From Afghanistan to Mazatlan beauty salon




When I was fifteen, I went to beauty school just to learn skills to put myself through college, not because I wanted to be a career hairdresser. I saw how hard my mother worked and how tired she was at night, and besides, I thought that my calling was in music.

I enrolled at John Brown College in Arkansas as a vocal performance major. But when I got there and sang along with other students, I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t cut out for it. I developed nodules on my vocal chords; when I sang Italian opera, I sounded like James Brown singing Italian opera. So I tried my hand at becoming a band director, but after many embarrassing moments in class, it was clear that I couldn’t keep a beat well enough to lead a band. I returned to Michigan and worked in my mother’s salon


Music didn’t work out so well for me but hairdressing did. I worked over 25 years in my mother’s salon and loved every minute of it and still do.


I liked traveling, but I’d quickly lose interest with the tourist destinations my friends talked me into and would wind up spending time in areas the tourists shunned. When I went to Jamaica, I was bored with jets skis and drinking margaritas on the beach of a walled-off hotel, so I grabbed a bus into town. I wound up meeting a twenty-year-old mother with five kids who invited me to her home where we ate soup made with not much more than fish bones. I spent the week visiting her, bringing diapers and groceries—and that’s where I felt content.

That was when I started doing what I like to call “vacation with a purpose.”

My first time in India, I traveled from village to village with a friend helping people put in new wells that could sustain them through a drought as their old wells had dried up.

I pleaded for a place on the first team that a nonprofit organization called Care for All Foundation sent to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. I had already undergone emergency and disaster relief training with the nonprofit. I deployed with a team to Afghanistan in May 2002; Afghanistan was worse than I could have imagined. Everything seemed broken – buildings, roads, homes, families, and individuals but I fell in love with a people and a country. I had no idea I’d still be there five years later doing spiral perms and introducing the art of foiling. Thus began the most unlikely story of a Western hairdresser in Kabul, who helped build a beauty school for women and a life of her own amidst the rubble.

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I was stunned when Random House said they would buy my story of The Kabul Beauty School! A new dimension of my life was unfolding. The funds from writing The Kabul Beauty School book allowed me to become a partner in founding a coffee shop in Kabul, in addition to the beauty school. May 2007, security became a huge problem for my son Noah and I. I was forced to flee the country.

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I was heartbroken after leaving Afghanistan so I help found Oasis Rescue, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that aims to educate and empower women in Afghanistan, Iraq and other middle eastern countries in the art and commerce of the beauty industry.

One of Oasis Rescue’s projects is Project Mariposa. Project Mariposa teaches the art of hairdressing and the ins and outs of running a successful beauty business to socially and economically disadvantaged women in Mexico, giving them a long-term sustainable means of earning a living with dignity.


Arriving in California shell-shocked, I stayed for the next three years. During that time I wrote my second book, A Cup of Friendship, drawing inspiration from the Kabul coffee house and the people I met there. Still restless, I researched other locations and fell in love with the Mexican culture. April 12, 2009, I knew I found a new home when I set foot on Mazatlan soil.


I had no intentions of ever opening another salon. I thought I would just drink Margaritas on the beach, write and live happily ever after. But each time I went into a local salon, I longed for my own gathering place. Some people get their warm fuzzys when they smell a food their mom used to make or they hear a special song, but my warm fuzzys are triggered by the aroma of perm solution and nail polish remover! Feeling reborn as a beautician, I created the Tippy Toes salon as a fun- filled, community gathering place for everyone to enjoy.

For more on Deborah Rodriguez adventures