The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

In the beginning, I will admit, I was hesitant to read this book. Mostly because last year I read a book about women in Iraq and cried like a baby every other page. Given the amount of stress I am under at work at the moment (approximately a shit-ton), I kept thinking that something too emotional right now just would not be helpful for the mental state.

I am so glad I went ahead and cracked it open. Yes, this is a story about women in Afghanistan during Taliban rule and yes their situation was at times quite bleak, but it is the most uplifting and inspiring story I have read in a very long time. The protagonist, Kamila Sidiqi, is a brave woman who took incredible risks to ensure her family and community held together in some of the toughest times in her country’s history. What is most remarkable is her ambition to grow and build her family’s dressmaking business; she was not afraid to push for more clients and help more people, even when it was dangerous for her to do so. The part of the story that is truly mind blowing is that The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is about women entrepreneurs. WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS in AFGHANISTAN! Women not only focused on working in nonprofit or government-relief initiatives to improve their circumstances, but using the principles of business to create sustainable solutions for their families, communities and country. It is true that once all the foreign soldiers have left the country, it will be up to the Afghan people to build a sustainable economy that will support any real goals for democracy and equality. Kamila’s story addresses this challenge in a profound way.

I must confess, with the exception of the book I read last year and the occasional article I browse in NYT, I have not devoted a great deal of time to understanding what is happening in the Middle East. It’s sad, but true. The wars America has waged in Iraq and Afghanistan have gone on for so long that I think, in order to cope and move forward, many Americans have taken a similar approach. But crisis fatigue is not a good enough excuse for turning our backs on what is happening to others. A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere (thanks MLK). I am guilty of taking for granted the fact that I am a free woman who has a business education and can go to work and make money to support my family without fear of violence or arrest.

I think most Americans wish the war would end because we want our troops home or because it’s taken a toll on the American economy. I would agree that these points are reasonable, but despite these reasons, there are people whose freedom depends on our protection. Our troops deserve to come home to their families and lives but the solution to up and walkaway feels like a dangerous proposition. It’s a catch 22.

While withdrawal plans continue to be a work in progress, and the future of the Middle East continues to hang in the balance, Kamila’s story reminds me that my shit-ton of stress is really minuscule and that I really need to get over myself. If she can stand up in her world, then so can I in mine.

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