I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil by Deborah Rodriguez

In 2001, right before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Rodriguez, a hairdresser, joined an humanitarian aid group to go to Kabul, Afghanistan and try to help.  The country was in chaos after driving out the Russians, surviving the tribal wars, and the driving out of the Taliban.  When she arrives she's with doctors and such who are setting up clinics and doing "important things", but no one seems to know what to do with this woman with spiky dyed bright red hair that can't be contained under a scarf, until she goes to a big party held by aid group for everyone to meet each other, and when she is introduced as a hairdresser, a wild cheer goes up.  It turns out that the Taliban closed all of the salons because they believed they were brothels, which a few were.  Very few salons were open now and they didn't know how to do much.  One woman had to drive to Pakistan to get her hair colored, because no one in Afghanistan knew how to do it.  Soon she is swamped with requests to cut and do hair.

This is when she gets the idea to open up a beauty school to train Afghan women to do better hair (they didn't even have real curlers for perms and had the customer leave the solution in overnight, which resulted in frizzy hair) and to train new ones in the profession so they could earn their own money for themselves and their family.

Soon she is back home with her mean and abusive second husband and two boys, and she decides to call Paul Mitchell on a whim and they agree to send her whatever she wants.  They suggest she call other companies to donate items as well.  Soon the boxes start to arrive and there are so many she has to rent a storage shed.  While she gets up the courage to finally leave her husband, partly in thanks to the friends she made in Afghanistan and what she saw there, she finds out about an aid organization that plans to open up a beauty school and she offers to teach it.

The organization provides the salon and she has the materials to work with.  She is soon swamped with over a hundred applicants for her first class and she can only take twenty.  Her Dari is limited so she has to speak through her best friend, Roshanna, who teaches her much about the Afghan culture.  She is soon tearing her hair out trying to teach them about the color wheel that is essential to highlighting and coloring hair, when after days of this, she finally manages to reach one student, who explains it in her own way, and soon they are on their way to learning how to do hair.

Two of her Americanized Afghan friends are determined to get her an Afghan husband.  She thinks this is silly, after all, she has already failed at two marriages.  Soon, however, they find the perfect man, Sam.  Only he speaks very little English and already has a first wife with seven daughters.  After only knowing him for about twenty days, and being ten years older than he is, she marries him.  Things are rocky due to culture and language barriers.  In Afghanistan, men may hold hands or put an arm around another man walking down the street, but they don't hold the hands of their women, ever, or show affection.

When Roshanna's family has a man's mother asks for her to marry her son (it's the mother who finds the first wife in Afghan culture), they are thrilled, because, Roshanna had been engaged once, when the Taliban was in rule and they were afraid they would take her and marry her by force, they set up a marriage to a German Afghan.  After the marriage certificate is signed at the engagement party, unbeknownst to her family he rapes her and then leaves for Germany and the family soon finds out he has divorced her.  No one knows she is not a virgin.  Wedding are a very big deal in Afghanistan.  The women put on enough make-up and pile their hair up as high as possible on their head that they look like drag queens.  On the night of the wedding, there is a sheet put up between the two sexes, as men and women do not mingle at official parties.  On both sides, however, everyone is doing something beyond dirty dancing, it's so sensual.  Panic soon ensues, however, when the handkerchief is brought out with no blood on it.  She won't let him completely enter her because it hurts.  So, Debbie has a talk with her and cuts her fingernail to the quick and forces blood to come from her finger in order to smear it on the handkerchief.  Everyone is happy.

Finding funding for her second and third classes becomes hard, so Debbie opens up a beauty salon at her new home with her husband and hires the top four girls from her first class to not only work there, but to also teach the class, with the idea that in the future, these women would be teaching the classes themselves.  Each member of the class leaves with a complete kit to set up shop anywhere, including brushes, combs, curlers, curling irons, hair dryers, etc...Word spreads among the Westerners, as well as the Afghan women about the school and her salon and soon they are swamped with customers, including some men, who sneak in after hours, because it is illegal for a woman to do a man's hair, for a style and manicure.

While there are many problems that occur in her marriage, with keeping the beauty school open, and with some of the dangerous Afghan people who are still pro-Taliban, she keeps going determined to give these women their freedom to make it on their own and to finally have a say in the family's finances.  This program is changing the lives of not only the women but of the men in their lives

Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Kabul-Beauty-School-American-Behind/dp/0812976738/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1479136574&sr=1-1&keywords=kabul+beauty+school+by+deborah+rodriguez

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