Remembering Dr. Karen Woo: Yoga in Afghanistan

 The room was brutally sticky, no air con and I joked that we were doing Bikkram yoga today. The room was full, our yoga matts tessellated like sardines, the atmosphere convivial and inclusive, the tone set by K-meister, we were all struggling together. -Dr. Karen Woo, writing about yoga in Kabul

It was 2010, and news of her death hit hard. I didn’t know her. But friends of friends did. Upon reading her blog after her cold-blooded murder, she was  someone I wished I had known.  A Brit, she had wit, intelligence, flexibility, a sense of derring-do, and a background that included leaving school at age 16 to work as a dancer and wing walker before deciding to become a doctor.

Dr. Karen gave up her practice and worked for the International Assistant Mission, an organization that has been delivering medical care in Afghanistan for 30 years. Through the Soviet occupation, the Taliban, to the current wars, this group has nimbly maneuvered through it all giving highly valued medical assistance. As a female surgeon, she would be allowed to see women patients who otherwise would go untreated. Her skills were much-needed.

After delivering crucial medical surgeries in remote Badaksahn, she and her group of 9 other doctors, nurses and technicians, were en route back to Kabul.  As they rested, no doubt Dr. Karen talked about her upcoming wedding. But then the unspeakable happened. She and six Americans, a German and two translators from Afghanistan were overtaken by terrorists and executed.

The other day, I was perusing old bookmarks, and took a peak to see if her blog Dr Karen Explores Healthcare in Afghanistan was still there. Thankfully, her fiance and family have left up. It’s a tribute to her vibrant spirit. She wrote about cats, enjoyed the site I can haz cheezburger, brilliantly described the pedicure from hell.  This time, I came upon this post about her doing yoga in Afghanistan.

In “US army use yoga as defence” Dr. Karen wrote about going to a yoga class in a room scented by the smell of lemon and incense, and having the end punctuated by the sound of an MRAP parked outside the building. In true Dr. Karen fashion, she lacked the scorn of the more jaded UN workers, and wished she could usher them to safety, to help them get out of the maze of Kabul where apparently, they had gotten lost. But even so, Dr, Karen knew there is nothing she can do for them except wish them well. They have orders, and must wait. She, on the other hand, also knew her party had to get as far away as possible from this sitting target.

 Our $3 dollar car was filled with us and our yoga mats and the ridiculous contrast between us and the military convoy did not escape me – I wondered how much damage I could inflict with a yoga mat, and some Jedi mind tricks, it was like ‘Men who stare at goats’ made flesh – I could see the headline. “Amateur yogics defeat insurgents with Tantric chanting”.

Read the entire post. Remember people like Dr. Karen Woo, as well as our troops and contractors who have given of themselves in ways more than death. And if you could, stop by the Karen Woo Foundation page set up by her parents and friends. There’s even a fundraiser on 21 July at the London Bridge Church. Appropriately, they’ll be serving Cheeseburgers!

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