Last week I finished The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. The book is a non-fiction account of Kamila Sidiqi during the 5+ years of Afghanistan life under the Taliban.
Life Under the Taliban
The day that Kamila Sidiqi graduated from teaching college was the same day the Taliban entered Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.
Immediately the Taliban enforced a super strict version of Islamic law—with rules such as:
- Women must not work
- Women must stay home
- Women must be escorted by a male family member when outside the home
- Women must be covered with a full chadri in public
Showing too much wrist or laughing in public were taboo also. Rule breakers were beaten on the streets and could be taken to prison.
Women weren’t the only ones targeted. Her eldest brother couldn’t work for fear of being forced into fighting for the Taliban. With his background in the army, Kamila’s father was at risk too. Persecution became so bad that her brother and father fled their home. Missing her husband, Kamila’s mother went to be with him. This left Kamila as the head of the household.
Although Kamila’s family was better off than many, there were still Kamila and her 7 sisters and a younger brother to encourage and feed. To bring in money and give them something to do, Kamila started a sewing business.
After learning to sew and teaching her sisters, Kamila risked danger by traveling to a local up-scale bazaar with a sample dress for sale. She dressed as conservatively to avoid notice but then broke the rules by – gasp! – talking to the shop owner. As a result, she received her first order of dresses.
This is the start of her home business that grows into a sewing school, and eventually leads Kamila to work for a United Nations agency.
Inspiration, Ready Begin!
I enjoyed the The Dressmaker of Khair Khana immensely. The book reaches the same excitement as a spy thriller. My eyes were glued to the page. As someone who is starting a business myself, I loved hearing how Kamila made her new family business work. Her keys to success read like “Rules of Life-101”: Kamila was dedicated to delivering the best quality, on time; She partnered with people she trusted; She worked hard; When questioned by the Taliban, she treated the enemy like a brother, differentially and without showing fear. The true lesson though was that Kamila dared! She was optimistic. She expected the best and was head strong enough to make it happen. She was devout and wanted to help others.
Reading this book enabled me to see another country. The writing is so clear, it’s like watching a movie, with the camera zooming in on important details and explaining the cultural differences so I could understand the significance of what was happening.
The author, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, is also inspiring. She is a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. To get this story, she traveled to Afghanistan many times. As a foreigner, she was a potential target of terrorist attacks and kidnapping. To protect herself, she learned to speak Dari and dressed more conservatively than the locals. She spent years interviewing everyone she could. Ms. Lemmon’s hard work also shows!
Read this book!