Adventures in Grooming: From the Angolan Wilderness to a Brooklyn Barbershop

Luke Manson hadn’t set foot in a barbershop in three years. Much of that was due to neglect, but for the last 10 weeks, Manson was volunteering far from civilization in Angola for the Okavango Wilderness Project. His first step back to city life was a cut-and-shave at Persons of Interest barbershop in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, while we filmed the cut and he talked about his adventures. 

Manson, a manager at New York’s Blind Tiger, one of the world’s premiere beer bars, linked up with the Wilderness Project after meeting the expedition leader at a party. He jumped at the invitation to become part of a small logistics team in charge of setting up camps and cooking in a mostly undocumented part of the world. (Prior to the trip, his camping experience was limited to music festivals.) In Angola, his job duties included keeping the team fed, alive, and in good spirits, as well as assisting scientists and staying up late to update a trip blog.

During the expedition, Manson and team took boats down the Cuanavale River, paddling five to seven hours a day to document birds living in the region, research that is being compiled for a wildlife database to help the region establish conservation with a National Park designation. Civil war and conflicts during the last 60 years wiped out wildlife populations, and the team of scientists, engineers, and adventurers are now compiling the database in an effort to discover what wildlife actually still exists in the region, as well as gathering stories and opinions from locals who depend on the river system.

While Africa’s Okavango Delta is protected, its headwaters are not. "Had the armies not wiped out massive populations of animals for food, over 150,000 elephants, they could probably handle the current hunting pressure,” Manson says. “But the animals haven’t had the opportunity to re-populate, so that pressure is just too large. If we are successful in establishing a national park encompassing the whole area, animal populations will rise."

While wildlife was not abundant, it was certainly still a danger. Locals informed Manson and his team that they were camping near a lake that was home to a pride of eight lions, though he never saw them. “When you go out at night, lions are mostly nocturnal — and you're aware of that," he says. And his crew did have a run-in with a Gaboon viper, a venomous snake, that struck a camera that was photographing it, leaving a trace of its venom and fangs on the lens. While staying alive and out of the way of lions and the like, grooming wasn’t a primary concern of Manson’s. Not that he had access to running water, toilets, or beds. “I did not shave, or get a haircut, or see a shower, bed, or toilet for that whole time,” he says. “Let me tell you, if you think showers, beds, or toilets are over-rated, you’re wrong. They are awesome"

Back in Brooklyn, head barber Scott Cowan gave Manson a classic cut with a modern twist, leaving some length on top.

“I gave him a haircut that was clean, but had a slight edge to it, meaning he could easily wear a suit and look good, but also work at a bar and fit in nicely. It’s the best of both worlds,” says Cowan.

Before he was spun around to see his new look for the first time, Manson said it felt like he got a pound of hair cut off his head and face. And after a few days sporting the new look, he's getting positive feedback. “People say I don’t look like a caveman, homeless person, or member of the Taliban mostly,” he says. “It was time. My face was so damn hot.”