It is one of the last places in Kabul where women can find themselves outside their homes, a bubble of freedom and even frivolity out of sight of men.
Mohadessa kept her beauty salon open despite threats from the new Afghan rulers.
Since the Taliban seized Kabul in mid-August, many women have disappeared from public spaces, chased into private spaces out of fear and sometimes very real threats.
But Mohadessa’s beauty salon has, for now, remained a place where women can relax with each other outside the home and share their woes – or forget about them in favor of pleasure and fashion.
The oasis of female industry provides income for staff and moments of indulgence for clients, but her days may be numbered.
“We don’t want to give up and stop working,” the 32-year-old entrepreneur told AFP of the hubbub of women getting ready for a wedding celebration.
“We like to have a job and there is a need for women to work in Afghan society – many of them are the breadwinners of their families. “
Customers are dropped off and pushed past posters promoting fashion and beauty brands that are now erased with white paint.
They quickly disappear into the store through a heavy curtain.
Once inside, the women shed their scarves and outerwear, and their horny voices rival the buzz of hairdryers when choosing their new look.
– Screaming crowd –
The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, between 1996 and the US-led intervention in 2001, women were forced to wear full-coverage burqas.
According to the interpretation of Islamic law by the Islamist movement, beauty salons have been banned outright.
Just having her fingernails painted meant that a woman could risk having her fingers cut.
But since the Taliban returned to the capital and declared their emirate Islamic, the movement has struggled to present the world with a more liberal face.
Anxious to secure international funding to avoid an economic catastrophe that could undermine their war gains, they did not rush to reimpose restrictions on daily life.
This does not mean that Mohadessa did not receive threats.
A crowd of Taliban shouted curses outside her store, but took advantage of the loophole to continue.
“I can say that the women in this salon are courageous because they come to work with fear,” she said.
“Every day they open the living room, they come in, and they continue to work, despite this fear.”
– Message of ‘resistance’ –
On the day of AFP’s visit, around thirty women braved the climate of fear to come to the store and prepare for a wedding, where the sexes are traditionally separated during celebrations.
Women were clearly enjoying the rare chance to dress up and be pampered, with elaborate hair and eyelash decorations complementing a colorful makeup palette.
The bride’s sister, English teacher Farkhunda, contemplates the results of an hour-long makeover.
“Yes, it’s nice. It’s beautiful. It’s my first real day since the end of August,” she said cheerfully.
But beneath the splash of glittery eyeshadow, one of her pupils is still, caught in a bomb attack as a teenager.
“Do you see my eye? I lost it on the way to school when the Taliban attacked us. But I am not afraid of them. I do not wanna talk about it. Today is for the party, ”she said.
The cheerful mood is as fragile as the delicate jeweled headbands. With each movement of the curtain hiding the door from the outside world, the women stiffen and are briefly silent.
But no client wants to soften her look, a stylized and ultra-feminine reproach to the Taliban’s looming brakes on freedom of expression: dense foundation, long false eyelashes, vibrant colors and a Chinese doll finish.
And Marwa, 22, not her real name, with her asymmetrical haircut exposing an ear studded with piercings and decorative chains, sees a message of “resistance” in the hairstyles.
“We are not people with blue burqas. We are not people with black burqas. It is not who we are,” she said.
– ‘A knife against my throat’ –
Some women dream of leaving, others of changing.
Farkhunda hopes she can return to work while Mohadessa, determined to remain open, fears for her life.
She showed AFP a letter she said came from the Taliban’s new Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, warning it to shut down.
His response: “Until they come and put a knife to my throat, I stay here.”
© 2021 AFP