In The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon tells the story of Kamila Sediqi, an Afghan dressmaker who used her business skills to keep her family and her community together.
Kamila started her business in 1996, and has accomplished so much since then. Why do you think her story hasn't been told before?
Throughout the process of pursuing Kamila's story, everyone thought I was totally insane. They said, "There's no real story here" and "there are no women entrepreneurs." Kamila's story was dismissed because it doesn't fit with the victim narrative, and because it's not about men with guns. I really believed in the story, and that there was an audience for it. I knew it was noteworthy and newsworthy, and that I couldn't be the only one who found it fascinating.
What was it like to be in Afghanistan, in terms of the danger around you and the need for high security?
I spent most of my time with Afghans, not in the green zone. They'd say, "What are you doing here?" And I'd say, "My job." But sometimes you're up a lot of the night thinking about it—people were getting kidnapped, and it was unsettling. I took many precautions, and worked with a phenomenal team without whom I couldn't do this work.
You were a producer for ABC News and This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Did this project feel like a continuation of what you'd done before—or an entirely different direction?
What I learned at journalism school and at ABC—those skills are the same no matter where you are in the world. But the robustness of this story... so few reporters are doing stories like this. In Afghanistan, life is so fragile, who knows what the next week will bring? That fragility really affects the way you're able to report, and the kind of stories people will tell you.
Did you and Kamila connect right away, or did it take some convincing to get her to talk with you?
When we met in 2005, we were both young women doing things our families supported but thought were crazy. We weren't married and didn't have kids, so we could joke about that across the huge divide between our worlds. It did take time to convince her, but she saw how serious I was, and that I was not going to sensationalize things or stretch beyond the truth.