Bravo to Deborah Rodriguez, the author as well as the first person of the book. This is by far the best book I have read this year. Yes, I have fallen so blindly in love with Twilight. It was some kind of a mental refuge to venture towards the fictional world for which I have always painted in my mind to be the ideal reality I want to be a part of. But no matter what we do, Twilight will remain a mere fantasy.
Kabul Beauty School is reality. A reality we can all be a part of if we choose to and if given the chance. It is a true account of the author's experiences in Kabul.
Last month (March) was Women's Awareness month. It's good that I've read the book last week, which was still March. It reminded me of women's rights, issues, struggles, success and future.
For most modern women, myself included, we have come a long way. From the afflictions that our gender had gone through, to the beginning of the women's suffrage movement in 1848...then now. What rights we enjoy at present are products of the egalitarian spirits of women who fought for social reforms. It is however very unfortunate that this crusade did not slither successfully towards the East, Afghanistan specially.
With Taliban gaining power in 1996, complete ban of education for girls was imposed in adherence to a very strict Sharia law (Islamic Law). This marked the beginning of the end of women's rights and protection in Afghanistan.
Women get stoned to death if they are as much as accused to be committing adultery. Yes, in all forms of morality adultery is considered foul, but we don't get stoned to death in public for this. We don't get sent to jail because someone raped us. We do not get beaten because we've shown our face to someone outside the family. We do not get sold by our fathers to supplement their needs. We are not forced to marry at the age of 12 to a 45 year old man so our family can collect dowry. We don't have to hide inside the house and inside the burka when we're outside the house because the Taliban's might grab us off the streets...
When NATO Forces started occupying Afghanistan in October 2001 in response to the 9/11 attack, Afghan women started seeing hopes again. Part of these optimisms are caused by the arrival of the many NGOs in Afghanistan to help rebuild the country and the people. Deborah Rodriguez went to rebuild the spirits of women.
The burka clad women have been locked away for so long in these outfits which we, westernised women might consider a jail cell. For them, it is a protection. It's their hiding place from being seen by Taliban extremists.
Debbie Rodriguez is a hair dresser and a beautician. How in the world did a beautician help women in a world where not even a strand of woman's hair is to be seen by the public? Teaching people how to be beautiful in a place where beauty is not visualised is like teaching a bunch of people with amputated arms to paint.
She started a beauty school which clearly stepped over the cultural divide. The school hatched a number of (now)successful women entrepreneurs. But her journey was not without tears...lots of it. This is not to say that there was no laughter and fun though. Her book illustrated several comedic experiences. One instance was when her best Afghan friend, Roshanna, got married.
Roshanna is no longer a virgin (she was raped during a previous engagement). If you are a single Afghan woman and is no longer a virgin, the odds of you getting chosen as a first wife is dire. Her fiancee, whom she hasn't seen before does not know this. They have this consummation ceremony after the wedding, where the couple are meant to make love over a white handkerchief for the first time while the mother of the bride stands guard outside the door. The bride then hands over the white handkerchief (stained with blood) to her mother so she can proclaim and prove that her daughter is a 'wholesome-respectable virgin'.
In Roshanna's case, it was impossible to produce a bloody handkerchief. Roshanna and her husband tried several times, but Roshanna always ends up pushing her husband away. When the husband was about to give up, Debbie stepped in between coaching time and love making time. She clipped her fingernails too short so she cuts her flesh and spilled blood for Roshanna. She drained and wiped all the blood she could possibly force out into the handkerchief and handed it back to Roshanna and said..."Here's your virginity!" . They hid the handkerchief underneath the pillow before another love-making trial session... After a few minutes, off went Roshanna's mum screaming, "VIRGIN! VIRGIN!"
Her beating the odds in reshaping the outlook of women is perhaps the sweetest success the female population in Afghanistan has achieved in decades.
Afghan women have a long way to thread through, but there is always a start. The Kabul beauty school started and ignited the influx of self sufficient and independent Afghan women. Most of the graduates are now earning more than what Doctors in Kabul earn. Doctors generally charge 10 Afghani per visit, where beauticians charge up to 300 Afghani to do a bridal make-up.
She currently lives in California. It is very unfortunate that Debbie Rodriguez could not return to Kabul just yet. There had been many accusations and threats against her. The school was accused as a brothel. She'd been accused of so many things but a true emancipator of the long suffering women of Kabul.
Like her, I have this ardent wish to be able to do something big. I've always thought that if I'm able to change a life or two for the better in this lifetime, then I have not lived a meaningless life.
I have yet to fulfill that wish. Right now, I am in search of that path.
This book reaffirmed my belief that anyone can make a change. Specially a woman.
WELL DONE! VERY INSPIRING!!!
Photo of the burka clad women from this site:
Photo of Deborah Rodriguez from this site: