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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Q&A With The Creans

This week I’ve produced five 2 minute videos answering some questions about life in Africa.

1. Does everyone live in mud huts?

2. Isn’t it always hot there?

3. Everything is cheap there isn’t it?

4. Isn’t it dangerous being there?

5. Are there beggars everywhere?

Hopefully you feel better informed and see that Kenya is just like your place – just a bit different!

boy praying

Trying To Move On

It’s been two weeks since our house was broken into just after 3pm by armed men. We’ve all been on an emotional roller coaster that we weren’t prepared for.

A lot of this was due to small things. Like on the Sunday ‘after the event’ we discovered that a small pottery container which held all of Pete’s cufflinks was gone. It might not seem much to the average person but I was happy that none of Pete’s things had been stolen. Even more so, Hannah, our youngest daughter had given Pete a set of cufflinks with ‘Dad’ engraved on them, when she got married last year.

Dealing with the police has almost been worse than being held up at gunpoint.

Lizzies Lego gun she made to protect herself.

Lizzies Lego gun she made to protect herself.

The first night we spent hours with the police while they stood around the car that had been used in several burglaries that day. They insisted that our gear was all there, including the laptops but we could not see it because it was late at night. No matter how much our neighbor insisted on looking at our things, the big boss refused to allow us for a viewing.

Pete jimmied up the door with a plastic chair so that we would feel safe. None of us slept well that night. The next morning we got the call to go back to the police station. We really needed to get a new lock but that would have to wait. We kept Liz with us all day, she was in no state to go to work. None of us were.

Pete's extra security - actually it was for my peace of mind.

Pete’s extra security – actually it was for my peace of mind.

The landlady came around, I’m not sure why because she just sat there and waited to be served a coffee. She has made our stay here very difficult and we can’t wait to move out. She has lied constantly – we found out that there is only a water supply 3 days a week and we are expected to pay for all new locks and keys.

Basically the next three days went like this:

  • Wait for a phone call to go to whatever police station was needed
  • Get there and wait some more while not being told anything
  • Spend wasted time shaking hands with the same police officer who spent their time talking to one another
  • Pete being hassled by one or two officers for him to buy them a ticket to New Zealand because he was rich
  • The same officers following Pete to the canteen badgering him to buy them a drink
  • Go home still without a police report

Meanwhile, we also ran out of water, waited for plumbers to fix endless problems and try and get the place ready for our visitors from Ethiopia.

The getaway car with the bullet hole from where the police shot at them.

The getaway car with the bullet hole from where the police shot at them.

With new locks and new security measures in place we started sleeping better. We started finding a ‘new normal’.

Then there was the one week anniversary of the break-in. I made sure I wasn’t home at the time it happened. It was all still too fresh.

We went to get a new wedding band to replace the one that the woman who was the gang leader, ripped off my finger. The first Sunday it was all too much for me. The second Sunday I had psychologically prepared myself to get it sized.

ring

We’ve decided that while we can’t replace the personal items such as our anniversary rings that were stolen, we could make a new start on some things. Our good friends at a church in Australia donated enough for us to get a TV. It’s going to get a lot of use over the NRL season that’s for sure!

We’ve been super blessed to have people lend us a laptop until we get another one and we are trying to move on with our lives.

Once again, it’s the police that keep tripping us up. To claim on anything for our insurance, we need an abstract, it’s the official police report. Our neighbor keeps getting phone calls from a police officer demanding money. We are sure that is why we haven’t got the report – because we won’t pay up. Yesterday we were asked to go back to the police station.

A TV thanks to the church of C3 Coomera, Australia.

A TV thanks to the church of C3 Coomera, Australia.

We thought it was for the abstract – in fact it was for a line up.

There was no preparation, no telling you what was going on. I was told to go into a room and there were 10 or so women and then I had to choose one who was ‘the culprit’. How after only seeing her for about 5 seconds, and two weeks later, was I supposed to get the right woman? Of course I got it wrong. The worse thing was that I had to stand about 90cm away from these women, and when I thought I had the right one, walked up to one and tap them on the shoulder. How dodgy is that.

Still, we walked away without an abstract.

The sign for the officers room

The sign for the officers room

I’m not sure all this hassle for an abstract is actually worth it. The police keep dragging everything up and still nothing changes.

Nothing except us. We are more vigilant in security – we lock the car doors as soon as we get in, Pete has installed new and more locks, Lizzies motorbike driver collects and drops her off at the gate.

This is how the police put out the few belongings they recovered. Notice all the Mac products were missing...

This is how the police put out the few belongings they recovered. Notice all the Mac products were missing…

I miss the freedom we used to have. But in fact, was I blind to what the situation was really like for the majority of people who live here in Nairobi.

If you would like to help us move on, you can make a donation HERE

When A Gun Is In Your Face

This last week has probably been the hardest ever in our lives, well, to date anyway. Five days beforehand we had just moved into another apartment (see previous blog). We were just settling down, most of the unpacking was done bar about 5 boxes and ready to do life in a new place. The only reason we moved was to save $300 a month to help our shrinking budget (due to the declining dollar). We wanted to live in the same area because it is nice, but also one of the safer places in Nairobi to live.

That was all about to change.

Just after 3pm on Tuesday, Liz came home from the preschool she volunteers at. I was sitting on the sofa working, and literally 5 seconds later 3 men walked through the door. For some strange reason I automatically slid my phone under one of the cushions. My immediate thought was ‘maybe it’s Lizzies motorbike driver and she’s left something with him’. It only took a split second to realize this was going to be a holdup.

gun

One guy went straight to Liz, another one came to me. He said “You see this (the pistol), you know what it’s for, do what you are told’. Immediately they demanded the phones, I told Liz to hand hers over. They never asked for mine.

One of the guys grabbed my arm and asked to see the money. In that moment an older woman walked in, she was tough. Obviously she was the ringleader. I showed them my bag and they emptied everything out. There was only about $30 in it because I had just paid the power bill. The woman said ‘Is that it, give me the gold’. She started pulling at my wedding band really roughly. I told them it would come off easier with detergent and started going to the kitchen. Things immediately got tense, maybe they thought I was up to something.

We couldn’t get out because they had locked all the doors and even pulled the curtains.

Liz was getting really upset saying “Why are you doing this to us?” They told me to shut her up otherwise they would gag her. They kept demanding the gold, so I took them down to my jewellery box. There’s not much there but they tipped everything out. All I kept saying is “Take what you want just don’t hurt my daughter”.

One man came back to me and took me alone down to Lizzies room. He had my wedding band in his hand and said “Madam, I can get this back to you…” Immediately I thought he wanted sex or money and he wasn’t getting any of it. I said “No, I don’t have anything” and walked back to the lounge.

They then told us to get on our stomachs on the floor. One tied us up while the others ransacked the place. By now the woman had disappeared. I remember pleading for them to leave the purple hard drive as it had all of my babies photos. Then they covered us with blankets.

hands

I was trying to keep Liz calm by telling her to keep her eyes closed. I just kept praying out loud and telling her it was going to be okay and we would be out soon. To be honest, in my mind I was worried they were going to shoot us before they went out.

I could hear them pulling things off the shelves and cupboards, one person was even right by us by the bookshelf. They were obviously looking for hidden money. They then pulled the blankets off and demanded to know where the cameras were as they had seen the tripod in the cupboard. I said to them that I was just a missionary and I was storing stuff for people. They covered us back up.

It seemed a lifetime but the whole thing was probably over in 15/20 minutes.

One of the thieves slid the hard drive under the blanket. He was polite and said “Here is your hard drive as promised”. “Wait 20 minutes and then you can go”.

They took the house keys and left. I heard a car start so got up and untied us. I found out our feet were loosely bound with a phone cord and our hands with a tie. I ran to a window and realized the guard couldn’t see me so I ran to our bedroom window and yelled “Stop that car, they are robbers” but it was too late. The white car went slowly through the gate.

I called Pete straight away, probably gave him a heart attack. Liz had her door key in a pocket. She was absolutely terrified. She thought they were coming back and I just needed to get her out of the house. I grabbed the car key (the only one we have) and ran downstairs. By now the neighbours had congregated. I sat Liz in the car and called some friends who live just up the road to come and get her. She just needed to get away from it all and I knew we would have a long night with the police.

The neighbours were really good. Instantly one got onto his phone to a friend because he recognized the car as he was pulling into the carpark. His friend told him which hire car company he had sold it to. The foolish thieves did not know that it had a tracking device in it, which would be their demise.

I called Lucy, our Kenyan daughter as I didn’t have a clue what to do. She called the police, and her aunty to help out. Lucy came home with a motorbike driver. It was really good having her. She said we need to go to the police station immediately, I wanted to wait for Pete.

Thankfully Carey and Martha arrived and took Liz straight away. It was only minutes later Pete arrived. Instead of taking the normal one hour to get home he did it in a world record time of 20 minutes. It was such a relief when he arrived. You should’ve heard him rip into the security guards, I think the whole of Nairobi did.

Martha & Carey

Martha & Carey

The rest of the night was spent going to the police station and reporting it. Then the deputy commander and his aide came back to look at the apartment. It was then we found the apartment downstairs had been robbed before us. All 6 of us jumped in our car because the commander had been told they had found the car on the other side of town (via the tracker) and we had to go to the hotel where it was. We got there to find all of the thieves had run away after shooting a police officer. The police had (again) rushed into the situation, didn’t wait until the guys went into a room, just went in guns blazing.

We were assured that all of the laptops and iphones were there but for some strange reason none of us were allowed to look at our stuff. No reason, it’s just was as it was.

Once we had dropped off the police (they didn’t have a car), and the neighbor we discovered there was no power at our place. Bummer as our phone chargers were stolen. Even though it was 9pm, we went and grabbed some dinner. It was a somber night, but it was just the beginning of another saga.

You will have to wait until next week to find out the rest of the story.

If you would like to help us get back on our feet you can make a donation HERE