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Photo Essay: Meet K-Fly, one of North Oakland’s Eritrean barbers

on December 16, 2014

These photos follow a barber named Kiflay Habte, a.k.a. “K-Fly,” who is part of North Oakland’s Eritrean community.

Many of his shop’s customers are Eritrean, but their customer base is very diverse: white, Mexican, or from other places in Africa. Both Habte and his employee, Mussa, are from Eritrea and speak Tigrinya to their Eritrean customers. Habte speaks 6 different languages, including American Sign Language, learned in college, as well as Amaric, Arabic, English and Tigrinya.

The shop is near Bushrod Park, off Shattuck Avenue. The area is home to a large Eritrean and Ethiopian community. “It reminds me of home,” Habte says. “The atmosphere, seeing people in the street like me. When they pass, I can smell the food they eat and cook.”

Habte moved to the U.S. in 1994 after spending six years as a member of the Eritrean freedom fighters in that country’s war for independence from Ethiopia.  His mother and sister were already in the Bay Area when he arrived; they had escaped from the war and arrived as refugees in 1989.

Habte stayed behind and volunteered for direct combat.  “I wanted to fight for my county’s freedom,” he said. “I fought that war so that my children wouldn’t have to. It was scary but there was a purpose for it.”

When he arrived in the U.S., he became a long distance runner. “Being in the zone–it just feels like you want to keep running, go longer,” he said. “There is no pain.”

But he had to stop when his ankle was injured. “That was very disappointing, the injury,” he said, “when something that you love and you love to do it has to end. All of the sudden doctors say you can’t run for 6 months. After that my priorities changed, when I got married and had kids, and when I met my sweetheart. I feel that that was a different time of my life. Now my life is raising my kids.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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