Courage - in another form....


Book Reviewer
I expect this story is well-known That Side but after Skynet posted it in The Longest Running Thread of all time, I thought it was worth airing more widely:

Summer Reading Guide
Behind The Veil: Starting A Beauty School In Kabul
Knowledge@Wharton 07.12.07, 9:17 AM ET

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Behind The Veil: Starting A Beauty School In Kabul

In one of the more memorable scenes in Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil, author Deborah Rodriguez teaches a group of Afghan beauty students the rules for dyeing hair.

Struggling to convey the principles of the color wheel across linguistic and cultural differences, Rodriguez nearly gives up: "After three days of class, they just look at me like I'm speaking Greek," she complains to a friend. "I don't think I'm going to be able to teach them anything." The friend urges patience, and a chastened Rodriguez, alive to the difficulties of her students' chaotic lives, tries again.

"The next day, I had a breakthrough," she writes. "I was trying one more time to get across the idea of the contributing pigment as something you had to counteract in order to get the color right. They were all looking at me with courteous incomprehension--blank if benign stares--and I was groping around for an analogy. 'Think of it as Satan!' I finally said, pointing at a patch of orange paint. 'It's the evil thing in your hair that you have to fight. You have to use the opposite color to keep it from taking over.' "

The analogy works. A student's face lights up with understanding. She gets hugged and kissed by Rodriguez and then explains the principle of pigment counteraction to her fellow students. Soon, the class is humming with excitement. "I'd whip questions at them--like 'You've got a woman who's a natural level four and she wants to be a warm eight, so what do you do?'--and they'd whip the answers right back at me."

Related Link:
How To Run A Beauty Salon

Rodriguez tells this story to describe the difficulties she faced launching a beauty school in post-Taliban Kabul. But the story also serves as a tongue-in-cheek parable for the challenge of explaining to a Western audience what it's like to try to launch a business in a place as war-torn and uncertain as Afghanistan. Faced with finding a way to talk about her experiences that will be recognizable to an audience unfamiliar with Afghan life, Rodriguez does with her story what she does with hair: She creates a unique effect by creatively combining stock components.

Stories, like hair colors, frequently follow formulas. Two distinct narrative formulas come together in Kabul Beauty School.

First, there is the sensitive exposé of "life behind the veil." From Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi's award-winning account of an underground Iranian women's book group, to The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel about modern Afghanistan, tales of Islamic culture have entranced Western readers eager for a glimpse into a world that is at once far removed from theirs and yet fundamentally intertwined with it. Kabul Beauty School opens a window onto the private lives of Afghan women, whose beauty secrets and hidden histories are both revealed in the course of the book.

The second formula at work in Rodriguez's book is the beauty shop saga. Anchoring such movies as Steel Magnolias (1989), Legally Blonde (2001) and Queen Latifah's more recent Beauty Shop (2005), to name a few, the beauty shop saga treats the salon as the scene of an all-female utopia that transcends the social and cultural differences that divide women in the world beyond the shop. This effect is intensified in Kabul Beauty School, as the beauty shop is just about the only place in Afghanistan where women can freely gather.

A beauty shop saga that takes place behind the veil, Kabul Beauty School is a business memoir with attitude, a warm, insightful and strikingly sharp account of what it's like to try to launch and run an NGO in a remote and unsettled part of the world.

In the spring of 2002, shortly after the fall of the Taliban, Rodriguez flew to Kabul with an emergency relief operation organized by the Care for All Foundation. As a hairdresser, she was the odd woman out amid the volunteer doctors, dentists, midwives and nurses who surrounded her. At first, she struggled to make herself useful, and her exploratory forays into the restless city streets--which she conducted with her spiky red hair uncovered, and which revealed her special genius for bonding with Afghan strangers--frightened her colleagues so much that they assigned her the "job" of staying home and praying for them.

But when word got out that an actual hairdresser had come to Kabul, Rodriguez became an overnight celebrity within the sizable population of Westerners doing relief work in Afghanistan. People started lining up outside her door for haircuts, and it wasn't long before she was doing the locals' hair as well.

Without knowing it, Rodriguez had brought with her to Afghanistan skills that offered just as much as those of the medical personnel on her relief team. Everyone in Kabul, it seemed, was desperate for a good haircut. And Rodriguez quickly realized that hairdressing had the potential to help revitalize the Afghan economy by enabling women to become wage earners in a socially acceptable way.

The Taliban had shut down Kabul's once thriving beauty industry. Some women had continued to do hair at home, and many counted the wives of Taliban men among their clients. But this was an underground economy run by women who were largely unschooled in the finer points of cutting, coloring, perming and styling hair--not to mention basic hygiene (one of Rodriguez' Western clients describes catching lice during a visit to a local hairdresser).

As amateurish as they were--"they were using 10-year-old perm solution and scissors the size of hedge clippers"--these women made good money, often earning several times what their husbands made at their jobs. Crucially, they did so at work that men did not find threatening.

The potential, Rodriguez recognized, was enormous. "I had discovered the one thing I could do to help the Afghans," many of whom were uneducated and impoverished, she says. That was to "help them run better salons and make more money. I knew from my own experience back home that a salon is a good business for a woman
:worship: Miz Rodriguez we are not worthy.....all these musclebound apes with their shiny bangsticks and attitude going ' hut! hoo-ah! betcha! ' ...and here you are conquering Terry Taliban with hydrogen GO girl !

Excellent. :D

Lee Shaver

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