Last night was yoga - a strange yet welcome concept in this place of dust and Kalashnikovs. I'd popped over to K-Meisters place, not far from mine, and we were taking a taxi. As we arrived it was like stepping through the back of the wardrobe into Narnia, suddenly the bustle of the road disappeared and there was coolness, dark like a cave, and a wonderful smell of lemon and incense. I was calmed immediately - my last experience here had been 'the pedicure from hell' but this time I didn't need to worry as no one was going to attack my feet with sharp objects. In the changing rooms - on the floor a wonderful soft rug with the profile of a mountain dog woven in to it. - I changed into yoga gear and shoved my stuff into a locker. In the practise room, in the semi light, I could see at least one face that I recognised from yesterday, one very large chap with a Chewbacca beard.
Chewbacca boy had been there at the poolside with a group of his friends. P-Monster and I had taken a day to relax at the 5star hotel in Kabul and a pleasant breeze by the pool side had thrown a couple of the large umbrellas in to the water, narrowly missing a stout yet determined Chinese man who was studiouly doing laps as the sun disapeared behind the perimeter wall. PM had complained that being there at the pool, he was surrounded by the worst examples of all that was wrong with the worst kinds of people here in Kabul. I just thought he was a bit hot and bothered and slightly over exaggerating - not everyone here is horrible. PM had been miffed at the foolish conversations that he'd been subjected to in the men's locker room, some large and over privileged, contract worker complaining about having to work late and not being able to get to the gym, and how unfair it all was. PM had gritted his teeth but I could tell he probably wanted to give 'Over privileged toss-pot' an opportunity to see unfair - possibly say the loss of a limb, unfair imprisonment in an evil place, massacre of his family - you know something simple like that, even the more common getting up at 4 in the morning, washing your face and arse in cold water from a jug, cycling 8 miles to work for some patronising fat, foreign wanker would be an unfairness that I'd have liked this guy to try, just to get things in to perspective. Anyway, I didn't see the guy so who knows... Back to Chewbacca boy: the wearing of the beard by the foreigner is always a curious item, for a start they look very strange and secondly, if it's an attempt to blend in then you'd have to be a blind idiot not to notice that the 6ft 4, fat, white person wasn't from a local village. I often consider getting myself a beard and moustache set made and then wearing it around town just for the hell of it, to be honest I'd probably look more like and Afghan man than some of these Scandinavian-creature men. Anyway, Chewbacca boy and his slightly smaller goatee wearing friend were there with their mats, relaxing and waiting for the class to start.
I let my mind move off it's usual preoccupations: planning, packing, getting things done. I let myself concentrate on the class, on the stretching, the physical sensation, my legs shaking, leaf like, under the effort. For a second I was transported back to Notting Hill - the demographic was no different; middle class, white people struggling to push there bodies through a physical regime after 8-10 hours at a desk. 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. I was thinking of Chewbacca boy, his smaller friend, and the lanky chap that looked like a Sikh warrior, I've always had a soft spot for men who do yoga; there are a few who are naturals and for whom the poses look elegant and strong, but for most men yoga is a bigger fight than anything that they could attempt at the gym. Here in the yoga class simply sitting upright with your legs crossed is murderously difficult and the male ego must contend with not being able to do what everyone around them is doing with ease. So, I give credit to the guys that come along and try, after all it's not a competition. What they do for themselves when they try something that is hard for them is the best thing that they could ever do and I respect that enormously.
Later as we ended the class, closing the session with focussed relaxation after working really hard, I was aware of a rumbling noise vibrating the walls. I was torn between dropping out of my Notting hill bubble to take a look from the window and remaining in the quiet bliss that I'd attained. I mentally rein-acted running to the locker room for my trainers as I didn't fancy trying to run down the road in flip flops, my meditation was dispelled by my fight or flight planning, but still I remained in the corpse pose on the practise room floor; I told myself it was the generator. I didn't know whether I'd actually be able to see out of the window and didn't want to worry anyone. It's a canny illusion but nonetheless a welcome one; long oatmeal and rice-paper coloured drapes dangle down in panels across the windows but these merely disguise the sandbags that cover the windows - (paranoid) safety measures cleverly disguised by soft furnishings - I was happy to be temporarily deceived.
The rumbling was being caused by two MRAPs (mine resistant ambushed protected), these tank-like, armoured vehicles with gun turrets on the top were parked directly outside the health club. US army people sat in the vehicles looking sheepish, a young woman in uniform jumped out and came over to apologise that their presence was blocking our mobile phone transmissions. I was quiet and didn't say anything but there was a tangible air of indignation from a couple of the folks from the UN, "Bloody military people, causing unnecessary risk, endangering us all, blah blah blah. I'd heard it all and it was boring. I just felt sorry for the soldiers in their vehicles, lost, they could do nothing but sit and wait for instructions (they'd been there for the last half hour so obviously HQ map reading was a little bit rusty). They would not normally traverse these back streets and now that they were here they did not know how to get back out. I felt sorry for them in their highly conspicuous vehicles and uniforms annoying people wherever they went.
I wanted to jump into our taxi and say "Follow me, we'll lead you to somewhere that you recognise (probably one of the super expensive supermarkets that westerners frequent), and you can find your way from there", but this was a fantasy; they probably wouldn't have followed and it certainly would have been an unpopular suggestion with UN guys with whom I was sharing a taxi, "Oh, great job Karen, lets get the sitting target to follow us around the town!". I was sad for the divisions between us but in honesty probably glad when our taxi pulled out and away from the MRAPS. My Spidey-sense had been tingling for a while and my realist fought with my idealist and won: there was no reason for them to be there, if there was a reason for them to be there then we should be as far away as possible. 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".