Most Americans have never met an Iraqi, citizen of the country the US sanctions, invasion and occupation have destroyed. Abbas Noori Abbood, who grew up in Sadr City, Baghdad, wants to change that. Bicycle Barbershop is Abbood’s dream project-in-process, a series of encounters in which he, a trained and licensed barber, from a family of Iraqi barbers, cuts the hair of various people, including Iraq war veterans, while engaging in the sort of intimate conversations that take place in barbershops.

Abbood is an Iraqi refugee, via Cairo, where he became a television personality, who has made his home in Brooklyn. Like all refugees, he had a life before conflict that he is resurrecting in his city of refuge. Abbood studied arts at university in Baghdad and is an actor, director, creator, and comic. He is the creative mind and driving force behind the webcast Bicycle Barbershop.

Abbas Noori Abbood with author Karen Malpede, and a friend, Susie Nakley, holding his baby, Sirine

He has recently married and become the father of a daughter, Sirine. He became a United States citizen in April. Abbood and his new family are moving back to Cairo for two years at the end of July because Abbood’s wife Muriel Calo a food aid specialist has accepted a job with the UN. But they consider Bushwick home and intend to return. Before they leave at the end of July, Abbood is intent upon working with his editors to finish more episodes of Bicycle Barbershop.

He has been working on the project since he arrived in the US in 2009. In each episode, he cuts the hair of Americans, and those from Arab Diaspora, while discussing the Iraq war, the US election and life in general. Remember, he’s an Iraqi with a scissors in his hands. Barbershops have always been safe spaces for talk and argument; they have been the settings for television, film and stage comedies, as well. Abbood is the most charming of men; dark and handsome, he has an open, warm and ebullient personality. He laughs easily at his own jokes and at others.

Abbood explains: “I’ve been exploring how people cope amid political conflict. Bicycle Barbershop is a webseries of conversations which take place during a haircut, set against the political backdrop of fear & unreality during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. We have been focusing on people from the Muslim Diaspora from Florida to New York. There’s so much surprise in each encounter.” He’s had these conversations in Tunisia and from New York to Florida; he even went to a Donald Trump rally with the stated intention of cutting Trump’s hair (and, perhaps, finding out what it is made of).

Initially, Abbood, and his father, since deceased, supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein; listening to the radio, they cheered as the American tanks advanced from the south. Until that is the Americans arrived in Baghdad and Abbood witnessed first-hand the chaos of the war. He has dodged bullets during firefights between American troops and Iraqi insurgents as he tried to make his make his way home. So, he left Iraq.

Abbood went back to Iraq this summer to see his mother, who is ailing, and lives in Najif. But, she insisted he also visit his sisters. “I have many sisters and they live in most cities in Iraq.” He managed to see them all in the city of Mandali. To get form Najif to Mandali, he had to go through Baghdad, where he visited his best friend in the city, Mohammed Alenzi Mohammad, a PhD in Arts and professor at Baghdad University.

Abbas Noori Abbood (r) in Iraq, during his recent trip, with a friend.

Mohammad wanted a photo of Sirine so he could make a painting of Abbood’s new daughter.

“I met Mohammed around the breaking of the fast of Ramadan dinner time. He fasts. I don’t believe in religion but we are very close friends. After a delicious dinner, he took me to coffee at the Ridh Alwan Café, in the Karrada neighborhood, a place where artists gather. While I was there, looking around me at all the faces, I had a very bad feeling. Anybody can come inside and kill us, I thought.”

The next week in Baghdad the Karrada neighborhood was bombed. Over 280 people have since died.

“Instead of buying presents for Eid, people are buying white robes for shrouds.” Instead of a place to celebrate the end of Ramadan, the Karrada neighborhood has been turned to rubble.

Abbood was already in Paris when the Baghdad bombing happened. “I have a back-pack; everyone is looking at me as if I am going to do something. Fear is everywhere, now,” he says.

This makes his commitment to finishing Bicycle Barbershop all the more urgent. In a first segment, Abbood explains, “I grew up in my father’s barbershop. Everyone came, religious, non-religious, even spies for Saddam. I had a big mouth about politics, but my father made me shut it.” Now, in Bicycle Barbershop, Abbood is free to explore politics and human feeling with those whose hair he cuts. There is an Indiegogo campaign running now where you can also view the first episode; https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/bicycle-barbershop#/For a $50 donation, Abbood will cut your hair or thread your eyebrows—and in these difficult days he’ll get you to talk about your feelings.

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Karen Malpede

Karen Malpede is a playwright, theater director and co-Artistic Director of 22-year old, Brooklyn-based, Theater Three Collaborative. She is author of 18 produced plays; 4 of her recent plays will be anthologized...

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