In Yelwan Tudu market, we turn a corner and find a shop four men share. On one side of the veranda that is attached to this shop, a shoemaker works alone. On the other side, three local barbers work in silence. They use the same green soap to lather the heads of their customers before they shave their heads clean of hair.
We watch the customers come and go; middle-aged and elderly men who cannot bring themselves to go to any of the clipper-using barbing salons they pass by on their way here. They park their bicycles and motorcycles by the shop, make conversation and wait to have their hair cut. For the most part, they pay us no attention. The ones who find us curious want to know who we are and why we are here, in this shop. This is something I have had to do on the road often: introduce myself to people whose lives do not intersect with my life in any obvious way except by this map that makes us citizens. A boy walks up to us. He says he can tell that we are strangers. He offers to help us translate what we have to say.
As we talk to the men, we learn that the oldest of the three barbers, Haruna, is a licensed herbal and traditional barber. For thirty years, in addition to cutting hair, he has circumcised boys and girls and women. He is regarded as an expert in this field. To convince us, he shows us an ID card with his name Haruna M Wanzam underneath the name and logo of an association. The business has been in his family for generations.
Each time Haruna finds a question odd, he chuckles a little before he answers, He is fast and efficient with his barbing. His tools are placed before him neatly. An enamel cup, a box of match sticks he never uses while we are there, a scissors, a lilac comb and some metal contraptions for holding razor blades. He tells us that sometimes hospitals call him to correct their circumcision failures. I keep thinking, there must be a transit station from ones world of ideals and preconceptions into anothers. There must be some kind of safe passage into what is surreal and I have missed it by simply turning a corner in a market in Bauchi. We ask to photograph him as he works.
There is a word for what he does when he removes parts of women’s clitorises and labias. Cut. There is an older, burdened word. Mutilate. Both words do not exactly define the meaning of this life Haruna M Wanzam has made for himself, but they question his place in the world and his role in a system that imagines the sexual agency of women a crime. I keep thinking there must be a way to witness that reveals a person beyond the things that make them complicit, and somehow, if I had watched him long enough, I would have found it.
*This post is a collaboration between Kechi Nomu and Nengi Nelson. All images by Nengi Nelson