'Kabul Beauty School' offers inspiration for women

Georgia, USA, April 1, 2007 (Daily Post): In 2002, Deborah Rodriguez, a hairdresser from Michigan, went to Afghanistan as a disaster relief volunteer. Though she was prepared to do emergency work, she soon found out that her salon skills were in high demand.

Many of the city's beauty shops had been closed during the rule of the Taliban, so other Westerners in the country had been having a hard time finding a place to get a haircut. As Rodriguez began offering salon services, she discovered that beauty rituals were of extreme importance to Afghan women. She began working with a new school that was founded to help teach Afghan women how to run their own salons.

The author decided to stay in Kabul and lives there with her husband, who is Afghan. In her candid memoir, "Kabul Beauty School: An American Goes Behind the Veil" (Random House, $24.95), Rodriguez details her life in Afghanistan.

In the book, Rodriguez is very open about her experiences. "I'm a hairdresser, so I have the common trait of being outgoing and chatty," she said during a recent interview conducted via e-mail.

While writing, she was careful to protect the identities of the women mentioned in the book, however.

"The women in the book were very keen on being able to tell their stories with the understanding that no one would find out who they are," Rodriguez said.

She hopes her book will show Americans that life in Afghanistan is more than what's shown on television.

"Outside of the violence you see on the news, the Afghan people are very poetic, they love dancing and music. Even though the women are veiled, they care for themselves and are very beautiful," Rodriguez said.

While living in Kabul, she has learned a lot about the women's perceptions of beauty there.

"In the Arab and central Asian countries they pay way more attention to their hair, clothes and faces - they are so well groomed, they put American women to shame," Rodriguez said. "They get their hair done for a party, they get their eyebrows groomed every week, they see Americans as plain. Beauty shops in the Middle East and central Asia are hubs for women; their beauty regimen has been going on for centuries."

When Rodriguez first visited Afghanistan, she didn't plan to stay there - or write a book. She began splitting her time between Kabul and her home in Holland, Mich. While in Afghanistan, she would send long e-mails to her friends and salon customers back in the United States.

After sending them, Rodriguez really didn't think about these e-mails again, but one of her friends had kept them all. "She gave them to me and my mom in a book format as a gift. I had forgotten about some of the things that had happened and was so glad she had saved these long, endless e-mails," Rodriguez said.

Her friend then encouraged Rodriguez to start keeping a journal. Rodriguez began writing daily and ended up with hundreds of pages of stories. While working on her book, she had a hard time deciding what should be included. "There always seems to be some sort of drama each day," she said.