Thursday, March 30, 2023

18 Years Since March 30, 2005

With the hotel incident earlier in the week, I felt it prudent to share this post as one of the things I endure is an overly alert alert system. This post was originally shared last year, but is something I live with every day. 

Today is the day. I've been through many ordeals in my life, and I've written about a lot of them, but one incident above all others, well, I'll probably be writing about it for the rest of my life.

First off, if you've ever been in a life-threatening situation due to other people then you might want to skip this post. I do try and keep my blog positive and always try to look at the positive twist, and in a way the fact I can talk about the contents of this post are a positive within itself, but the feeling of pure helplessness may be a bit distressing.

Lastly, before I get to the story, every time on this day I try to find something in depth regarding PTSD and Asperger's/ASD and each year I'm left with a bit of bewilderment as to the lack of literature out there. I mean, if a person has a better than average memory to the point of having the memory be very much like a DVR, then moving past things can be a challenge. Anyway, to the story...

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 regarding the immense need when it comes to the high prevalence of AIDS orphans and homelessness. I went along to do some still photography and help my dad when possible. 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, perhaps a million. Because of this the power in this car was not enough to break us free. And as fate would have it, these kids were the exact reason we were there as these kids had all lost their parents to AIDS and had no one to turn to.

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. 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. It grew worse when he pulled a machete out and slowly moved it to my throat.

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, and the machete was still pointed at me, 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 after my diagnosis. 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.

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 and when we returned home my rate of chapters being written grew and grew. I was blessed to have survived, and I was going to make the most of it.

That's the story and there will be a moment about, say, once a month that will take me back there in that state of helplessness. Later in 2005 when I saw The War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise, I had an absolute flashback when there was a mob wanting the van. Then, earlier this month when I was catching up on episodes of The Blacklist, there was an episode with a character with the name of "The Chairman" which was the name of the so-called leader of this group of homeless kids. Hearing the line in the episode "I want to speak to the chairman" brought back memories of hearing the driver and my dad say that. I forgot that it was said, until I heard it in that episode, and I had to pause the episode and regroup my emotions.  

I've written about this event many times, and in the unabridged, original version of my book Finding Kansas, I went into great detail about the whole trip. I've had questions at presentations that have brought this story up. In the telling of this story the room always goes quiet, and I tell it with great detail because, usually, a question that brought it up had to do with a traumatic event of some sort that is not just haunting but is so vivid it's like it's in the present and for me the events of March 30th, 2005, were just that for many years.

In a way I have felt as if I've been on borrowed time since then. I do think about the place of Kisumu frequently and I hope someday, in some way, to be able to help somehow. Being from the United States of America I never knew desperation like this. I hope to be able to do something because I am who I am today because of what transpired on that day. I said I try to always find the positive angle from something and here it is... I know for a fact that I would've given up on writing if this even had not happened. The book that was being written then has sold over more than 12,000 copies. From that I became a speaker and have given over 1,050 presentations to almost 100,000 people. I had a YouTube series that had almost 500,000 views. I've had two national speaking tours to students which the impact of shaping the future is immeasurable. I've always called March 30th, 2005 the day I was "lucky to survive" but what if it's more than that? What if it truly was the day that I grew into a person that realized I was capable of something because there had to be a reason I survived that wasn't just "lucky". Yes, what if that day was the day that made me fearless to tell my story? It might just be and while I'm sure there will be things that bring me back to being in that Toyota, and feeling helpless, but for once I'm understanding that it might not have been possible without March 30th, 2005.

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