Tell us about August 15, 2021, when the Taliban entered the Afghan capital?
That day, I was working at the beauty salon, busy doing balayage (hair lightening, Editor’s note) to a customer. It was around 12:30 when we heard screaming and crying in the street. We rushed towards the door to discover a city in chaos: residents running in all directions, shopkeepers lowering their curtains in a hurry and motorists stuck in traffic jams honking constantly. “The Taliban have entered Kabul!” shouted our boss. We put on our hijab (veil that covers the hair, ears and neck) and returned home. I had to leave my poor client in the lurch with the top of her black hair and the blond ends. I was only halfway done with the hair!
What happened next?
I found myself in a daze. For me, the country had developed: we had a state, an army, a police force; I couldn’t believe the return of the Taliban. For a week, I holed up at home with my family. My relatives were afraid for me, because in the Afghan mentality, the woman stays at home. I had been working in this beauty salon for three years, which, for some, reflected poorly on me…
However, you very quickly decided to reopen the salon…
Yes, I missed work, my family needed money and, above all, some of our regulars contacted us to see if they could make an appointment. With seven or eight of my colleagues (on a team of 22 employees, Editor’s note) , we returned to our habits. The others had fled the country or were afraid to resume their activity.
Why was this place so important to you and to the clients?
He represented our little corner of paradise. Imagine: customers left their hijab at the entrance and could be dressed as they wanted inside… They were right at home! Everyone felt comfortable. We even played music! I must point out that our clients belonged to a high social class. They were deputies, singers, journalists.
What did you bring to these women?
Each face is a canvas, a new story to tell. I loved making my clients happy by highlighting them with hairstyle or makeup. Afghan society deprives us of many things, such as the right to choose our future or our husband. Women rarely oppose the will of men. You could feel it even in the hair salon. Often, clients asked me to do this or that color of their hair, because their husband wanted it.
Do you remember a particular face?
I remember this client who told us an incredible story! A flight attendant, she met a passenger on the plane. They fell in love at first sight, traveled together to India and one evening, in her room, she found a red dress with a bouquet of flowers and a little note saying: “If you wear it tonight, it means that you agree to marry me.” She carried it. A rare story, as few exist in Afghan society.
Did the atmosphere in the living room change when the Taliban regained power?
Yes, they have established numerous commandments for beauty salons: a ban on listening to music, putting nail polish or wearing perfume, a ban on waxing, etc. All these acts constitute sins in their eyes. . The clients arrived very depressed, but left a little less distraught. Outside, we no longer had any freedom – and women still do not –: banned from driving, going to university, going to the gym, or even walking in parks . Afghan women no longer have any source of happiness or an ounce of hope.
Have you ever broken the rules?
From time to time, when our most loyal customers insisted. But we had to do it in secret from our new clientele: the wives of the Taliban! Sometimes, they could come with the intention of trapping us by asking for a prohibited service… We had to be extremely careful so that we were not forced to close shop. Beauty salons remained the last spaces open to women. Since last July, they have been banned.
According to the UN, depression and suicide attempts have increased sharply among women and adolescents since August 2021. What prospects do they still have?
The only solution for them is to leave the country. I see no other way out under the current Taliban regime. But leaving remains very difficult. You need a passport, a visa and it is very expensive. I’m thinking of a former colleague who has just lost her father. In her family, there is no longer a man, only her mother and her sisters. No one can provide for their needs anymore. They couldn’t even buy a shroud for their deceased. It’s so sad.
Today, you are even wearing a pink outfit, very bright!
I like to wear colors. I feel alive in this ensemble. I never wore flashy clothes in Afghanistan. I was lulled by my mother’s stories about the situation in the country in the 1970s, before the war took its toll. In his time, the inhabitants were very modern. A bit like in our beauty salon, but for us it only lasted a few hours and in a closed space.
Why did you choose to make a book of your story?
When I arrived in France, the publishing house spotted me after seeing reports carried out in Kabul. I was asked to write a book. As I am a spontaneous person, I said yes straight away! This is important to me, because I want to explain to the rest of the world the daily life of Afghans who remain behind. My story is just one example among many.
Which one is yours ?
Have my own beauty salon! In France, I decided to follow this path. During the week, I take French lessons and, on Saturdays, I work in a hair salon in Paris. The customers are very nice, even if I don’t understand the language very well yet. It is difficult for me to live far from my loved ones, but here I feel that I can succeed. And maybe one day I will have the opportunity to return to Afghanistan to help revive Kabul.
The biography of Frishta Amini
- April 4, 1998. Born in Islamabad (Pakistan).
- 2018. His family, who had fled the war, returned to live in Afghanistan. Shortly after her arrival, Frishta Amini found work in a beauty salon in Kabul.
- August 15, 2021. Capture of Kabul by the Taliban and closure of many places to women: universities, parks, sports halls, etc.
- September 2022. Takes refuge in France.