Scared, Bloody, and Traumatized

Even though I have never ran a marathon, I did run cross country in college. It's a little scary to think about running a race again knowing that there could be a bomb at the end.

On April 15th, 2013, a couple bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring 176 people. Even though I was able to relax, knowing no family or friends were near the area, that's not true of thousands of others including three families who have lost a child, maybe a mom, dad or sibling. It is so sickeningly sad when I think about it - why would someone decide to set off bombs at such a populated event? But, I'm not a psychiatrist or a doctor or even a graduate of college, so I don't know the reasons, but I know that the results were devastating for many people.
Humans have all kinds of reactions to pain and suffering. Some start crying, some may go numb, and still others might fill their life with activities. Even though I am not severely affected by the Boston bombings. I began to think about traumatic events in my life and how they've affected me.
Every year, our family was blessed to be able to go on a vacation to the coastal city of Madang. We spent time snorkeling, scuba diving, and  laying out in the sun. Usually we went in January and I looked forward to it all year long. What new dive course would I take? What new shells would I find for my collection? What yummy food would we eat at the restaurants? What fun comic books would my dad bring? I loved vacation, especially when we went to Madang. The drive there was about 6 hours, up and down steep mountains and through deep potholes, but once we got to there, it was always worth it.
I think it was my senior year. We were planning our vacation to Madang - dusting off snorkels and masks, packing comic books, bringing a few Gilligan's Island DVDs, and packing appropriate clothes. I was also so excited to add to my scuba diving title - I was going to take the classes to become a certified rescue diver. Nothing could take away my excitement for the trip!
Finally the day came to leave! We jumped in our PMV early in the morning and got comfortable, preparing ourselves for the long trip. My parents, along with my youngest brother, sat in the far back of the bus, but my other brother (still younger than me) and I sat right behind the driver's seat. I would often get carsick, and sitting up front would help. Sending my brother up with me was just a safety measure, even though he did not suffer from car sickness. I started the trip sitting by the window, with the promise of switching halfway through.
My brother and I were playing games, talking, and telling jokes - making the time go as fast as we could. We stopped at a market, picked up some fruit, and then switched seats so my brother could get some fresh air. Then, we were on our way again. We had gotten to the part of our trip where we were going up and down huge mountains.

 When my husband was in Papua New Guinea before we met, he took a PMV to Madang, and he took a video of his trip. Here, he is going up one of the hills (this one is still paved, farther along the trip, the roads are dirt) and another PMV passes him. The beeping is just the way of saying hello, and passing each other on roads is very common. The PMV we took was more like a bus and had windows, where as this one is more like a truck without windows.

We would be driving up the hill in first gear at about 10 mph because the hill was so steep. Eventually we would crawl over the top of the mountain and fly down the other side. This was the PNG version of roller coasters. I would guess this happened more than fifteen times. We were probably halfway through these mountains, chugging up and hearing the car say "I think I can, I think I can." We had just reached the top of the hill when about five guys in masks holding handmade guns, knives and rocks jumped in front of the car. They immediately shot the windshield, making it impossible to go on. In a blink of an eye, they had smashed the driver's side window, unlocked the door, held a knife to him and yanked him out. Then, they continued smashing all the windows, and holding knives to the passengers and demanding, "Mani, kaikai!" Everyone was getting cut, hit, and pushed around.
My brother was sitting by the window, and sure enough, they smashed his window and held a knife up ready to cut him, demanding we give him all our money and food - which we had none. My brother kept telling him he had nothing, but the robber widened his eyes, raised his knife higher and yelled even louder, "Givim mani! Hariap!"  All I could picture in my mind was that knife coming through the window and cutting my brother' face, arm or chest - worse and almost unthinkable was that the knife would find itself stuck in his chest. I don't clearly remember what I was thinking, but at the point when the knife got higher and the raskol got more insistant, I yelled at him in Tok Pisin, "Mipela no gat mani, Papa tasol." I remember putting my hands up, showing we had nothing, and gesturing that he move away. Amazingly, he moved to another window, but the scare was not over. Almost as soon as the raskol left, another guy yanked open the door. There was one woman sitting between myself and the now ripped open door. The raskol forced her out, threw her on the ground and hit her on the back with a large stick. Then he reached in for the man sitting behind me, yanked him out and lined him up with the woman. So far, there were four passengers (the driver, co-driver, and two travelers) on the ground, heads between their hands and wailing. All I could think was, they are going to grab me, thrown me on the ground and I'm going to get raped in front of my brothers and my parents and then they're going to kill us. I remember looking back at my dad, thinking that it might be one of the last times I would see him as I prepared to get thrown out of the car. I can only imagine what my dad was thinking, watching people get yanked out of the care and unable to move in any way to help. My mom had placed my youngest brother's head on her lap, forcing him to block out as much of the violence that was gong on around. As my mom put it later, he didn't need those images imprinted in his mind for the rest of his life.
The raskol reached in, grabbed my purse under my feet and threw it out of the car, and I assumed I was next. But, before he could come back, he began yelling at those on the ground to get back into the car. He was yanking them back inside, and almost as soon as the group came, they were gone. A few seconds later, another PMV drove by us. The raskols must have had a lookout who told them another PMV was coming. As reality set in that the raskols were really gone, everyone around us began to cry, argue, and yell at each other. Nearly everyone had gashes in their faces, arms, and fingers. There was blood, shattered glass, and tears everywhere. The woman next to me kept wailing. When I asked her what I could do to help, she told me her back hurt so bad because they had beat her with the stick. I remember putting my arm around her, not even knowing what else to do.
As I listened to the conversations going around me, I was horrified to hear that the drivers wanted to go after the raskols to get their stuff. One woman was taking her son to the doctor with all her life savings, and the raskols had taken her money. She was crying as she asked me how she was going to get her son the help he needed now. Another couple had just spent their money on getting the husband his driver's license, and the raskols had stolen it. Maybe my favorite bilum was stolen with my contacts and a few clothes, but I had more of all of that. The people sitting next to me had nothing. Of course they would want to chase down the criminals who stole from them. In the end, the decision was made to go back to the nearby town, get cleaned up and report the burglary. After we reported everything, got cleaned up, and were enjoying some water, we had to decide what to do. Our PMV was ruined. The poor driver had most likely lost everything as well. PMVs were not cheap and he probably put all his life savings into buying it, and now it was ruined. To be completely honest, I can't remember if we decided to catch another PMV and drive to Madang, or if we decided to drive back home and take a plane, all I remember is that we did end up taking our vacation as planned. Regardless of the tramatic events leading up to it, I had a fun vacation with my family, and being together with the whole family was a blessing in itself. After our vacation, we decided to fly back home instead of driving home like we originally planned, I do remember that.
The typical view outside our room in Madang

That probably was the most traumatic event in my life as far as blood, gore, and not being able to control what was happening. So, how did I deal with it? Well obviously I don't remember all the details. After we got home, I ended going to a few sessions with a counselor to work through a some things. I still tear up when I think about how I could have lost my family or ended up with other scars that might have been imprinted upon my mind or my family's mind. Even now, when my husband and I are driving around, especially going up a hill, I tense up at the top of the hill, imagining a line of people coming out to block our way.
I have always been scared of being alone, especially in a house, and I think the PMV experience definitely added to my fears. I dealt with my fear and trauma by speaking with counselors, sharing my story with friends, praying, and working through it all emotionally with myself.
It's easier now to look back and almost turn it into something that happened to someone else, but when I really stop to think about it, I know it was me and my family. I also see that it was only by God's grace and the prayers of all who lifted us up regularly that nothing worse happened. There were many small miracles that day. For example, even though my dad was threatened and cut with a knife, he didn't actually get any wounds. He wound up with a bruise where the knife had fallen. This was always shocking to me, because others had shirts on and they were cut easily, but not my dad. Also, the raskols could have stolen much more, but they didn't. We were all left with intact bodies and no injuries. My brother had a few cuts on his face from when the glass was shattered, but that was it. And the biggest miracle in my eyes was that before they came into grab me out of the car, they had to get away because another car was coming. It was a miraculous day.
When I think about the Boston bombings, I think about how many people were praying for the race and for those in the race. Could it have been worse if those people hadn't been praying? Would more people have been killed or injured if people weren't praying? I don't know the answers to those questions, but I do know that I serve a mighty and powerful God who does miracles every day. He protects His children, and it's my job to pray for those He has laid on my heart to intercede for. It was someone else's interceding prayers that kept the unthinkable from happening to me and my family that day during my senior year.
The biggest reminder I have taken away from the Boston bombings is to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and pray. Prayer is the most powerful weapon I have in my arsenal. I get to communicate with the most powerful God in the universe and He loves listening to me.
Always in His care,
Avi Mu

PMV - Stands for "Public Motorized Vehicle" and basically is like a bus here in the US
mani, kaikai - Money, Food!
Givim mani, hariap! Give me money, now!
Tok Pisin Tok Pisin is the trade language in Papua New Guinea. Because there are so many distinct languages (over 900) there needs to be a common language everyone can understand, and Tok Pisin is just that. So, the raskols commincated in Tok Pisin because they knew everyone would be able to understand it.
Mipela no gat mani, Papa tasol - We don't have money. Only our dad has money.
Raskol - Burglar or criminal
Bilum - This is what everyone carries everything in, from garden food to babies. Men, women, and children carry them. They are made from yarn, plastic rope, or bush string, and often have animal hair woven in.
My husband received a bilum made out of forest string with a cat's tail attached to the end. This was a beautiful gift given to him as he was leaving the village, but I think he was a little grossed out. :)