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Though tomes have been written analyzing post-conflict Afghanistan, Debbie's narrative brings alive the tapestry of lives, especially of women in post-conflict Kabul, almost without a self-awareness of the documentation.Through the almost surreally-dizzy world of beauty salons, we see lives unfolding.Loud, brazen and colorful, Rodriguez (Debbie, to everyone in Kabul), a hairdresser from Michigan, USA, came to post-Taliban Afghanistan as part of a group offering humanitarian aid to the war-torn nation.
But Debbie and her co-author, Kristin Ohlson, deny that she has taken sole credit for the idea and the work.
However, in the book, apart from acknowledging the contribution of Mary Meakin - who has stayed and worked in Afghanistan for over 50 years - Debbie chooses to blank out all others.
Why did she sideline all her co- workers at the salon in the book?
What about her problems with the Ministry of Women's Affairs, which virtually shut down her salon/beauty school on the grounds that she was running a for-profit business?
Whether it is the problem of running hair dryers without electricity or the description of markets lined with butcher's stalls with headless carcasses or the harassment of women on the street, Debbie brings to life the sights and smells of the city.
Similar is the way her layers of documentation reveal the lives of ordinary women in Kabul: beauticians desperate to join the beauty school and earn a living; or the girl at the salon who tries to get her co-wife to push her husband to divorce so she can be free of an oppressive marriage; or the young girl who has to prove she is a virgin on the night of her marriage even though she is not. She does her eyebrows," said my Afghan friend Safia. If, by chance, an unmarried woman has plucked eyebrows, it is a suggestion that either she or her family is not very strict about 'morality'.Despite having grown up in the US, Safia is aware of the entire regimen of codes that govern the social behavior of Afghan women. So, when Deborah Rodriguez stepped into this intricate world governed by thousands of minutiae, it was a little like a bull in a China shop.What difference can six American hairdressers make by teaching a group of burka-wearing Afghan women how to do their hair?But according to the new documentary “The Beauty Academy of Kabul,” women’s love of beauty transcends national boundaries and can be used as a successful development tool on the road to peace.In post-Taliban Afghanistan, the international community is not quite wearing jackboots and camouflage fatigues.Most are well-paid internationals, desperate for some beauty care. One to mix around easily with locals as well, Debbie discovered that until the Taliban came to power, Afghan women used to run their own beauty salons. She realized that upgrading the skills of Afghan beauticians, forced underground during the Taliban ban on beauty salons, would be a way of contributing and helping destitute women.Yet, she found little comfort in her spiritual leaders, who could not support her decision for divorce (as her husband had not committed adultery).Not too different from Afghan women, who are told to maintain their marriage despite all odds.In the war-torn city of Kabul, the beauty school is more than an anomaly.The six American volunteers comprising Beauty Without Borders—of whom three are Afghan-Americans retuning home for the first time in more than twenty years—take turns teaching the latest cutting, coloring, and perming techniques to their first class of aspiring Afghan women.