcohol in Turkey is very pricey.

Istanbul took me by surprise.

I was amazed, a huge city, a row of bridges, sky-scrapers, vast newly built residential areas…A striking secern between rich and poor. A lot of flowers and beautiful parks. Mesmerizing…

Meggie and her spouse manage Cafe Lumiere , a nice place; we met there and had delicious supper. Meggie introduced me to Nina, a friend of hers, at that time Nina and her boyfriend ran a hostel. They were kind enough to host me in a single room there. Тук се запознах и с Нина – приятелка на Меги, която заедно с гаджето си по онова време държеше хостел. Там и ме настаниха – на последния етаж в самостоятелна стая.

Meggie and Nina took me to a barber shops, and left me there with two barbers – Hrun and Haran spoke no English, and as you can imagine, I did not know Turkish. They were staring at time, I was staring at them, they looked at me and we did not speak.

This was just in the beginning, and then we somehow started understanding each other. Funny, is not it.

Harun and Haran were enjoying the vibrant Turkish music on TV, they were singing all the time and having fun. They knew their customers well, strangers did not enter. Visitors instantly noticed me in the room and wanted to know who I was. ‘Bulgaristan barber’, that was the concise answer. Few customers spoke English and they chatted with me, they encouraged me to stay longer in Istanbul. And Harun and Haran were happy to teach a foreigner.

There was a guy. Every day he walked into the barbershop, sat at the reception, put on airs. Then he took a hair styling product, did his own hairstyle and left. The brothers had a cheap hair gel because of guys like this one. There was a client who travelled 20 km to come to Harun’s place. ‘No one compares to Haran’, he said. And Istanbul was flooded by barber shops. Haran cut his hair, then dyed it and after a sweet talk over tea or coffee the client left the shop. He would arrive home after driving 20 km.

The two barbers took good care of me. I had tea, coffee, meals any time during the day. I named them the Big and the Small. Harun, the Big, was married and religious, Haran, the Small was a bachelor. The Big told me that his brother was the big boss and that he would teach me.

The Big did not use Facebook, a family guy, religious. The Small went to the beach, to shopping malls and dated chicks. Both were happy. Their mother dropped by the shop from time to time, when she was there they were quiet and respectful, they did not dare speak.

The two barbers had a small side room with a tiny sofa; they took a short nap every day. And this was the routine – having lunch, taking a nap, no stress. These guys would always work as barbers and be happy.

I spent the first couple of days observing, I did not practice. On the second day they asked me to find balloons. Of course, Meggie had to buy balloons for me, the three of us were in the shop, and she picked me up in the evening.

On the third day, they asked me to move the razor back and forth on my jeans, to imitate shaving, to get used to the move. My hand was stiff, I did not do it properly, I had to practice a lot and get used to it. My balloon shaving technique was way too slow for the real life

Red balloons, green balloons, blue balloons - I shaved them all ...

Later that day, they blew a balloon, put shaving cream on top and I had to shave it. I was shaving and cleaning it all the time, I did this for three hours in a row. I was very careful not to burst the balloon because water splashed all over the place.

I spent ten days at Harun’s place and shaved ??? people. When the first client sat on the barber chair I shaved his left side only, he did not have time for the right one. I was slow, was not it.

Interestingly enough, one can learn a trade without understanding foreign languages, observing and analyzing would do. I watched the barber’s pose, his moves, the way he held the razer, how his fingers danced, where he started from… Of course, it is important to know in advance that the razor has several parts and each is used in a particular way and at the right time.

You hold the razer and if you are handy enough you just do it. Fearlessly. That is why you need to watch the client and analyse him thoroughly – his breaths and behavior.

I learnt a lot in Istanbul, yet, the Turkish way of barbering was not my cup of tea. It was just concentrated on shaving, the physical action. As simple as that. No warm towels, no discussion, no questions. I became much more confident in barbering after the trip, still I missed a structural approach, I did not know the little steps I had to take to deliver an experience. My Turkish friends, the Big and the Small told me that I had a lot of passion and that one day I would run a barber shop way bigger than theirs. Perhaps they would be pleased to see my progress now. The razor is my friend now.

VIDEO: Nina Apei
Video Editing: Raina Teneva
Music: Sezen Asku
Produced by Yordan Akeksandrov