Barber Shop Chronicles.Introduction and call out. October 2013. Inua Ellams

Years ago I heard of a programme to train barbers in the very basics of counselling so that they would know how to handle sensitive things their clients might say. I wanted to be a resident writer at that barber shop in South London, to find out what those stories might be and to write something inspired by those stories. The idea has grown to this project called 'Barber Shop Chronicles' where I will begin in barber shops in London and travel to countries from Southern to Western Africa looking for stories. The continent is changing so rapidly that we of the diaspora communities barely keep up. I want to gather the ways in which the continent is changing (the day to day issues and problems) directly from locals, from the intimate and intense conversations men have in barber shops. Rather than focusing on a single person's story, I'll be searching for themes to build an 'anthology' of conversation that will link communities on the continent with communities in the United Kingdom. When I return to London, I will create a play using what I find.

Help! Between December and January, I will be travelling to South Africa // Cape Town, Zimbabwe // Harare, Tanzania // Dodoma, Kenya // Nairobi, Uganda // Kampala, Nigeria // Lagos or Jos, Ghana // Accra and Sierra Leone // Freetown. I’m hoping to find one or two barber shops in each city, to mine for stories. I will be spending no more than a week in each place, so will need the ground work to be done before I arrive. So, I was wondering if you could help me?

I am looking for a charismatic, welcoming barber who has regular, clients he knows well, places that have a very strong community feel, frequented by both young and old generations, where the language spoken is English, where everything is discussed. No place is too small or too large, everything from tin shacks on road sides to larger complexes are welcome, and the barbers themselves (who will be key to this process) can be young or old. When it comes to writing the play, I can change names and locations of people and paces if they would like to remain anonymous.

Thank you.