The Dressmake of Khair Khana ~ Gayle Lemmon

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Date Completed: (6/10/2015)

Rating: 7/10

Gayle Lemmon, a journalist, travels around the world collecting stories, particularly of women and even more particularly of women in hard times. Lemmon writes in this novel the story of Kamila Sidiqi and her sisters’ foray into business as dressmakers during the Taliban regime. Their parents, as supporters of Massoud, the ruler of Afghanistan prior to the Taliban takeover, have fled Kabul to live in a safer location. The women work together in their house making dresses and pantsuits for local clothing shops using chadris and their little brother as a mahram to deliver their goods. Kamila soon decides to employ local women, creating a sewing technical school inside the sisters’ home to train the girls and women they employ and use the products to support the many families that become involved.

Eventually Taliban families come knocking at the Sidiqi’s door to place orders, including an order for wedding gowns and bridesmaids’ dresses to be tailored in less than 24 hours, and the Sidiqi sisters are able to deliver and continue to expand their business. It is vital that they played by the rules of the Taliban to ensure nobody got hurt, yet Kamila continued to be more daring. A final crucial scene plays out with Kamila travelling with two of her coworkers from the UN to a conference by bus without a mahram when they are stopped by the Taliban. The man they had asked to act as mahram in case of a Taliban checkpoint backs out when faced with immediate danger, but Kamila is able to talk their way out of trouble, and the three women continue to on their way to attend the conference unharmed.

I am like Kamila Jan in that I am hardworking and willing to do whatever is needed for the job at hand and for the people that I believe I can help through my work. I love to teach people what I know and love to learn from people what they have to offer. Kamila is persistent and unafraid, and I would like to be more like her. She works long hours to ensure that the job is done and done well. “They had started in the spring of 1997 with four girls and were now at thirty-four and climbing; in the past few days three more young women had come to the house inquiring about the workshop. The operation was thriving, and now Kamila had to face the issue that both Malika and Rahim had raised at the beginning: how to manage the number of young women who were streaming to the house each day. On any given morning as many as a dozen girls from around Khair Khana would arrive for classes, and in the afternoon another group came or the second session, just as Kamila had envisioned.”

This truly is an inspiring story of women’s resiliency, and tales like this play out every day around the world without ever being told. I am grateful for Lemmon’s retelling of this story, even if it might have been more powerful had it been told in first person. This was an easy and captivating read, and I would recommend it to someone looking to get a taste of Afghani culture.

 

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