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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.In her recent book, 'Kabul Beauty School ', Debbie documents how she arrived in Afghanistan to work with an aid group - mostly comprising doctors, nurses and therapists - but soon realized that she was of little help to them.
Certainly, the importance of factual narrative in an autobiography is essential.
However, the book would have been equally fascinating as a work of fiction.
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.
Running away from a bad marriage, she was looking for something more fulfilling to do in life.
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?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. 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.At another level, Debbie provides a parallel to the lives of her girls at the beauty parlor.Trapped in an abusive marriage, Debbie tried to cope by "getting religion".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.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.