A hairdresser, a mechanic shop, an upholstery shop – what type of businesses do we open in Iraq?
We have already opened more than a hundred small businesses as part of the GREAT JOB project. Some of them operate in an unusual, sometimes even surprising way.
A month ago, I wrote about the main assumptions of the GREAT JOB project in the article “What is GREAT JOB?” In that article, I described the project’s beginnings and gave examples of small businesses that have been opened as part of the project. In this article, I would like to focus a little bit on how these businesses operate, and some of their ways differ from ours. I will also include some curiosities that not many have heard about.
I gave several examples of businesses opened as part of the Great Job on our Facebook page, such as hairdresser salons and car mechanic workshops. Here I will give some more interesting facts, so I invite you to read the article till the end.
I will start similar to my Facebook post, namely with hairdresser salons. To date, we have opened nine of them: six for men and three for women. Unfortunately, I’m not able to say much about the latter. But I can say a few words about hairdressers for males since I have used their services several times. They are true professionals. Most often, a hairdresser is also a barber as most Iraqi men have longer or shorter beards. It’s worth adding that hairdresser traditions are often passed from generation to generation. Children learn the craft under the watchful eyes of their parents and this is actually common in many industries. The experience is easily noticeable. A blade in the hand of an Iraqi hairdresser moves smoothly and if there is any fear for our ears, it quickly disappears. Precise moves and a trained eye will not leave even one strand of hair cut badly.
In Iraq, hairdresser salons often play a role of a local cultural center, especially in the evenings when it is cooler and people start going out. They can enjoy a cup of tea, meet their friends or watch their favorite football team at their local hairdresser. The salons’ walls are usually decorated with posters and pictures of football stars that also serve as haircut models. It is also customary to pay for others. A friend pays for a friend, or sometimes for a stranger as well showing Iraqi hospitality, as was in my case.
We are used to the fact that in Poland every shop or workshop has regular opening hours. They are 8-16 or 6-22 in the case of grocery stores, and these have been long established as a norm. Opening hours are usually also indicated on entrance doors. In Iraq, it is a bit different. Instead of opening hours, there is usually a phone number left on the door. You can find many shops closed during the day and open in the evenings. This is related to the Iraqi climate. Not many people go out shopping when temperatures rise above 50 degrees Celsius. But you can call the indicated number and if the shop owner lives nearby, he will soon show up and open his business for us. Most often he will also offer a glass of cold water, and if we stay a bit longer, he will treat us with a cup of tea.
In town centers, where all kinds of services usually accumulate, one can observe an interesting phenomenon. If we look for something specific, it’s enough to enter the first shop on our way. If, for example, it’s a stationary shop but we are looking for shoes, the shop assistant will tell us where to find them. People know each other well over there. It is even more interesting when after getting to the right shop we can’t find what we are looking for. To keep his customer happy, a shop assistant may ask us for a moment of patience while he will go to a shop nearby and bring us the thing we’ve requested. He may also take us to another shop which in most cases is run by his cousin or brother.
That’s also the case with workplaces that we open. I will use the example of car mechanic workshops. To date, we have supported three such workplaces. In Iraq, they tend to be located next to each other creating a sort of a complex. When one of them is already busy, a new customer will be serviced next door. Sharing customers is normal here. Workshops often specialize in a specific type of service. For example, one changes the oil, the other one does vulcanization, and the third one repairs electronics. If a damage is not substantial, it will be repaired on the spot. In this case, while waiting for his car to be fixed, the customer will be invited to have a cup of coffee or tea.
Car is the main means of transport in Iraq. There are neither trains nor public transport. Long-distance buses do run between major cities, but if one doesn’t live in a large town, getting around without a car is difficult. Taxis are very popular and quite cheap – it costs around 10-15 Polish zlotys to travel by taxi around a town, regardless of the distance. It works a bit like a bus ticket.
The biggest problems for Iraqi drivers are bad roads and poor quality petrol. Even though this country has massive oil resources, the quality of petrol and oil at gas stations is usually quite low. Sometimes this leads to cars catching fire. I witnessed this once. A crowd of onlookers appeared immediately. Some were trying to put out the fire with car fire extinguishers, with little result. The fire brigade arrived too late, but luckily no one got hurt. But the reaction in the crowd was very interesting. Someone pulled out a box from his car booth and spontaneously started collecting money for the victim’s new car. This is rather normal there and sometimes such crowdfunding can be quite successful.
I would like to end by refering to this article’s title. What other businesses do we open apart from the ones mentioned above? The list is long and it includes workplaces that are known and still popular in Poland like bakeries and groceries, as well as those that are slowly dying. We can still find tailors and shoemakers in Poland, but they are disappearing. Not in Iraq, where they are still well established. We have also opened a glazier’s, a carpenter, and an upholstery workshops. We have supported several home appliances services as well as mobile and electronic shops. The vast majority of these small businesses still operates today, and several of them have been further developed by their owners. In the future, we would like to go one step further and open small cooperatives, each employing several families.
Author: Dawid Czyż