Overcoming Trauma

It’s coming up 6 months since Liz and I were held up in our home, during the day by 3 armed men and their boss – a woman.

It’s not the worst thing that can happen in life because we came out alive. I’ve got friends over here who have lost a child, that would be the ultimate nightmare. A terminal illness, that’s certainly no fun. A messy divorce – that sucks big time.

I thought I’d share how I’ve dealt/am still dealing with this trauma.

When it happened, it was only 2 days after Liz and I had gone on a 10km fun run for the First Lady (of Kenya). I’ve always enjoyed running since I was young and for someone who can spend 12 hours a day on a computer, it keeps me fit (kind of). I tend to call it more of a granny shuffle than a run, but it gets my heart racing. On that run, we had some special purple tee shirts that entrants received. It was a great day and I was proud it be a part of it with Liz.

That was the Sunday.

By Tuesday at 3pm our lives were changed forever.

Gone was the feeling of safety in our own home. What was weird is that I didn’t mind being home afterwards. I just didn’t want to sit in the particular seat I was in when a guy shoved a gun in my face. I certainly didn’t want to watch any cop shows. The blanket that they covered us with when they tied us up – I wanted to throw away. Whatever they touched I wanted to get rid of.

What really compounded it, was having to deal with the police over the next 3 days. I think it was almost as bad. In most countries you go to the police for help, not here.

The biggest help we got was actually from a friend in South Africa who we haven’t seen for years. Rod was really good support for us, especially for Pete as he felt guilty that he wasn’t home, because it wouldn’t have happened. Rod put us in touch with some other Aussies who we only knew through Facebook, and when we were ready, we would spend some time with and talk through how we were going.

What I really hated was for people to be shoving it down our throats the next day “YOU MUST GET COUNSELLING”. Forget counseling, I was just trying to make sure Lizzie was okay and get through dealing with the police.

While I didn’t mind being at home, I couldn’t deal with being at home by myself. Pete had a meeting on about 2 days after the armed holdup and we had workmen coming in to do some repairs. I had an all out panic attack, the first ever in my life. It was awful. It happened a couple of times after that. I immediately jumped online to a pastor friend of ours in Australia who gave me some practical tips. By then I had calmed down, but man was it not good!

The guys in our church and the Australian High Commission were helpful, but at the end of the day you just have to get on with life.

But I stopped running.

I no longer felt safe to go out our compound gate by myself. I made triple sure that all the doors to our apartment and car were locked. I jumped at sudden noises.

Even now, 6 months down the line, while things have improved, I’ve still got some ground to take back. There’s certainly nothing wrong with making sure you’re safe but I don’t like to leave the apartment door unlocked even for one second. I think it drives Pete nutty but I don’t care, I was the one who was held up.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve wanted to go back to running again, but I didn’t want to do it by myself. I started with walking up an area that Pete found. It’s safe (well safer than dodging traffic), just up the road and it’s peaceful. You don’t even feel like you’re in Nairobi when you’re there.

I dragged Pete out of bed a few times to walk the route, but I wasn’t ready to do it by myself. And I certainly didn’t want to wear my purple tee shirt – it was still too fresh.

Well, last week, I’m proud to say I actually went on a granny shuffle run all by myself. Today, I even wore my purple tee shirt.

There’s no sense of victory or getting back what ground was stolen from me. There’s no air punch declaring it’s all gone.

I’m just doing it because I know I have to.

I’m using our speaking tour in the US in October as my motivator. I want to be physically and mentally prepared for 6 weeks on the road as possible.

I’ve heard that it takes a good 12 months to get over a trauma. Personally, I think it’s different for everyone. Both Pete and I have decided that it would only take one more ‘big thing’ to happen and we would probably pack up and return home.

I don’t dwell on the fact that the intruders could’ve shot us instead of the policeman. But it doesn’t take much to go back to that day. I’ve purposely chosen not to even remember what date it was. I know it was the first Tuesday in March at 3pm. That I’ll never forget.

I know God saved us on that day. We weren’t raped, beaten or killed and I am very grateful for that.

Next March we anticipate the arrival of our first grand child. I know that March will be better than this one.

I’ll eventually get to the point where the pain of the event will be wiped away but I hope I don’t ever forget some things that came out of it. The close friends, being better at our personal security, learning not to say some dumb things like others said at the time, the love of family and compassion for others who go through tough times.

I’m not glad that it happened to us, but I’ve come to accept that we live in a broken and hurting world where it happens every day to someone. I hope I can be the symbol of compassion to someone else in a better way, because of it.

And I hope I keep running.

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5 Reasons why you SHOULD visit Africa

I often see these posts on Facebook of which country ranks as the best to visit and why, even in Kenya. Many of them are fabricated and one-sided, so I thought I’d give a more realistic list of reasons you should give it a go:

No Regrets

The reason we decided to relocate here was because we didn’t want to get to 70 years of age and go “If only”. We all have some regrets throughout our lives so why add more to it.

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Bigger World View

The world is not all white, middle-class and English speaking. When our girls finished high school we all went off to East Africa for 2 months. We caught public transport, stayed at $2 backpackers, ate what the locals ate and had a blast. It helped them to see that the world is an adventure playground and there’s some really nice people in it.

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Crap Happens Everywhere

I often hear people say ‘don’t go to Africa, it’s too dangerous’. Here’s some news ‘bad stuff happens all over the world, every hour, every minute’. You have no guarantees that if you stay in your home country that you’re going to be safe. I often get people asking me if it’s okay when there’s an Ebola outbreak (wrong side of the continent), a bombing (if we’re alive it’s a good) or a fellow Kiwi or Aussie is injured (did we know them). Remember, bombs go off in Indonesia, London, Middle East and the US. A café was held up by a crazy dude in Sydney and the whole country went on alert. Schools in the US are often reported to have gunmen going through them. It wasn’t that long ago that people were up in arms about 2 Aussies executed in Bali – but people still go there.

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There’s Things You’ll Only Experience Here

We live about 30 minutes from the Nairobi National Park where there is pretty much every wild animal except elephants (need a bigger place than that). We drove around for 8 hours last week and saw some exceptional groups of animals. Kenya has 25 national parks, 14 national reserves and 7 marine parks. And that’s just in Kenya alone. Imagine with 53 other countries what your experience could be. There’s also the adventure sports, culture and unique food to this part of the world. Not many can say they went white water rafting on the Nile.

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Travel On The Ground Is Cheap

Getting here would probably be the most expensive part of your trip. Once you’re here though, local travel, food and entertainment is pretty cheap compared to other places in the world. I can catch a bus to Uganda from Kenya for around $25, a private shuttle to Tanzania for around the same. You can get beef stew and rice for $2.50. Of course, there’s the other end of the spectrum where you can pay through the nose for services and entertainment, it all depends on your budget.

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Sure, I could go on about the wonderful friendships you’ll make, the unique encounters you’ve had or the different cultural practices you’ve discovered but it’s much more than that. It’s something you can’t explain in proper words to your friends when you return home. There are wonderful memories and experiences that only people who’ve been to this part of the world will understand.

The question is – what is really stopping you from visiting?

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Just Get Lost!

We’ve been very blessed to be able to do a lot of travel as individuals, a family and in a group. Every trip has its challenges and triumphs. Living in Kenya enables us to see amazing wildlife and scenery within a few hours.

Travelling with a large group complicates things and I thought I’d share a few pointers on it.

Most of our first team to Africa. It was fun/interesting.

Most of our first team to Africa. It was fun/interesting

Group dynamics become evident in a very short time. There’s the loud person who is sure they know the way (but not really) and enforces their viewpoint. There’s the quiet one who goes with the flow. In between you’ll have a whole range of people who try to be heard, get frustrated when they feel no one listens to them, and those that verbally let everyone what they think. The more people you have, the more variables in behavior.

I remember when the four of us and one extra went to Hawaii for a conference. The plan afterwards was to go to the volcano national park. It was the one thing I insisted on as I’ve a weird fascination with volcanoes, natural disasters such as tsunamis and the like. This trip was doable because we had sold our house in New Zealand and I thought we might not get this opportunity ever again. What I hadn’t counted on was 5 sleepless nights because one of the crew snored loudly, and I mean earth shaking snoring. I even threw pillows at her and told her to shut up. She didn’t notice a thing.

I did get to see the volcanoes and 10 years later we're still married.

I did get to see the volcanoes and 10 years later we’re still married

By the time the conference had finished we were really tired. It had been a full on week and the five of us were ready for a break. First, we missed our connecting flight to one of the islands. Then, I lost the plot and nearly divorced my husband because I wanted things done my way to get going on our ‘holiday’. I got so cranky that I walked out of the pancake place and was heading for my passport at the hotel. It all came down to tiredness. Three teenage girls and tired adults don’t always mix either.

Building memories

Building memories

Mixed ages can cause other problems too. If you have a group that might have pre-schoolers, teenagers and adults from different families, it can bring conflict. Teenagers are likely to want to just shop, adults hang by the pool and pre-schoolers just want to play on the outside equipment. Phones don’t always work in other countries, people don’t listen when it comes to meetup points and little kids can’t handle the long hours often required.

We went to Disneyland in LA one year. One of the family (who will remain nameless) was prepared to stand in line for 3 hours just to go on the Cars ride. The rest of us weren’t and wanted to go on other rides. It was his turn to lose the plot. Again, a mixture of jetlag, tiredness and disappointment.

Liz building a car at Disneyland

Liz building a car at Disneyland

To go in a large group, you really have to be selfless.

I guess we’re not there yet.

We wanted to spend a year travelling around Australia just for the heck of it. Our youngest daughter gets car sick and she was prepared to divorce us for even considering it. She’s married now, so we’re going to drive around Africa instead.

I’m a Type A person. I like to cross my T’s and dot my I’s, but living in Kenya I’ve had to learn to be much more flexible. I’ve learnt that when you’re on the road you may just have to give up trying to do everything and enjoy what you can see/do. Too many times we also try and fit too many things into a schedule and when we don’t get to do them, we get disappointed.

Sometimes, it’s also good just to get lost. That way you end up having adventures you would never had encountered.

Pete broke his leg on Mt Kilimanjaro. This is in Dubai on the way home. It's 43 degrees. Not planned, but it made thing interesting.

Pete broke his leg on Mt Kilimanjaro. This is in Dubai on the way home. It’s 43 degrees. Not planned, but it made things interesting.

In 2009 I did my first trip to New York City. I was by myself and for the most part it was for work. However, I always try and fit in some fun things to do. The people I was with weren’t very hospitable and pretty much left me to my own devices. One night I caught a train from Queens into Manhattan to meet a board member and his son for dinner. It was quite late when we finished and they insisted I get a taxi back to Queens. I was just thinking of the few dollars in my pocket and was very vocal about catching the train back. They were insistent and so was I. Remember, I was jetlagged and in a new city. I went to the train station to find the gate locked. I couldn’t find another entrance and then had to walk lots of blocks to find the right line. I jumped on a train but it became obvious I was heading in the wrong direction. Meantime I’m getting text messages from our board member wondering if I was in Queens yet. I get off the Harlem bound train and a nice old lady pointed me to the right one. I get off at Queens but then can’t remember how to get to the house. I start praying madly (it’s amazing how spiritual we get during a crisis) and looking for a familiar building. Thankfully, I eventually found it and of course never told anyone about by short visit to Harlem in the middle of the night.

Our plan was to go to New Zealand in 2015. Instead we went for our daughters wedding in 2014. Some things are out of your control, but you can have lots of fun anyway.

Our plan was to go to New Zealand in 2015. Instead we went for our daughters wedding in 2014. Some things are out of your control, but you can have lots of fun anyway. We did!

With all the crappola that goes on in our world, I’ve found people are pretty good at helping out in a time of need. The problem when you’re lost is that they’re not and they know how to get there but don’t always have the ability to communicate it. By the time you’ve got to the 5th turn, you’ll be lost all over again. Getting lost is okay until that goes on for hours on end.

When we first moved to Sydney, Australia, we had to meet up on the other side of the city with some friends to pick up a suitcase. Evan insisted on coming to our place, but we really wanted to see what their part of the world looked like. This was pre-GPS days. I don’t know how many hours later we got there, because Ev came and got us, but 13 years later he still gives us stick about it.

Golden Rules of Travel:

  1. Don’t book anything on the day you arrive – we’ve missed lots of appointments by breaking this rule
  2. Do one thing in a day – it should be fun not a marathon to get around
  3. Mix things up in your schedule – one day sight seeing, one day shopping, something in the morning, another day something at night
  4. Before you go, ask the group what one thing they want to do/see and make it happen (I’ve never got to the Statue of Liberty because of the weather, but one day…)
  5. Remember the world is big place – it takes more than 5 minutes to get from A to B
  6. Know where the toilets are
  7. Know and obey the local laws
  8. Make happy memories not disastrous ones.

So go ahead, travel and get lost. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t pan out like you thought – isn’t that life? You will meet incredible people, see amazing things and experience life changing events. You’re not going to get that while at home

Our 2012 guide to Kilimanjaro was the same as 2011. We wouldn't have known how good he was if Pete didn't have his accident. We are lifelong friends now.

Our 2012 guide to Kilimanjaro was the same as 2011. We wouldn’t have known how good he was if Pete didn’t have his accident. We are lifelong friends now.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Mark Twain

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. Augustine of Hippo

Go see the world, your adventures await you!

Go see the world, your adventures await you!