The story of a young Afghan woman who outwitted the Taliban to become a successful entrepreneur.
At age 19, Kamela Sediqi started a tailoring business in Kabul that saved her family and possibly hundreds of women from starvation. In 1996, the Taliban seized control of the Afghan government and “began reshaping the cosmopolitan capital according to their utopian vision of seventh-century Islam.” Radical separation of the sexes became the norm, with public lives and spaces reserved for men only. All women—including educated professionals—were forced into home sequestration. The new order wreaked economic havoc and forced political dissidents, including Kamela’s father, to flee for their lives. Desperate to support her family, Kamela, who had trained to become a teacher, took advantage of a loophole in Taliban rules that permitted women to work at home and began sewing clothes for local stores. Though she endured threats of harassment, beating and imprisonment by armed guards, Kamela’s business thrived, to the point where the unlikely entrepreneur was able to employ her five sisters. As word of her work spread, so did her client list. Soon, “the dressmaker of Khair Khana” was offering both jobs and training to neighborhood women in dire circumstances. Hardship derailed Kamela’s plans to teach high school but allowed her to discover her true calling—helping her people help themselves. Former ABC News producer Lemmon’s account is the product of several years of in-depth interviewing, and the author convincingly evokes the atmosphere of Taliban-era Kabul. The author also pays scrupulous attention to the details of character development and narrative momentum. Both are well-delineated, though Kamela and her family members (especially the female ones) at times seem drawn to fit more of a heroic—rather than human—mold. However, the moving story will allow readers to overlook such a minor flaw. As Lemmon writes, women in war zones like Afghanistan are more often depicted as “victims of war who deserve our sympathy rather than as resilient survivors who demand our respect. I was determined to change this.” Mission accomplished.
A memorable, inspiring story of courageous community-building.