Deborah Rodriguez was on the run. Warned that she might be thrown into an Afghan prison, she'd also heard chatter that her son was going to be kidnapped. Her crime? She was "making a difference," Rodriguez writes in her new memoir, Margarita Wednesdays. "And it wasn't by being a doctor or a diplomat or a philanthropist, but by doing the only thing [she] knew how to do: hair."
Yes, Rodriguez was a beautician in a war zone, not to mention the wife of an Afghan man who resented her success and entertained local warlords in her living room. Her life was a time bomb waiting to explode.
Author of the 2007 bestseller The Kabul Beauty School, Rodriguez opens her latest saga with a nail-biting description of her escape from that city and her eventual resettlement in the woods of northern California. What she didn't realize at the time, unfortunately, was that her experiences in Afghanistan had left her with a serious case of PTSD. She coped by watching television nonstop, getting hooked on Boston Legal and bonding with the Kardashian sisters. She cried when she couldn't find her car in the Safeway parking lot. She "began to mistrust the GPS lady and her constant 'recalculating.'" In short, she was a mess.
Even the supposedly professional help Rodriguez found bordered on the surreal. She was advised by one therapist to "go into the fields at night and sit with the glowworms." Another encouraged her to "sit for a year" and "get a cat." She opted for the latter.
What ultimately put Rodriguez on the road to real healing, however, was yet another move, this time to Mazatlan. She had briefly visited the city while on a Mexican cruise, and had returned to California intent on doing some research on the place. Within a month, she had found a little house there. Soon afterward, her marriage to her Afghan husband was finally annulled, her red Mini Cooper was packed, and she and her cat, Polly, were on their way south to Mazatlan.
Given that the heroine of this tale is Rodriguez—a fiercely independent woman with a knack for making bad marriages, picking colorful friends, and finding humor in situations that might overwhelm a lesser spirit—readers should expect to be entertained by this account of her new life in Mexico.
Old Deb, as Rodriguez calls her, does not magically disappear, but in time she morphs into a more healthy, more confident, and emotionally resourceful version of her former self. Thanks to a serendipitous friendship with the proprietor of an enchanted bed and breakfast, a woman who also happens to be a trauma counselor, Rodriguez gradually comes to terms with that which torments her. She finds surprising solace in embracing the celebration of the Day of the Dead, and she finds community amid an odd mix of expats and locals, thanks to her son's marriage into a large, boisterous family.
It comes as no shock when Rodriguez once again steps into the role of mentor and facilitator for a group of young women whose lives are going nowhere. Although she balks at opening a new salon in Mazatlan, she ultimately does so, in part to ensure that the women in her new extended family have safe, productive work to do. In time, she also establishes a scholarship for girls who want to escape violence and poverty by attending beauty school.
"There was no way I'd be able to give them all everything they needed," Rodriguez admits. "A part of me wished I'd never heard their stories, wished I'd just stayed on the outside barely looking in, maybe writing a check here and there or plucking a card off an angel tree. It's so much easier not to know, because once you do, you have no choice. You have to act."
Easier, perhaps, but easy has never been Rodriguez's way of doing things. She proves this once again in this funny and poignant look at a woman "making a new life by the Mexican sea."
Deborah Rodriguez is a hairdresser, motivational speaker, and author of the bestselling memoir The Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil. She spent five years teaching and later directing the Kabul Beauty School, the first modern beauty academy and training salon in Afghanistan. Rodriguez also owned the Oasis Salon and the Cabul Coffee House and is the founder of Oasis Rescue, a nonprofit organization that provides help to women in troubled, post conflict, and economically depressed areas. This organization also helps build a bridge from where they are to where they want to be in regards to the art of hairdressing.
She currently owns and operates a spa in Mexico and is working on a new book, The House at Carnival Street, an intimate account of her journey to remake her life after being forced to leave Afghanistan. Her first novel, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, is an international best seller. Visit her website.
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