One Man’s Dream of Becoming a Barber in Nyamirambo

Two years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Aloys Nsekarije left his mother and two brothers in the countryside for greener pastures in Kigali. Even though the whole country’s economic pillars crumbled due to the aftermath of a genocide that claimed more than a million innocent souls, the countryside felt the most brunt.

Aloys Nsekarije. He is been working in barbershops for 22 years.

After realizing that there’s probably no hope on the horizons of the countryside, Mr. Nsekarije left for Kigali. “As someone who doesn’t have a pleasant school education, it was quite challenging,” he says. “I arrived here and joined friends in the slums of Gatsata.”

Collecting little money from his benevolent friends, he registered into a driving school. After driving lessons, he developed a habit of wandering all around Kigali during the evening to discover new places. At the time, Kigali was a minefield.

“A mine could kill a person here and there; people were still looking for survivors, and most places looked like ghost towns,” he says.

He first heard of Nyamirambo from his friends in Gatsata. They had different fantasies about the suburb, some of them sounding like fairy tales. That’s when he started spending his afternoons wandering there and idly sitting at the porch of barber shops. At his favorite place, the one with deafening rap music, most barbers used to go to lunch and took hours to come back.

“This visibly frustrated their clients but I couldn’t help,” he remembers. “All I did was looking for a barbershop that can offer me a job in Gatsata.”

He started with kids because, according to him, it was so easy—a simple bald head. People hadn’t money at the time and no one cared about the hair style, especially when it came to children. With a clean little bald head, a satisfied parent would bring back his children after a month.

As time went by, Mr. Nsekarije kept on tendering to kids and this made the barbershop’s owner quite happy. That’s when he asked him if he can work on adults as well.

“I of course fidgeted but I eventually managed to help him with one client, two, three, and I later found myself mastering the job.”

Gatsata was, and it still is, one of the neglected neighborhoods of Kigali. Even though Mr. Nsekarije had a job, that didn’t prevent him from satisfying his habits of spending evenings in Nyamirambo during his day-offs.

According to him, barbers in Nyamirambo were so chic. In other words, they were the true image of a country that desperately needed to rise from the ashes. You could see them with Walkman, and everything that a young man dreamed of.

“While enjoying the evening breeze over spiced tea and chapati in Nyamirambo, I overheard two barbers boasting about getting a 50% commission,” he says with a smile. “I couldn’t believe my ears. To tell the least, I was so stunned I spent the whole night awake.”

Mr. Nsekarije told me that he was making 30% from Gatsata while the remaining 70% went to the owner of the barbershop. For him, stories about Nyamirambo weren’t in the end fantasies.

“To barbers, this place felt like paradise,” he says.

Talking to numerous barbers, he later learned that the two barbers in the pub were actually talking the truth. After one week, he made his decision and packed for Nyamirambo and found a job in the barbershop.

“When I arrived, I felt intimidated and still had that uneasiness of standing beside the ‘supreme’ barbers of Nyamirambo, but when the owner put me to test, I found out that I might have been better than some of them. This is the fear that I had to overcome at all cost.”

Mr. Nsekarije eventually let go of the driving school and dedicated his life to cutting men’s hair. He is now a married man with four children, and the breadwinner of the family.

“I don’t own a house yet but I recently bought a plot of land,” he says. “What makes me happy is that I am able to care for the family, and to sometimes buy a beautiful fabric for my ageing mother.”

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