Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March 30th, 2005, Kisumu, Kenya. The Day I Was Blessed to Survive

I originally posted this in August of 2010, but it is most certainly fitting to run this again on this day which is the 6th anniversary of this scary experience. The reason though why I wanted to run this again is that this was the day that shaped who I am today. The day prior to the events in this story I had written several chapters to my book "Finding Kansas" and it was writing those chapters that I finally allowed myself the thought that maybe someone, anyone, would get something out of my writings. Could I ever have imagined that I would get to where I am now? Never! After this ordeal in Kenya though I always had the thought that I must have survived for a reason. Each day I relive this experience and replay what happened and each day I know I am more than fortunante to have survived. Because of this I know that each opprtunity in life is a gift and one must make the most of it. I also would say it is fitting to run this as tomorrow my Autism Awareness Tour of Missouri begins in Lebanon. It was a long road of personal discovery to get to where I am today and of the biggest events was the story that follows:

For those that have read my book you may have remembered the part where I talked about the time a mob of homeless boys held my dad and me captive in a car for over an hour. This event happened more than five years ago and I thought I was through all the emotion from that day, but I was wrong.

Last night I had a dream and it was the most realistic dream I have ever had. The emotions, the fear, and the danger were all felt anew. It was so realistic that I had a dream that I posted on Facebook via my phone that I had the nightmare (I checked my Facebook status this morning and was sure I made that post, but I did not).

Because of this fear rushing through my system I feel I must write the story again because writing helps me process information that would normally lie stagnant.

I will start the story by telling you that I was traveling with my dad to Kenya and we were in Kisumu, Kenya on this fateful day. My dad was doing some video work for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and I went along to do some still photography. My experience up to that point had been one of self discovery and this ordeal that occurred on this day surely had a hand in making me the writer I am today.

Yes, my trip was full of self revelations and this was aided by the fact that I spent five days alone in the room 312 at the Imperial Hotel. I had some sort of virus that made me sleep for hours on end and when I was up all I wanted to do was sleep. Exhaustion was given a new meaning for me because of this, but when I was up I wrote and it was in that hotel room I was in that I first thought that, perhaps, someone someday might actually read, and care, what I have to say.

My dad came back and the next morning we were out for my dad to take some town shots. The video on this page shows what we were doing, but what seems to be a quiet town quickly changes as the video will only give you a hint as to what was to come.

The video ends suddenly because my dad did not want the camera stolen. What you can't see in the front of the vehicle is the fact that the first two kids to get in front slammed their knees under the front bumper. They [the kids] knew that our driver was a pastor and that he would not run over the them. If our driver knew what was to come he may very well have.

Out of nowhere descended 10, 20, 40, 50, and then 75 kids. The mob surrounded us from all angles and we eventually had several kids with their knees under our front bumper. The car we were in was a 1982 Toyota something rather and had seen many a kilometer. Because of this the power in this car was not enough to break us free.

Now I know I have said homeless kids, but some of these kids were near 18 years of age and in very strong physical shape. They have to be to survive, and to survive they do things, like hold people like me captive for money. With a mob of this size no amount of money would satisfy all.

The kids demanded that our windows be kept down and they kept trying to get us out of the car, but our driver stayed calm and nonchalant about the whole mess. He may have been calm, but I was a shaky mess.

There are no words I can use that will let you know the terror I felt. I either wanted God to free us from this or have the mob kill us because the suspense was too much to bear. I fought back the tears, and really think this was because I was too scared to cry, but the kid outside my window, who was holding a large glass shard and nice sized rock said to me, "What are you afraid of? Us?" And then he laughed and my despair grew.

At some point in time our driver got one of the kids, and only one, into our car. I was seated in the rear left of the car, my dad the front right (remember, Kenya was a British country so drivers are on the right) and this kid was now seated to my left. He appeared to be weaponless, but I now had no safe haven.

Words made no sense as our driver slipped in and out of English with the kid that seemed to be in control, if control was possible in a mob of 75 homeless kids. At times an auctioneer would have been envious at the rate of conversation, but nothing was changing. We had kids on all sides, kids on the trunk, the roof, and the hood.

Then I saw it! Two police officers were walking toward us and I felt like I was going to be safe. Hope had arrived and not a moment too soon. When one is facing death there is no feeling like the feeling of freedom and life. However, this feeling of hope was fleeting as the police looked at the mob, looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and walked away. Once again we were just one step away from a vehicle from death.

The minutes, seconds, and tenths-of-a-second were being counted. I thought of everything I wanted to do and see that would not happen. I thought of the girlfriend I had but lost. I realized I was alone, and then I thought of the fact that I really wanted to know if I'd develop as a writer. It was these thoughts and fears that were rekindled last night in my dream.

This mob that was all around seemed to be more interested in blood rather than money. Money was the talk at the start, but negotiations with the mob leader revolved around my dad and I getting out of the car. Getting out was a one way ticket to being stoned.

We once again caught a break and I noticed it through my hyperventilating. Slowly, say, about every five minutes, one of the kids at the front bumper was wandering off. Eventually there was just one. This kid was the kid holding the cap that you can see in the video nearing us near the end of the video.

The look in this lone kid's eyes scared me. It was of hate, rage, and sadness that screamed that he wanted our blood and/or money in no particular order. His knees were firmly under the bumper, but when the leader of the mob was off talking to one of his minions, our driver took out a 100 Kenyan Shilling banknote (about $1.50) and waived for the kid to take it. The kid took the bait and we had a clear path and our driver gunned it and that Toyota something or other leaped forward, well, lurched forward with all the might it could muster.

Instantly our car was pelted with the rocks the kids were holding for the stoning they were hoping would occur. One rock came through the rear window and just missed my head. I took this as a cue to duck, as did the homeless kid that was still in our car.

We made it one block and now the homeless kid, who I must say had been very confident until we made our break, had the same look of fear I had moments prior. The fear, once again, was reversed when we made a turn at the end of the street and a pickup truck was backing out.

The eager mob had been throwing everything they could towards our vehicle and was chasing us. This blockage of the road was bad, VERY bad because what was a friendly blood thirsty mob was now an angry blood frenzy mob. If they got to us it was over.

It's good to know that drivers the world over only care about their car in parking situations, but bad when you learn this when you MUST get by. The pickup backed out, pulled in, backed out and re-angled all the while ignoring the constant tone of our horn (the horn had seen better days too).

We were a quarter block from the turn we made and the mob was rounding the corner. There wasn't much time left, then, all of a sudden, a private security guard from this shopping strip saw the mob nearing our car and he took three quick steps and flashed his long sword. All at once the front of the mob slid to a stop. It looked like an orchestrated slide, but the kids behind the front didn't know they were stopping and many kids took a tumble.

When it comes to blood thirsty mobs a small tumble won't stop them. Our driver had had enough with the pickup that couldn't decide if it was coming or going and as it was backed out our driver shot between the pickup and the curb and made the sidewalk our road. The pickup driver showed his disapproval by honking his horn at us. If he only was aware of what was behind.

The road was clear and five blocks later we threw out the kid that was still in our car. I say throw out but he was more than willing to leave as he certainly knew there are strength in numbers, and this time he was out numbered.

Afterwards I was in a shaky state. I say shaky because I literally was shaking, sometimes violently. I could not believe I was alive and uninjured. I kept processing and reliving the ordeal and I could see it, truly see it. I still can because of this video-graphic memory. I didn't have to put the video on here because I can still see it in my mind.

An hour passed and I was making no headway with my emotions. I was slipping away, drifting into my mind where no one could hurt me. I wanted nothing more than to never be around anyone again, but as we got back to our hotel my dad suggested I write, so write I did. It wasn't much, but I wrote about the event on the forum of the Saint Louis Karting Association and it was then that I realized the power of writing.

I've had encounters with the emotions of this event several times after the event. When I saw "War of the Worlds" with Tom Cruise I ran out of the theater crying when the scene of the main character and his family are in the mini-van driving through the mob and then the mob wants the van.

Because of my dream last night I had to write this story again, I had to use this medium to dispel some of the anxiety and sadness I experienced on that day that is still floating around in my mind. Having a video-graphic memory is sometimes a great thing to have, but for the high-stress events, and the exceptionally high stress event like this story, my memory allows me to relive the event in full detail whether I want to or not.

I can't tell you how thankful I am that my writings started just a few months before this event. Writing was the key that allowed me to not become fixated, perhaps forever, on that event. Also, this event gave me a greater cause to write. I was spared from the mob. I read news stories later in the following years of mobs like this one killing foreign tourists. Were they the same kids? Maybe, but more importantly that could have been me, but I was spared. I struggled with this for a while, but as my writings became deeper and, heck, just in the past year I have learned of my impact, I have realized I was spared for a reason.

Knowing that one's self was on the brink, and a second chance was given is, again, something that words can't give justice to. The only justice I can attempt to give it is in all that I do, be it my books, presentations, or a blog entry like this one today. Dreams may haunt me for some time to come, but I will know that this crisis I went through was the one single event that paved the way for the person I have become today.


  1. This would cause nightmares for anyone, Aaron.

  2. God, just reading this caused for tears appearing in my eyes... I feel terrible for you that you had to experience this Aaron. I've had a group of about 6 kids keeping me captive with their bikes (while riding... they closed in on me) a few years ago and that still haunts me to this day. You had a mob of about 75?! I don't think I'll ever fully know how you felt, but I can certainly understand.
    I'm glad though that there was a good side to this. Namely that you figured out how important writing is to you and made you the person this day. That's really important for you to keep in mind when thoughts/dreams like these appear in your head :)