Soon after the fall of the Taliban, in 2001, Deborah Rodriguez went to Afghanistan as part of a group offering humanitarian aid to this war-torn nation. Surrounded by men and women whose skillsas doctors, nurses, and therapistsseemed eminently more practical than her own, Rodriguez, a hairdresser and mother of two from Michigan, despaired of being of any real use. Yet she soon found she had a gift for befriending Afghans, and once her profession became known she was eagerly sought out by Westerners desperate for a good haircut and by Afghan women, who have a long and proud tradition of running their own beauty salons. Thus an idea was born.
With the help of corporate and international sponsors, the Kabul Beauty School welcomed its first class in 2003. Well meaning but sometimes brazen, Rodriguez stumbled through language barriers, overstepped cultural customs, and constantly juggled the challenges of a postwar nation even as she learned how to empower her students to become their families breadwinners by learning the fundamentals of coloring techniques, haircutting, and makeup.
Yet within the small haven of the beauty school, the line between teacher and student quickly blurred as these vibrant women shared with Rodriguez their stories and their hearts: the newlywed who faked her virginity on her wedding night, the twelve-year-old bride sold into marriage to pay her familys debts, the Taliban members wife who pursued her training despite her husbands constant beatings. Through these and other stories, Rodriguez found the strength to leave her own unhealthy marriage and allow herself to love again, Afghan style.
With warmth and humor, Rodriguez details the lushness of a seemingly desolate region and reveals the magnificence behind the burqa. Kabul Beauty School is a remarkable tale of an extraordinary community of women who come together and learn the arts of perms, friendship, and freedom.
The women arrive at the salon just before eight in the morning. If it were any other day, Id still be in bed, trying to sink into a few more minutes of sleep. Id probably still be cursing the neighbors rooster for waking me up again at dawn. I might even still be groaning about the vegetable dealers who come down the street at three in the morning with their noisy, horse-drawn wagons, or the neighborhood mullah, who warbles out his long, mournful call to prayer at four-thirty. But this is the day of Roshannas engagement party, so Im dressed and ready for work. Ive already had four cigarettes and two cups of instant coffee, which I had to make by myself because the cook has not yet arrived. This is more of a trial than you might think, since Ive barely learned how to boil water in Afghanistan. When I have to do it myself, I put a lit wooden match on each of the burners of the cranky old gas stove, turn one of the knobs, and back off...
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