Lemmon, currently a fellow and deputy director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, began writing about women entrepreneurs in conflict and post-conflict zones, after she left ABC News to earn her MBA at Harvard.
In the Dressmaker Lemmon tells the riveting true story of Kamila Sidiqi and other women of Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s rise to power
Her coverage has appeared in the New York Times, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, CNN.com, and the Daily Beast, as well as the World Bank and Harvard Business School.
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana – Chapter 7
“Do you have the dresses ready, Malika Jan?” Nabila pleaded as she rushed into the workspace. Her daughters, including the bride-to-be, stood in a close huddle behind her, watching nervously. “I am so sorry. We have had a change of plans and we need the gowns right away.”
If Malika was stunned she didn’t show it. After years of sewing for friends and neighbours she had grown accustomed to the most impossible requests and had taught herself to answer calmly and patiently.
“We have most of them,” she responded, stealing a look at her sister, “but we’re still finishing your gown.” Kamila marveled at her sister’s composure. “We’ll have it done in just a few more minutes. Please sit down and have some tea while you wait.”
“Please, I don’t care about my dress, don’t let that hold us up,” Nabila insisted. The pitch of her voice was moving upward fast. “We really are in a hurry.”
Malika took a breath.
Photo: Jack Guy
“OK, wait here,” she said, motioning to the pillows in their workspace. “We’re just finishing the hem on your dress and we need only five minutes to get it done. Then you can take everything.”
Her words unleashed a torrent of activity as the girls pulled the white and green frocks down from the doorway where they hung. Since the power was out and they had used the last of their generator fuel, Nasia and Neelufar went to the kitchen and lit the gas stove that they would use to heat the steam iron. Malika refused to let Shafiqa’s gowns leave her house without a proper pressing. No bride wants a wrinkled wedding dress.
As for Nabila’s gown, Sara was directing the students to focus on finishing it, not perfecting it. One of the girls stood still in the grey patterned garment while three others crouched around her on the floor sewing the hem.
And then, finally, “We’re done!” one of the girls yelled to Sara, still clenching a needle between her teeth. The trio had finished its work. By now the other five dresses were pressed and packed, waiting by the door for Neelab and Malika’s son Hossein to help their anxious owners carry them outside.
Malika hurried over to give the last garment a final check. “It looks good, girls. With more time we could have made it even better, but this will do.”
By now Nabila had risen from her seat to pace across the workshop. As soon as she saw her dress being placed in the bag, she offered hasty hugs to Malika and Kamila, profusely thanking them for all of their help while at the same time commanding her daughters to get moving: they had to go now.
Neelab picked up the package with great care and accompanied the women through the courtyard to the street outside. There she found the day’s biggest surprise.
Neelab saw three cars waiting in the street for the women. She had to catch herself from exclaiming out loud when she realised that two of them were dark Toyota Hilux trucks with Q’uranic verses painted on the side. Taliban vehicles.
Several Talibs were sitting in the first truck and to Neelab’s surprise they were exceedingly polite. They gratefully took the package of dresses from her and, even more, handed her a bit more than the five hundred thousand afghani she had requested, per Malika’s agreement with the mother of the bride, Nabila. In the second truck sat a young Talib whom Neelab guessed to be the groom. Behind him was the Toyota Corolla that would transport Shafiqa, her mother, and sisters to the wedding. No flowers or streamers adorned the car’s hood and front bumper as they would have in the old days, before the Taliban put an end to noisy celebrations. But Neelab had no doubt whatsoever that this was indeed the start of a wedding procession.
Kamila and Malika looked at one another in amazement after Neelab had finished her story. And then they broke out in huge smiles. The dresses they had just dedicated the last 30 hours to making were about to be worn in a Taliban wedding. “Oh Malika,” Kamila said, “that’s why the gowns had to be so simple!”
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