Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez

I don’t even know where to start except, hey, who loves grandparents? Grandparents are amazing. Let’s just all agree on that statement, okay? Grandparents are amazing. They deserve love and hugs and ladybugs.

The past few days have been fuzzy for me and I really don’t remember what I’ve done. Yesterday was cake day and yes, it was fun, frustrating, there was yelling and three runs to the store- that’s how cake day goes. This week was twelve inches, red velvet with buttercream frosting. I fed nine people with it, and half of it was left. I need more people to feed cake to. Really.

Today, thoroughly annoyed at how long this book was taking me, I sat down and very steadfastly read the last sixty pages.

This one is yet another memoir about a woman, Deborah Rodriguez, who traveled to Afghanistan with a non-government organization (NGO) that was going to build a clinic to improve the quality of life of the Afghanis. That would have been all well and good, if Debbie had had any practical skills that made her helpful in the effort of building and maintaining a clinic- but she was a hairdresser. Surrounded by doctors and dentists and surgeons, she was a hairdresser, chosen for some reason to go on a mission Afghanistan. Still wanting to help, she decides to offer what assistance she can by giving haircuts and manicures to NGO missionaries.

That’s only the beginning of the story. Debbie becomes friendly with many Afghanis in her first few months in the country, and she realizes how stacked the gender powers are here. Men have all the power, and women, practically none. She decides she has to do something to enable the women in the country, to help them get jobs and earn money for their family’s, to empower them and make them strong. She opens a beauty school to teach the Afghan women how to do hair and makeup and run their own salons.

Still it’s not that easy. Debbie is a foreigner, a Westerner, at least partially exempt from the strict gender guidelines followed in Afghanistan. In this country, women are dogs or slaves who are sold into marriages with wealthy men who could be loving, but are more often cruel and violent. They must get permission from their husbands to attend Debbie’s beauty school, by convincing their husbands that they can earn money for the family.

Oftentimes, they can. Vanity is a big deal in Afghanistan, despite the fact that women are required to cover most of their skin all of the time. Afghani makeup is loud, gaudy, and colorful compared to the typical American “au natural” look. Afghani brides in particular need to be very, very bedazzled for their engagement parties, which are celebrated prior to the wedding.

This is the kind of book that I find really fascinating because it explores a culture about which I know absolutely nothing. As usual with these sorts of things, it didn’t take me long to realize that we here in America have it nice. We’re allowed ample self-pampering and vanity, and we dress to impress and appeal sexy. We get to date whom we’re interested in, and decide whom we want to marry. If our partner is cruel to us, we can leave them. These are all privileges that Afghani women don’t have.

I always find myself a little surprised when I read a memoir, particularly when I didn’t know it was a memoir until I was fifty pages in. I have nothing against memoirs; they’re just as exciting as novels. It’s like what they say on The Moth when they’re signing off (does anyone listen to The Moth? It’s great, I love it, google it), “Thank you for listening, and we hope you have a story-worthy week.” Memoirs are about story-worthy weeks, or months, or in this case, years. When you’re living the novel, you get to turn it into a memoir.

Personally, I feel like I’m living a chick flick with this weekly cake thing. You know the one, where the woman gets commissioned to bake a cake and she doesn’t know how (check) so she decides that the only way she’s going to learn is to bake one every weekend (check), so that she can practice all of the sizing, get the baking times, the batter amounts, and learn the tips before the big day (check), but she now has a whole bunch of cake that she needs to feed to people (check) so she starts inviting a gazillion people over to her house every weekend (check) including people she doesn’t know very well (check). Soon, somehow, the man of her dreams hears about it and shows up to eat her cake, and they have a gorgeous chick-flick ending (uncheck).

This would be made even better if she was new to her town and didn’t know anyone, so she establishes a cast of friends by inviting them all over for cake.

Next in line is a foodie book. No wait, actually, I’m currently reading something very short that my sister gave me. I’ll include it in the foodie review post. Tonight, though, I’m going to relax, drink my cocoa, and watch some Criminal Minds. Or a chick flick.

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Published in: on April 17, 2011 at 10:14 pm  Comments (4)  
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