When I had coffee with my personnel one day, I asked them if they could recommend a hairdresser. They told me about Salong Diem that not so long ago had opened up in Lindesberg, and they said that the prices were good and that they highly recommended it. They went there themselves, also with their children.
A few days later I found myself sitting in the chair at Salong Diem, having my hair cut by the owner himself, Wajih. I can understand a lot of Swedish, but he spoke to me in both Swedish and English. He started to give me little pieces of his life, and he told me that he had fled the conflict in Syria, where he had had a successful barbershop. One day his business burnt down, and he made the decision to leave Syria and join his sister Katja who already lived in Sweden. Since this first day I have used his barbershop on several occasions, and that is when he has told me a little bit more about his story. As I listened to it, I thought: What must it have been like to live in a war zone? One cannot even begin to imagine the trauma, fear and the devastating effect it has on peoples’ lives.
It soon became very clear to me that Wajih was a multifaceted person, and the same with his brother Elie who sometimes helps out at Wajihs barbershop. They are certainly customer-minded, one feels welcomed there because of the atmosphere the brothers create. People of all ages, men and women alike, as far as I know leave the barbershop satisfied. I decided to ask Wajih if he would do an interview with me for the Ascala Magazine, to which he and his brother agreed. One of the reasons to why I wanted to interview them was that I have not had so much contact myself with people from the Middle East, I was interested to hear their story from their point of view.
So there we were one day, at their barbershop, where we wanted the interview to take place. The first thing I said to Wajih was: “I like the way you handle your business!” When looking into his eyes I said: “Yes, you are service-minded, when you cut hair you cut it with feeling!” Wajih just laughed. During the interview Katja, the brothers’ older sister, suddenly became a part of it as an interpreter from Swedish and English to Arabic. What a dynamic these three created! It was also interesting for me to see how Katja’s brothers took care of her child that she had brought along with her. Katja informed me that she has two other children, and that her husband also owns a barbershop in Kumla. She also began to tell her story. She said: “I have been living in Sweden for twelve years, and one of the reasons why I came to Sweden is that in Sweden I have the freedom as a woman that I did not have in Syria. There I was studying to be a lawyer, because I always wanted to help people who do not have the skills to defend themselves.”
That caring aspect of her showed very clearly in the way she interacted with her younger brothers. She certainly is a matriarch! She said: “Here in Sweden, I am allowed to have opinions. Here I feel free. That freedom is important to me as a human being. Here women are treated as persons, and not by their gender. Living in Sweden I am stronger, and here I can say something and I will not be judged or punished for it.” As she answered the questions, it was clear that she is a very vibrate and intelligent person. A human being with a big heart! Then she said: “I am very happy that you wanted to do this interview!”
As the interview continued, it became very obvious to me that Wajih had hidden depths that made me curious. Customers were coming in and out and it created a dynamic, and I could see what happened with my own eyes. It was interesting to see the customers’ reactions when we asked if we could take a photograph of them, allowing them to be a part of the interview.
When I asked c why they chose to come to Sweden, their answer was: “We wanted to come because our sister was here. We had not seen one another for eight years because of the conflict in Syria.” I asked Wajih: What made you choose to work in Lindesberg? “Here I could find a barbershop that I could afford”, Wajih said. “But it was very hard the first year, I only had one or two customers every week. At that time Katja came along and helped me with bookings and to interpret for me.” Katja continued: “At that time my brother did not speak English so well.” When I asked Wajih why he did not give up in the first year, he said: “I realised that a business takes time to build up, and people encouraged me to continue. As usual, my family supported me in every way they could.”
“Where did you find the strength to dare to meet this challenge?” I asked. “I just felt it within”, Wajih said. I was curious; where does that feeling come from? I asked Wajih about it. “From God”, he said. “I asked him to help me, and it was he who gave me the strength.” Wajih informed me that his family are Christians. He said: “There are many religions in this world, but I do not think that one religion is better than the other. For me, we all pray to the same God.” That is when I realised that Wajih began to open his heart. He began to talk about these hidden depths that I felt he had. Apparently Wajih had to leave behind his fiancé in Syria. “How did that feel?” I asked. He began by saying: “I cannot describe these feelings, but my biggest hope was that I would see her again one day. I miss her so much. What keeps me going is hope. Without hope, the human being has nothing. What I feel in my heart is God’s voice, he lives within my heart.”
“Do you have dreams for the future?” I asked. Wajih laughed and said: “There is a long list!” “Do you want to be rich?” I asked. He thought for a moment and then he said: “I want happiness and good health, and I wish the same for everybody that I love.” Then he said: “I agreed to this interview because I felt trust for you, and you were interested in me as a person, I could see it in your eyes.” “Do you think this interview was a coincidence?” I asked. “No” he said, “I think God made it happen.”
Wajih is a very funny person, he has a sense of humour and can make people laugh. When I told him that, he said: “I have always had a sense of humour. I use my humour to connect with people in my everyday life. It is my way of opening up my heart to others. All I want to be is myself and to show who I am.” I said: “Well, during the time you have been cutting my hair, you have won my wife’s approval! She is the one that calls and books an appointment with you on my behalf, and every time she rings you say: “Oh, it is the old man, we know him!”
Then Elie stepped in, the youngest brother. He comes across as a shy, very friendly and caring person. I was able to observe him as he was taking care of his sister’s son. He can be the kind of person that prefers to stay in the background. It is obvious that he is still struggling to come to terms with the trauma from Syria. “I had no choice but to leave Syria”, he said. “There was no future there and that is why I decided to leave. As I made my way to Sweden I was very often hungry and without money. Eventually, I was able to contact my family in Sweden who were able to send me money so I could buy my ticket and come to Sweden.” “What was it like to meet your family again?” I asked. Elie said: “I had not seen them for many years. I was very happy to be reunited with them again.”
I have seen Elie there helping his brother at the barbershop, and it is very obvious that he has the skill of cutting hair too. It was funny the way the brothers teased one another. Then Elie said: “No one is better than the other. Wajih and I have our own way of cutting hair, but the result is the same. Some people like the way I cut, and others prefer Wajih. I am waiting now to see if I will reside a resident permit, and then maybe I will have my own barbershop one day.” “Where were you born?” I asked. “The city of Homs.”, Wajih replied. What would have happened if you had remained there, I asked. “I think that my family and I in all possibility would have died. There were many I knew that met tragic ends.”
I was quick to realise that these people who left that war behind were hard working people. Collectively and as individuals, they carry their memories and scars of that conflict with dignity and respect. They were just hoping for a better life, and they were not looking for handouts. They just wanted to take control of their own lives. Throughout the interview I felt their heart. I could feel their intentions to create a future. It was very clear that they cared for one another.
Wajih suddenly says: “The love that I have for my family and my brother and sister is the most genuine in the world. They are the ones I can be myself with. I know that they will not judge me.” From nowhere Wajih then said: “My best friend is a Muslim. We are like brothers. We have a dream of building a place of worship for both Muslims and Christians, but there will be no separate doors, just one door where we can unite.”
As the interview came to an end, I realised that they had connected with us, they had opened their hearts. It was as if we had crossed a bridge from each side and met in the middle. These three human beings will never forget the scars of war that will live in their memory for the rest of their lives. Meeting them and spending time with them opened a new room within my heart. They had the courage to rebuild their lives. For me, they are a typical example of the saying when Phoenix rises from the ashes, and something new begins. My wish for them is that they rise even higher and that they will find their place in the world.
When hearts connect, the diversions of nationality, culture and class disappears. We all become one. Thank you Wajih, thank you Elie and thank you Katja. Thank you for the hospitality you showed us!
Comments from customers:
Maria Berglind (she and her sons have been there): ”I was first a bit uncertain about going there since I am a woman, I thought they were specialized in men, but I was happy. They listened to what I wanted as a customer and they were detailed. They were hospitable and polite. My son was very happy too. I will come back again!”
Sophia Nydén (she and her two sons who are twins have been there): ”They have been there many times, and they are very happy. Wajih sees my twins and he cuts their hair as individuals, that hasn’t happened before. I have had my hair cut there too, and I am happy. He is very detailed when he goes through my hair, and I would like to go back there.”
Kenneth Kanto: ”I have been here many times. I think they are good, they are friendly and they do as you want them to do. I have had my hair cut here for a couple of years now. They are very competent!”