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Return to the Little Coffee Shop of Kabul Q&A

 Q&A with Deborah Rodriguez 

 In 2011 you stated you didn’t feel it was wise to return to Afghanistan at that time. Is this still the case? Have you been able to return?

 Afghanistan is a wonderful and very complicated country. In the last four years as the foreign presence has been decreasing, the climate of the country has been changing ¾but not always for the better.   I have made the choice to not return to Kabul for a couple reasons.  The obvious one is general safety and security; the other is very personal.  I married and left an Afghan man, and am not 100% sure how that story would end if I tried to return to Kabul.

The Little Coffee Shop undergoes a transformation in this novel. Are the Kabul Beauty School and the Cabul Coffee House still in operation?

 The beauty school was unable to remain open due to funding and security issues. The Coffee House remained open for few years, but eventually closed.

Do you keep in touch with the women you met in Kabul, and if so, did they help with your research for this new novel?

I do keep in touch with some of the women I met in Kabul.  The one I talk to the most happens to be one of my first students, and to date the bravest and most amazing women I have ever met.  We both fled Afghanistan at the same time, but she fled with her family to Pakistan, and struggled for seven years as a refugee in that country.  But today I am happy to say that she and her family are living a wonderful life in the United States The entire family ¾ but especially her son Omer ¾ was key to the research for the new novel.

In your opinion, has the role and treatment of women in Afghanistan changed for the better since you lived there?

 That's a really tough question.  I feel like women’s rights and the treatment of Afghan women takes three steps forward, and with a blink of an eye it regresses and jumps ten steps back.  Thankfully girl’s school attendance has surged in the last 14 years, and more and more women are in the work place, along with having positions in the government. Rula Ghani (the first lady) speaking out for gender equality and religious tolerance is setting a great example for young women.  But you can’t turn a blind eye to the news reports after things like the siege of the city of Kunduz.  The Taliban went straight to terrorizing the women and girls, burning and looting women’s organizations and making it clear that they will always be watching.  This is a great time of uncertainty for Afghanistan, and not just for women, but for everyone.

Zara’s storyline would strike at the heart of every woman who reads the novel. Was it based on a true story?

 The story of Zara is not based any one person but is based on the all-too-many stories heard about the girls of Afghanistan.    

A clear theme of the novel is clashing cultures and finding a place where you truly belong. This is a particular issue for Kat, Layla and Joe. But it is very true of Sunny too. Was it a struggle for you when you returned to America?

 Yes, clashing of cultures is a very important theme in the book, along with showing tolerance for those who are different than us. I feel it’s important not to judge a book by its cover ¾ or a girl by her headscarf.

I did struggle with reverse culture shock when I came back from Afghanistan. I would watch and listen to people complain about things and think to myself, “Wow, this is truly a first world problem.“ I’d wonder how they would handle a real problem.  When you see so much suffering and experience life with such strong people who have survived decades of war, you find yourself short on patience with the guy screaming in Starbucks over a mistake in his latte order.

I have adjusted in the last seven years, and moving to Mexico really made the difference for me.  I don't think I am cut out to have a tidy, sanitized, non-chaotic life.

 What made you pick an island in the Pacific Northwest of America as Sunny’s new home? Did that region have a particular significance for you?

 I was introduced to the Pacific Northwest (the Seattle area) because of my partner, Denis, and his family. Denis’ father is a 92-year-old Japanese-American who was in the internment camps. He made sushi while telling me stories.  I instantly fell in love with this sweet, funny man and knew he had to be a part of Sunny’s journey.  The Seattle area fascinated me with its beauty and diversity. It seemed at every turn I was meeting someone who inspired yet another story line, but it wasn't until I met the young Afghan woman who was my inspiration for Kat, and then took the ferry ride to the island used as a base for the fictional Twimbly, that I knew this region had to be the next location for the new novel.   The island was beautiful and the people were quirky.  It seemed to be the perfect place for Sunny to sort her life out, but only if she could have her new best friend Joe near by.

 Why did you decide to kill such a strong character as Jack before the novel starts?

That was a very difficult decision.  Life is always easy when its perfect, but I felt that more people would be able to relate to or learn from Sunny if she wasn't living with the perfect man in the perfect house, living the perfect life.  We all suffer losses, and I find that for myself I grow more and become a stronger person when life tosses me upside down. When life is easy, I get lazy. Sunny has lost the love of her life, but she does much more than just survive.

 You currently run the Tippy Toes Salon and Spa in Mazatlan, Mexico. What are the most marked differences – and similarities – between the women you meet there and the women you got to know in Kabul?

Both have offered great rewards and presented incredible challenges. And no matter what country you are in, women are women and have the same needs and desires; we want to be happy and see our families happy and healthy. It is true that Mexican women have a lot more freedom than the Afghan women, but then again they do have to deal with a machismo society.

 Oasis Rescue is a project very close to your heart. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

I have always felt that that all women need choices, no matter what their social economical situation is.  I often hear or read about young women around the world who feel they have no choice but to prostitute themselves to survive.  I see predators who prey on young, poor women and take advantage of their poverty to force them to sell their bodies in order to feed their children. I can’t imagine what that moment must feel like to a woman, to have to make that choice.  Oasis rescue offers scholarships to young people in the art of hairdressing.  I am, and will always be, a hairdresser, and know that offering this skill to a young boy or girl just might provide them the chance to make a choice about their own future.

Are you working on a new novel?

Yes! I can’t say much yet, but I will promise that it will bring together more incredible women dealing with personal and cultural challenges in locations far and wide.

 

 

 


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