Read Margarita Wednesdays: Making a New Life by the Mexican Sea Online

Authors: Deborah Rodriguez

Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Women, #Personal Memoirs, #Family & Relationships, #Friendship

Margarita Wednesdays: Making a New Life by the Mexican Sea

BOOK: Margarita Wednesdays: Making a New Life by the Mexican Sea
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This book is dedicated to my three beautiful grandchildren, Derek, Italya, and Kai, all made in Mexico

He upon whose heart the dust of Mexico has lain will find no peace in any other land.

–A
NONYMOUS

T
HE EXPLOSIONS SEEMED TO HAVE
come out of nowhere, their familiar
pop-pop-pop
catapulting me from under the covers and onto my feet in a flash. I instinctively dropped down and covered my head with my arms, the rough knotted wool of the Afghan rug scraping my bare knees as I slid to the floor. The cool air from the open window did little to calm my racing heart. I tried to breathe, but couldn’t. I tried to call out, but nothing came from my mouth. My eyes were sealed shut against the flash of light still visible through the lids.

Then, silence. I took one deep breath, then another. The familiar aroma of frying peppers filled my nostrils. My stomach growled. A rooster crowed, echoed by his distant cousin miles away. I cautiously opened one eye, then the other. Three crumpled marigolds from the celebration the night before lay wilting on the terra-cotta tiles by the door. This wasn’t Afghanistan, this was Mexico. And I was okay. Hell, I tried to remind myself, I was better than okay.

I stood and drew back the shutters to see the sunlight just beginning to bounce off the B&B’s rounded tiles, then pulled on my long cotton sweater and padded across the courtyard to find out what was going on. My host, and friend, Cynthia, was making coffee in the kitchen, a pot of salsa bubbling on the stove by her side.

“Morning, Deb!” She came a little closer. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I assured her, the residue of sweat on my forehead no doubt giving me away.

“Are you sure?” She took my elbow, pulled out a heavy wooden chair from under the table, and gently guided me down into it. “Coffee?”

I nodded. “Um, Cynthia, didn’t you hear anything a little while ago?” I was beginning, not for the first time, to doubt my own sanity.

Cynthia let out a little gasp. “Oh my God, Deb. I should have warned you. I’m so sorry!” She handed me a steamy blue cup. “It’s just the Catholic church setting off their
cohetes
.”

“Co-het-
whats
?”

“Skyrockets.”

“Whatever happened to good old-fashioned church bells?” I asked. “Why on God’s green earth would they be setting off explosions at the friggin’ crack of dawn?”

“It’s an old Mexican tradition. The loud noise from the rockets is supposed to scare away demons and evil spirits. They go off in the mornings a lot here in Pátzcuaro. It can get a little loud around holidays and saints’ days, but you get used to it.”

“I highly doubt that.”

Cynthia laughed. “Seriously. Even you, Deb. Do I need to remind you again how far you’ve come?”

“Please, let’s not start on that. At least not until I’ve finished my coffee.” I sighed. But I knew Cynthia was right. I had healed greatly since the day I’d decided to make Mexico my home. And if there was one thing I now understood, without a doubt, it was that there are certain things that just take more time than others to overcome.

T
HE
SUV
ZOOMED AWAY FROM
the Serena Hotel in Kabul as if in the middle of a chase scene. A decoy SUV and a taxi followed close behind as camouflage. We raced past cars, fruit stands, vegetable shops, and pedestrians, leaving a thick trail of dust behind.

In the front sat our Afghan driver and an Australian friend and customer, Jane, who worked for a private security agency. Calamity Jane, I thought, as I watched her chug the vodka she had neatly concealed in a water bottle, and as I saw her repeatedly checking the safety on her semiautomatic gun. This girl was locked and loaded and all business. In the back with me was my twenty-six-year-old son, Noah. We had just returned to Kabul together, two days earlier. My younger son, Zachary, was scheduled to fly in from Northern Cyprus, where he had been studying at Girne American University. It would be the first time we’d all be together in this beautiful country I had called home for five years, a sort of summer family vacation. Fleeing for our lives was not included in the itinerary.

But shit happens. And in those past two days, a lot of shit happened.

It was spring 2007, and I had headed home to Afghanistan from the States on top of the world. A whirlwind tour promoting my book about the Kabul Beauty School had left me giddy with pride, and I was looking forward to getting back to work with my girls at the school. But there were things that had to be dealt with, things that weren’t perfect. Even before I left Kabul, rumors had started bubbling up that the beauty school was a brothel, and that the Afghan government was planning on launching an investigation. I was also worried about the government’s reaction to my book, which they were
supposedly
rushing to translate into Farsi. My mention that I had first come to Afghanistan in 2002 with a Christian humanitarian organization could very well put me, and those around me, in jeopardy. Over there, you can be arrested and threatened with death if someone reports you for converting to Christianity. Of course, there was nothing religious about the school, nor was there anything illicit. I’m far from a preacher, or a madam for that matter. I wasn’t sure how seriously to take these rumors. After all, with all that was going on in Afghanistan at the time, how important could a redheaded hairdresser be?

And on top of it all, I had, to say the least, a challenging domestic situation to deal with. Three years earlier, I had married an Afghan man—Samer Mohammad Abdul Khan. The fact that Sam already had a wife and seven daughters living in Saudi Arabia turned out to be the least of his undesirable qualities.

It had all started off fine. For once in my life I felt like I was making a rather practical decision when it came to a man. Sam’s help in keeping the school running was invaluable, and he offered the kind of protection any Western woman doing business in a war-torn nation would—literally—die for. My association with Sam would work wonders for my reputation among the Afghan people, a reputation that was already in the toilet simply due to the fact that I was an American. Besides, I liked having a man in my life, and Sam was kind
and respectful, and never imposed his religious or cultural values on me. We were introduced by friends, and after we had been furtively sneaking around for a while in a country where, for Afghans, dating a foreigner was strictly forbidden, marriage seemed like a logical option.

But about a year and a half in, Sam began a friendship with “The General,” one of the most notorious warlords in Afghanistan. There were warlords in my living room! I quickly learned to phone before entering if I saw an SUV with blacked-out windows and a running motor parked outside the house. The headiness that came from being that close to power had a bizarre effect on Sam. He began calling himself a general (or actually became one, it was never clear to me which), and was soon strutting around Kabul in full regalia like a bantam rooster cruising the henhouse. And he was drinking way too much vodka, not a good thing for a man who had been living in bone-dry Mecca, whose alcohol tolerance level was close to zero, and whose reaction to the slightest provocation was to reach for the nearest gun. Usually my defense became a game of possum—it was easier to pretend not to notice him or to feign sleep than to stir his macho blood. It didn’t always work.

It had become clear that Sam didn’t love me. I was just a war trophy, an American woman who came with connections, and better yet, cash, or so he mistakenly thought. I began to distance myself from him, learning Dari and throwing myself into the challenges of the beauty school and the coffeehouse I had also opened. But the more I worked and the more successful I became, the more he seemed to resent me. He took my independence as a threat to his manhood, no doubt humiliated by the taunts from his warlord buddies about his inability to control his foreign wife.

It was hard to see through Sam’s posturing exactly how much of it was a charade and how much a reality. Was Sam one of the good guys or one of the bad guys? And, I was beginning to wonder, was he really on my side? Sleeping with the enemy would be bad enough, but sleeping with
my
enemy? I realized I had made a huge mistake, and wanted nothing more than to leave Sam. But I had heard way
too many stories about women in my situation, and none of them had a happy ending. Bringing shame to an Afghan man can have dire consequences, with women often having acid thrown in their faces, disappearing, or being murdered in retaliation.

Leaving Sam would have meant leaving Afghanistan, and all I had built there, forever, and that was something I could not bear to do. I was changing lives! Me, a hairdresser from Michigan, making a difference in a place few dared to go, at least not by choice. And it wasn’t by being a doctor or a diplomat or a philanthropist, but by doing the only thing I knew how to do—hair. I had fought tooth and nail for the school and was unbelievably proud of our success. And I wasn’t about to let anybody down. My only option was to come up with an exit plan that might allow me to continue my work and live my life on my own terms. There were still a lot of pieces of that puzzle missing by the time I was headed back from my American book tour.

During a layover in Dubai, Sam called to warn me that my security situation had gotten even worse. He said that two bombers had been intercepted near the beauty school. One claimed that he had been paid five thousand dollars to blow it up. But when I made calls to Afghan friends with connections to the police to verify Sam’s account, nobody had heard a word about it. It became hard to know who to trust. I’d seen so many foreigners go rogue from staying in Afghanistan too long that I couldn’t even be sure anyone was telling me the truth. Then Sam turned the tables to say my sources were involved in a cover-up. Next he told me that I might be thrown in prison if I returned to Kabul, only to change his tune an hour later in another call. What, I wondered, could have changed in one little hour? Though I wanted to believe him, I was beginning to suspect a setup. Of course, I was nervous. But I was Deb the Hairdresser, and I could deal with anything.

Then came the last straw. Jane, in the course of her workday, had picked up some chatter that made it clear my situation had become a dire emergency. Within forty-eight hours of landing in Kabul I was frantically dialing the embassy. I held the phone to my ear and heard
the ring on the other end. It was five minutes after five on a Thursday, the start of the Afghan weekend. I bit my lip nervously.
C’mon, pick up, pick up!

“Hello, United States Embassy. This is Mary, how can I help you?”

I heaved a sigh of relief. The embassy would help me. How could they not? My girls from the salon and I would go there all the time to provide haircuts, manicures, pedicures, and other treatments for embassy staff. Once I was even asked to powder Dick Cheney’s forehead when he was in town. I tried to speak slowly and calmly enough for Mary to understand, but my emotions were running high.

“Hi, this is Debbie Rodriguez from the Kabul Beauty School. I’m in trouble. I was just told that there’s a plan to kidnap my son. I need help. I need a safe place. Please, please help me,” I pleaded.

“The embassy is closed right now,” was the indifferent answer.

“The embassy . . . is closed right now,” I repeated in disbelief.

BOOK: Margarita Wednesdays: Making a New Life by the Mexican Sea
3.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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