Kabul Girls, Bollywood Movies & An American Woman

Ah, the reach of Bollywood.

It never ceases to surprise us.

Who’d have thought the burka-clad Afghani women are as entranced by Bollywood films as much as we are. Indeed they are.

Roshana … makes a face at us, then folds her hands together under her chin and puts on a dazed-by-romance smile, looking kind of like the heroines in the Indian Bollywood movies that everyone watches in Afghanistan.

That’s just one of the charming tidbits we picked up from Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez, an American woman from Michigan who started a beauty school in Kabul, married an Afghani and now shares her experiences in this interesting new book.


Deborah Rodriguez a.k.a Debbie provides us a fascinating peek into the lives of Afghani women and in the process shatters the stereotype of docile burka-clad women, walking with their eyes cast down always.

Attending the wedding of her friend, Debbie  sees these Afghani women engaging in dirty dancing. Yes, dirty dancing!

I’m surrounded by the kind of dancing I would never have expected from these women….This is dirty dancing, Kabul style: they shimmy, they shake, they arch their backs and thrust their hips.

Debbie is charmed by Afghanistan and sees beyond the devastation caused by decades of war.

I was struck by the idea that beyond the war-torn buildings and the sad stories of the people who had survived the bombs, there was something magical about Afghanistan.

We get glimpses of many facets of everyday life in Kabul – Power outages, NGOs, oppression of women, the Taliban, bombings, lack of basic infrastructure, the daily struggle for survival, lack of jobs, the aspirations of young Afghani women and even marriages.

Like marriages in India, Afghani marriages too are expensive and lavish affairs. And yes, there’s the dowry issue there too. Only, here the groom’s side has to lavish cash and jewelry on the bride’s family.

Families save money for years and even take on huge debt to make these events as festive as possible, sparing no expense.

Although the little side stories of the Afghani girls are touching, it’s Debbie’s life in an alien culture that’s far more colorful and interesting.

Life is tough in Kabul for Debbie on multiple fronts.

Arriving in Kabul in 2002 with the emotional scars of a bad marriage, Debbie’s job is to provide emergency and disaster relief in the war-torn country.

But Debbie quickly finds that she’s a misfit in that group and slowly turns to what she knows best: doing spiral perms, pubic waxing, manicures, pedicures, shampoos and other stuff that’re routine in a beauty parlor.

Besides battling an entrenched age-old anti-women culture, she also has to contend with the local bureaucracy and her perilous funding situation.

As if being in Kabul itself was not excitement enough for this 40-year-old American woman, our daring Debbie marries Sam, an Uzbek Mujahideen, who fought with warlord General Dostum against the Russians.

Mind you, Sam is 10 years younger than Debbie, already married with a wife and seven daughters in Saudi Arabia, and speaks very little English. And Debbie knows very little Dari, a local language.

In fact, Sam’s Hindi (perhaps because of the Bollywood movies?) is better than his English.

Ultimately, Kabul Beauty School is the captivating story of a restless woman striving to make a new life in a far-off country with a beauty school and beauty parlor (to keep the school going) and a new husband.

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