Excerpt of Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez, Kristin Ohlson
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You could have done it yourself at home, I tease her, and the others laugh. Many brides are either too modest or too fearful to have their pubic hair removed by others in a salon, so they do it at homethey either pull it out by hand or rip it out with chewing gum. Either way, the process is brutally painful. Besides, its hard to achieve the full Brazilianevery pubic hair plucked, front and back when you do it on your own, even if youre one of the few women in this country to own a large mirror, as Roshanna does.
At least you know your husband is somewhere doing this, too, Topekai says with a leer. My girls giggle at this reference to the grooms attention to his own naked body today. He also must remove all of his body hair.
But he only has to shave it off! Roshanna wails, then blushes and looks down. I know she doesnt want to appear critical of her new husband, whom she hasnt yet met, in front of her mother-in-law. She doesnt want to give the older woman any reason to find fault with her, and when Roshanna looks back up again, she smiles at me anxiously.
But the mother-in-law seems not to have heard her. She has been whispering outside the door with one of her daughters. When she turns her attention back to the waxing room, she looks at Roshanna with a proud, proprietary air.
The mother-in-law had picked Roshanna out for her son a little more than a year after Roshanna graduated from the first class at the Kabul Beauty School, in the fall of 2003, and opened her own salon. The woman was a distant cousin who came in for a perm. She admired this pretty, plucky, resourceful girl who had been supporting her parents and the rest of her family ever since they fled into Pakistan to escape the Taliban. After she left Roshannas salon, she started asking around for further details about the girl. She liked what she heard.
Roshannas father had been a doctor, and the family had led a privileged life until they fled to Pakistan in 1998. There, he was not allowed to practice medicinea typical refugee storyand had to work as a lowly shoeshine man. By the time they returned to Kabul, he was in such ill health that he couldnt practice medicine. Still, he staunchly carried out his fatherly duties by accompanying Roshanna everywhere to watch over her. The mother-in-law had detected no whiff of scandal about Roshanna, except perhaps her friendship with me. Even that didnt put her off, since foreign women are not held to the same rigorous standards as Afghan women. We are like another gender entirely, able to wander back and forth between the two otherwise separate worlds of men and women; when we do something outrageous, like reach out to shake a mans hand, its usually a forgivable and expected outrage. The mother-in-law may even have regarded me as an asset, a connection to the wealth and power of America, as nearly all Afghans assume Americans are rich. And we are, all of us, at least in a material sense. Anyway, the mother-in-law was determined to secure Roshanna as the first wife for her elder son, an engineer living in Amsterdam. There was nothing unusual about this. Nearly all first marriages in Afghanistan are arranged, and it usually falls to the mans mother to select the right girl for him. He may take on a second or even third wife later on, but that first virginal lamb is almost as much his mothers as his.
I see that Roshanna is faltering under her mother-in-laws gaze, and I pull all the other women away from the waxing room. How about highlights today? I ask the mother-in-law. My girls do foiling better than anyone between here and New York City.
Better than in Dubai? the mother-in-law asks.
Better than in Dubai, I say. And a lot cheaper.
Excerpted from Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez with Kristin Ohlson Copyright © 2007 by Deborah Rodriguez. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.