From Refugee To Entrepreneur

CBC NEWS - If Mohamad Almaidani has any opening day jitters, they don’t show when he picks up his straight razor.

Expertly flicking his way through the first shave of the morning, it’s easy to see how Almaidani has built a huge following in Corner Brook during the past two and a half years.

His schedule is packed with appointments for his first day in business as the owner of Mo’s Corner Barber Shop, a venture he calls “a dream.”

It’s a world away from 2016, when Almaidani, his wife and two young sons arrived in the frigid, dark expanse that is Newfoundland in February.

“I start[ed] from zero,” he recalled.

Almaidani, 35, had been a barber in his home city of Damascus for more than 17 years before he and his family fled Syria in 2012. They spent the next several years in a refugee camp in Jordan, where their youngest son was born, before an Anglican church group sponsored their relocation to Corner Brook.

“I had no money, nothing — only $300,” he said, adding he also felt culture shock on arrival.

But Almaidani did have two things: impressive barber skills, and an impressive work ethic.

About a month after the family’s arrival, Almaidani landed a job as a barber at a local salon, Silver Scissors and Spa. There, his skills quickly set him apart from just about anyone else styling men in Corner Brook.

“His haircuts looked a lot different than what you would see regularly around Corner Brook,” said Andrew Fillatre, one of Almaidani’s first clients at Silver Scissors, and the very first man through the doors at Mo’s Corner Barber Shop.

Almaidani doesn’t simply snip split ends. He begins each client’s treatment with a charcoal nose mask, adds in a warm towel facial, and is meticulous with his always-sharp blades.

That blend of old techniques and contemporary skincare caught on, and despite bouncing around between a few salons in the city, Almaidani built a loyal following.

Knowing he could count on his devoted fanbase, Almaidani was able to make the entrepreneurial leap.

“When you work so hard, and you get your dream, your own shop, it’s very nice. You feel something different, a mix of sadness, and...”

His voice trailed off as he tried to find the words to describe his bittersweet tangle of emotions that there is perhaps no easy way to sum up.

“Not too many places give strangers, or refugees [help]. I was a refugee in Jordan, I didn’t see that there,” he said.

The welcome he says he has received in Newfoundland has been overwhelming, and a relief after his family’s years of turmoil.

“Let me talk as a refugee. We are looking for safety, and nice people — that's it,” he said.

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