Karen Woo, working in Afghanistan. Image Source: BBC.
Headline, August 7, 2010: “10 people, including 2 Americans, attacked and murdered in Badakhshan province, Afghanistan. Believed to be Christian medical team.” Almost every day, we confront a tidal wave of information, peppered with details like this. One of the ills of post-Postmodern society is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to greet this data with any personal depth or emotion. There is no connection to the 10 anonymous people. The Global Village has arrived. And yet the sensibilities that govern it are anonymous, divorced from our daily realities. There are of course, many courageous people who cross the bridge between ‘here’ and ‘there.’ One of the ways they do this is by blogging about their experiences so that their daily reality in the hot spots in the world becomes our daily reality.
On August 7, CNN reporter Jill Dougherty observed that one of the 10 people who died had a blog (here), entitled Dr. Karen Explores Healthcare in Afghanistan. The BBC has reported on the blog, written by female surgeon, Dr. Karen Woo (here). BBC: “The BBC understands that Dr Woo gave up a well-paid job with private healthcare provider Bupa to work in Afghanistan for minimal financial reward. She died alongside six Americans, a German and two Afghan interpreters who had been working with Christian charity the International Assistance Mission to provide eye care in remote villages. Her blog posts reveal that she was driven by a desire to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans - and spread the word about their plight.”
Her personal blog lets us get to know Dr. Woo was a dedicated and imaginative woman. Even in the heart of conflict, she built a beautiful everyday reality that contrasted sharply with the shock of grim, violent counter-truths. Dr. Woo’s last posts reveal a subtext of encroaching danger, as she was engrossed in days of medical work and evenings of computing: “Last night I had to be rescued from my place by PM and Tariq who drove across town on a mission to spring me from my place and bring me back here. ... It was a shame to leave the tranquility of the garden ... and the guys were getting ready to enjoy the lockdown with a film or two ... . I, on the other hand, was headed for the compound. ... I'd foolishly underestimated what would happen here with nobody travelling and the shops being closed for two days. ... PM told me last night that he had heard several loud bangs in the distance - apparently I was engrossed in the computer and heard neither the bangs nor him telling me about them. Repeated rocket fire on the airport... and us waiting to fly out of there.”
In another post, she described a case of mistaken kidnapping, wherein the kidnappers returned a snatched child. She wondered at how the exchange resembled the type of scene that would appear in a contemporary thriller starring Leonardo di Caprio. The fantasies of Hollywood are more real than we think. In another post from late March of this year, she reflected on the weird cultural fusions that now characterize global-level human interactions. She described how male patients responded to a female doctor: “They say that expat women here are treated like a third race - neither male nor female in their eyes - and I am getting this strongly now. I feel so very alien; in my attitude, in my upbringing.” In another post, she remarked that her attitude on the ground was largely disconnected from political values and the ebb and flow of political rhetoric. Politics, for her, was part of the unreal world and was not connected to her hands-on commitment to deeper humanity. Her blog showed us the nature of the current global reality, while unveiling the components of a perspective - compassion, humour and an appreciation of beauty – that made us understand that divides in that global reality are all illusions. Dr. Woo witnessed the crumbling of cultural barriers and geographical distances, and her blog is testament to a mind engaged fully and sympathetically with a new way of understanding things, even as she fatally confronted those who greet that same process with hostility, violence, political shortcuts or disconnected numbness.