So when my eyes fell on a piece of mundane local news about the opening of a new kapsalon, I was surprised to find myself reading on. The proud owner is a young man called Nassim, who made his way to Belgium from Iraq to escape the miseries of the war there. The article begins tantalisingly: Achter de twee blauwe ogen die schuchter naar me kijken, schuilt een woelig verleden – Behind the two blue eyes that look at me shyly hides a turbulent past.
Are blue eyes common in Iraq? Nassim knows about styling: Ik heb een kappersopleiding gevolgd in Dubai – I did a hairdressing course in Dubai. By now I was intrigued: why train as a kapper – hairdresser so far away in Dubai?
For the four years Nassim has been here, he has always had a job. For the past three years, he worked in a hairdresser’s in a dodgy part of town: “Ik was niet op mijn gemak – I wasn’t at ease”. Too many louche things going on round about. Now he has his own shop in een drukke straat met veel voetgangers – in a busy street with lots of pedestrians.
Nassim and his friend Siad from Palestine have put a lot of work into turning a former clothes shop into a kapsalon. Siad has trained as a loodgieter – plumber (“lead pourer”) and took care of the loodgieterij – plumbing. Both are studying business management. And the future? Nog één jaar en dan zijn ze officieel Belg – In another year they will be officially Belgian.
The short article says so much and yet so little. Clearly, the two have made great efforts to better themselves and are not work-shy. They took risks to reach Belgium, and they would probably have suffered if they had stayed. And between the lines you can try to piece together what sort of persecution they had gone through.
Nassim still has family in Iraq: “Ik mis hen heel erg – I miss them very much. Maar het is niet veilig – But it is not safe. Vorig jaar zijn er zes familieleden gedood – Last year six family members were killed.” If you need a short back and sides, look out for Nassim’s kapsalon in Sint-Gummarusstraat in Antwerp.