A lively narrative of the author’s experiences reacquainting Afghan women with skills the mullahs had denied them.
Michigan-born Rodriguez arrived in Kabul in May 2002 with the Care for All Foundation, a Christian humanitarian organization. She’d had emergency and disaster-relief training, but as soon as her group leader mentioned at a meeting that she was a hairdresser, she was mobbed by foreign-aid workers desperate for a decent haircut. The Taliban had banned beauty parlors, and the ones that had opened since its fall suffered from years of inactivity. When her young protégée Roshanna took her to a secret salon in Kabul, Rodriguez was shocked by the meager supplies and the staff’s rudimentary skills. She embarked on a mission to start a beauty school in Kabul. She worked on getting product donations from hair-care companies like Paul Mitchell. She enlisted help from Mary MacMakin, the American head of a nonprofit organization geared toward helping Afghan widows. Living on and off in Kabul, Rodriguez found a suitable building and opened her school to about 30 students, whose hard-luck stories fill these pages. Often uneducated, married in their teens, locked away to languish at home or beaten into submission, these women were eager to gain self-sufficiency and self-worth. The vast cultural gap between them and their teacher could make instruction difficult. Struggling to explain that sometimes when coloring hair, the beautician had to neutralize an underlying pigment to get the desired shade, for example, Rodriguez just wasn’t getting through until she had the inspiration to declare, “Think of it as Satan! It’s this evil thing in the hair that you have to fight.” She became so comfortable in her new country that she agreed to an arranged marriage with an enlightened Afghan businessman. Today, she writes, “I’ve been renewed by the spirit of this place and roused by its challenges.”
Terrifically readable, and rich in personal stories.