Sunday, March 2, 2008

Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil

Rodriguez, Deborah. Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil. New York: Random House, 2007

Reviewed by Rebecca Stuhr

Deborah Rodriguez is the survivor of an abusive marriage, the mother of two teenage sons, and a cosmetologist from Holland, Michigan. She makes her first trip to Afghanistan shortly after the U.S. invasion. Having been trained to give first aid, she first helps out at ground zero after 9/11 and then later joins a mission group to work in Afghanistan. She stays for one month on this first trip. She finds herself to be a little out of place without the skills to make herself useful. But once the the word gets out that she is a beautician, she finds plenty of work caring for the Westerners employed with NGOs in Kabul. It is this month in Afghanistan that sparks her desire to return and open a beauty school as a way to help the women of Kabul.

Beauty salons are advantageous businesses because they can be run by one person. In Afghanistan, men are not allowed in beauty salons because women uncover their heads making beauty salons a safe haven for women. Women can gain a certain amount of autonomy working out of the home and earning their own money. So Rodriguez returns to Afghanistan and stays for five years to operate a beauty school and run a salon. This is no easy task, not only because of the violence and unpredictability of conditions in Kabul during her stay there, but because of her lack of language skills and her unfamiliarity with the customs of Afghanistan. Additionally, beauty salons are associated with prostitution, women bring their troubles into the salon, funding through NGOs is unpredictable, and the neighbors are not always friendly. But, Rodriguez cares for and is in turn cared for by the women she trains and with whom she works.

Rodriguez, through her candid account of her five years in Afghanistan, sheds light on the condition and status of women and the volatility and fragility of day-to-day living in Kabul. For more about post 9/11 Afghanistan read Hamida Ghafour's The Sleeping Buddha. Ghafour meets Deborah Rodriguez and writes about her in her book.

On order for the library

1 comment:

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