Ibrahim Levi

Memories from a Turkish barber shop during the Six-Day War.

By Harlan Green - Peace Corps Volunteer, Turkey (1964 - 1966)

It was the Six-Day war,

Pitting Arab against Jew,

Yet Turkey’s capital,

In the heart of Anatolia,

Was oh so quiet,

That Sunday,

The sidewalks were empty.

What were people doing,

I wondered,

Just in from my village,

Looking for a barber,

In the neighborhood

To clean up my sorry visage?

Ankara is a growing city,

Bursting at the seams,

Loud cobblestone streets,

Echo its ancient history,

While skyscrapers rise above

Corrugated shacks,

Built overnight with peasant ingenuity.

A shave and haircut are cheap,

For no Turkish man carried a razor,

Would rather flout,

His days of growth,

Than give up this moment,

To be pampered

By the barber.

It was an important occasion,

Part of social convention,

Like any coffeehouse

Used for male congregation,

So was all the more mysterious,

That the neat and tidy shop

I entered finally,

Had one solitary Barber.

Why weren’t more men about,

I asked the sad-faced man?

Why on this day of rest,

Is everyone so pious?

Instead of an answer,

He pointed above the door,

Where hung the only license.

“With a name like Ibrahim Levy,

“Who will dare to trust me?”

He shrugged,

As he passed a finger across his throat.

They are so afraid,

This Jew will pay more attention to Israel,

Than the razor’s stroke!”


This poem was entered in the returned Volunteer category for the 2015 Peace Corps Poetry Contest. The contest received more than 1,000 submissions, representing over 50 years of Peace Corps service in more than 100 countries.

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