KABUL — It took me eight days to convince 37-year-old Gul Rukh to let me conduct this interview.
The Afghanistan woman living in Kabul feared talking openly about her waitress job at the Mumtaz Mahal Wedding Hall.
"I earn $200 a month at the hotel," she says. "I am very happy doing my job, but I am treated very badly by society, my relatives and neighbors for doing it. They scoff at me and believe working as a hotel waitress is not a good job for a woman. But when my husband became disabled, I had to find work to pay for my children's education. This job is the best option."
She says taking orders and serving people their food is much easier than working on a farm or in a factory.
The Mumtaz Mahal Wedding Hall is one of the most popular entertainment and hotel venues among the rich and even some middle-class families in Kabul.
Rukhshana, a mother of five children, also works here. "I have washed clothes before and worked with livestock, but this is the best job. I came to Kabul so that my children can get a good education, and working at this hotel is a good job.”
Mumtaz Mahal manager Obaid Allah Nayab says that having female waitresses — there are 11 at the banquet hall and hotel — is good for business because the venue also hosts women-only parties in addition to weddings in which the clients don't want male staff.
"I am very happy having waitresses working in our hotel," he says. "The only problem is conservative groups in our society. Otherwise, there is no problem with women working.”
Laila Haidery, manager of the restaurant and party site Taj Begum, also employs women as waitresses. In fact, she has been attacked twice by unknown men.
"There are people who are against women working, especially when they see successful women like me," she says. "I have nearly been killed twice. The first time was when I was getting into a taxi and two men tried to choke me. I fought back, but they beat me a lot. The second time, some men came to my home and tried to kill me, but I fired at them and they escaped."
Despite the dangers, she is commited to her work and is making good money.
Akram Yawari, who recently returned to Kabul after studying in India, says he is happy to see Afghan women working in what are traditionally male jobs in this country.
"I think these women working in hotels can inspire others," Yawari says. "This is my first time in this hotel, but I think it's good for families and for women who want to eat outside the house."