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   Cuba's oldest barber

Ricardo a.k.a. Pepo as he is known by the locals,  is perhaps at 91 years  Cuba's oldest barber.  Walking past his modest parlour , the verdant courtyard denotes attention to detail and a nurturing spirit.   Gentle in nature and exuding   a  serene energy  ,  Pepo conveys  wisdom even while making small-talk.  His agility matches  that of a 60-year-old as he gives me  a tour of his shopfront and house in between servicing loyal clients.  Pepo explains to me in his measured account that  he enjoyed school until the sixth grade and then received a different education in the salon that has been lifelong refining  . By age 6, Pepo recalls that  he was able to cut his father's clients hair completely by himself . Powerful early memories of  looking up from the barbers floor watching his father working like an artisan , as hair fell like snowflakes ,  are  acknowledged as sealing Pepo's destiny to honour his father's tradition. 

 Pepo explains that the profession of barbering  was well respected when he chose to commit to the discipline and was held in as much regard as being a   lawyer or  accountant by today's standards. The trade would often be generationally handed down from father to son and in Pepo's circumstance , he has outlived three barbers within his family.  Once embarking in the career , it was essential for  barbers to  take great pride in their appearance  and to wear crisp  clothes and  highly polished shoes . Each   application of comb and considered scissor snip were akin to artist brushstrokes . Pepo confirms the complementary  dynamics  of confidant and confessional that are  often at play and that the customer  experience is not purely about hair .

Intrigued about Pepo's  professional highlights,  he humbly recounts  about a day in 1998 when Pope John Paul II came into his barbershop ,  equipped with numerous minders, and asked for a haircut. My interest now peaked, Pepo reveals that the unassuming nature  of the then Pope was apparent and that it seemed  incomprehensible that he should ask  Pepo about his life story and appear genuinely interested.

 Pepo has lived alone since his wife passed away 30 years ago . I discovered this as he stood solitary in his dining room area looking distantly  across the table where his loving wife  used to sit .  When asked about  what the secret is   to longevity in life and work  is , he simply replied without hesitation  " If you open your heart and love others while being good  to everyone you meet,  that love will be returned to you tenfold . That's my secret."

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