In 2005, Gayle Lemmon headed to Afghanistan, looking for stories of women entrepreneurs, women who had built businesses there, despite the fact they were living in a war zone. She intended to tell the story of Afghan businesswomen who emerged after the Taliban's takeover. What was it like for the women left behind as men were forced to flee the country? The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, the story of one courageous, enterprising young woman, is an inspiring story for all women.
Kamila Sidiqi came from a family of nine girls and two boys. Mr. Sidiqi had seen enough of the world to believe that all of his children should be educated, including his girls. Kamila had just received her teaching certificate when the Taliban took over in Kabul in 1996. But, when the Taliban took Kabul, they immediately forbade girls to go to school. Women were also barred from working outside the home, and even forbidden to leave th,eir home without a male relative. If they did, they were in danger of being beaten, imprisoned, or even shot. And, men were being rounded up, forced to join the Taliban. With Mr. Sidiqi's past in the military, he knew he might be considered an enemy, so he left the area. His wife and oldest son soon followed, leaving Kamila at home with her four younger sisters and younger brother. When her father left, he told Kamila he was counting on her to be a leader for her sisters.
In a riveting story that reads like a novel, Lemmon tells of Kamila's success. Somehow she had to find a way to make a living for herself and her family. Calling on her older sister for help, she learned a dressmaking skill, and set out to sell dresses to merchants. Despite ongoing dangers and threats of arrest at any time, Kamila built a business that helped not only her family to survive, but numerous other women, widows and young women who became sometimes the only support for their families. It's hard to imagine young American women of eighteen or nineteen taking on such a role under constant threat. But, Kamila's family business grew so much it came to the attention of international organizations, and by the time the Taliban were pushed out of Kabul in 2001, Kamila was working to train other women. Eventually, she had trained more than 900 of her countrymen and women so they had skills to build and grow their own businesses.
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is fascinating. Mr. Sidiqi had taught Kamila that "Learning was the key to the future - both her own and her country's." It's a lesson she took to heart in the five years under the Taliban, and the years since as she continued to help others. It's so hard to imagine what Kamila Sidiqi did, with the help of her sisters, building a business that grew to support not only their family, but so many others. The author says, "They were just kids trying to survive another year of war together with no parents to watch over them." The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is an inspiring, moving story of courage.
Gayle Lemmon's website is www.gaylelemmon.com.
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. HarperCollins. ©2011. ISBN 9780061732379 (hardcover), 257p.
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