I had a haircut yesterday. And I also had a humbling insight into today’s complex world of migration, refugees and multiculturalism.
Godalming is a sleepy, affluent Surrey market town, historically populated largely by white, middle-class commuters. But in recent years, we’ve got used to seeing throngs of Eastern European fruit-pickers wandering past our window to the local soft fruit farm, and several heavy-smoking Turkish barbers undercutting the long-established local scissor-wielders in the ancient High Street.
The latest additions, though, are Kurds and I was captivated by the story of my barber’s life, family, country and future.
He has lived in England for 10 years. His mother still lives in Kurdistan, and is sick. The last time he went home was to help his father, who needed surgery on his legs. The barber sold his car and borrowed money from friends to get back to Kurdistan and help his father, but he was stopped at the Iraqi border and imprisoned for 2 days. The authorities demanded a bribe of $10,000. He refused, but eventually agreed to pay $1,000. He saved his father, was held trying to return to England and is unable to go and back and see his family in Kurdistan again.
He asked if I knew about the recent referendum in Kurdistan. A huge majority of Iraqi Kurdistanis voted for independence, but it seems this has put them at an increased risk of attack from neighbouring Turkey and Iran, as well as from Iraq. He believes a war is inevitable.
The barber shrugs his shoulders. Conflict and death are nothing new for Kurds. He says Saddam Hussein murdered hundreds of thousands of his countrymen in the 1980s. Mass graves are still being uncovered today.
I ask if he is a Muslim. Yes, I am a Sunni Muslim. We have Shia Muslims in Kurdistan too. And Christians, Yazidis, Zoroastrans and some Jews, all living peacefully together. Unlike our neighbours.
I say I would be interested in visiting his country, and ask if it is safe. Normally, yes…but at the moment, after the referendum, possibly not. And do not travel direct from England. Go via Istria. Or Germany. If you go, tell me. You can meet my family.
£10 for a haircut and a humbling insight into another world, as far removed from sleepy Godalming as Kurdistan is from peaceful independence.