I Was Held Hostage in Venezuela By Colombian Cops.
Yes, you read the subject line correctly. It is often said that we learn our most valuable lessons during the toughest times. I believe this to be true as on June 19 2005, I was taught an important lesson about priorities. This was the day I was held hostage at my home in Maracaibo, Venezuela by 5 Colombian cops. I kid you not. The story you are about to read is 100% authentic, in fact, it is the condensed version.
Earlier that day.
The day it all went down is still very clear to me. I remember roaming the city streets in Maracaibo, Venezuela earlier that morning with my host sister (I was an exchange student) and buying a copy of a movie that has now become an all-time favorite of mine, Man On Fire with Denzel Washington. I forced her to watch it with me as soon as we got home. My host brother and the members of his boy band TeCumV were busy preparing a surprise BBQ happening later that evening in honor of my host father. There were about 20 people in total invited and it promised to be a great night.
All was going as planned; my host father was overjoyed by the kind gesture, the food was lovely and the music was pumping. As people were coming and going, our property gate was left ajar. Something, we’d all soon regret. Just as the BBQ was in full swing, I ran upstairs to send MSN messages to a couple of friends. Upon my return back downstairs I found my sister at the bottom of the steps (on her way to come get me) with a gentleman closely in tow. He had one hand behind her and one wrapped around her in an awkward embrace. I remember thinking it was strange as I knew her boyfriend quite well and had never seen this dude before. Then our eyes met. She was extremely pale and screamed, "tranquila!" I was now growing increasingly perplexed. Why was she telling me to calm down?! At that moment the man pushed her to the side and I noticed his police uniform and the gun he had hidden previously behind her back. I quickly put it all together. Crap. We are getting robbed!
Just then 4 others ran through the front door with guns. Everyone was sharply directed to:
I decided to run and drop in the dining room – hoping the table would hide me. My face was planted on the ground. My eyes were shut. My arms and legs stretched out. I was doing the dead man's float on the hard tile.
One cop was instructed by the jefe (boss/leader of the pack) to go back outside and stand guard. We were patted down for cellular devices and all jewellery worn was roughly removed. I picked up on the accents quickly. These men were not Venezuelan, they were from Colombia. God be with us. I remember thinking, "If I survive this, it is going to be an awesome story for my grand kids". Then it hit me - what if I don't survive?
I don't think Jesus had heard from me as much in my lifetime as he did that night. I said prayer. After prayer. After prayer. I made all sorts of promises to be a better person and recited the Lord ’s Prayer in English and Spanish – just to be sure.
The threats in the background to cut off my host father's fingers (he refused to let one of the cops take off his wedding band and college ring) and my host mother's pleas for him to cooperate suddenly became muffled as I became eerily relaxed. My 18 years of life began playing backwards in slow motion.
My life's moments began to speed up as the aggressive cop voices got louder and closer. Up until that point I never quite comprehended the phrase, "My life flashed before my eyes".
The importance of family and friends became crystal clear; that's all I could think about. All of my fondest memories were shared with loved ones. I remembered thinking, How would my Bermudian family take the news of my hostage and killing? Would they even find out?! I couldn't think about this outcome for too long. "I will make it", I told myself. "I have to." "I have so much more to offer this world." I shut my eyes tighter and prayed some more.
A man then came to me and asked me to keep my head down and tell him where the money was. "No se" - I don't know, I responded. I really didn't, but I knew this wasn't the response he wanted to hear. I felt him kneel down next to me and come to my ear as he pushed his elbow on my back. I squeezed my eyes shut even tighter and just as I did, another screamed to him that he found something upstairs. He quickly pushed himself up and took off. I was saved. For now.
With my eyes shut, all senses were heightened. I smelled the perspiration of those on the floor near me, I heard the whispered prayers, I heard the men dragging items out of the front door and bickering amongst themselves. I heard my host dad putting up a fight. He would not keep his mouth quiet - the safety of those in his home was of the utmost importance to him - I loved that. What I didn't love was that he was putting his life in deeper danger with every word. I felt the fearful energy all around. I had to remain calm and breathe. “Everything will be okay”, I reassured myself.
Time seemed to stand still, but I know hours had passed. A loud BAM followed by a band members' cry not to steal his Nike sneakers explaining that they were 'chimbos' - fake, startled me .
I recall hearing a now familiar Colombian voice explaining that they will leave the band instruments behind as they could tell they were important to the household. I couldn't believe my ears. Do these men actually have a piece of a heart? Another came by and advised that they would be leaving soon but we had strict rules.
We could not move from our positions for 20 minutes after they left and we could not call the police.
He made it clear that they would know if we called for help as (1) They were in their police car and would hear it over the radio (2) Would hear later from one of their cop friends.
We were promised that if we violated either of these rules they would come back to kill us.
"Just Gooooo already", I remember thinking. And just like that, they left. Immediately my host dad got up and everyone started shouting at him to get back down. He listened this time. Thank God, as they returned 5 minutes later to ensure we were not violating rule #1.
20 mins later we all got up - it was a house full of zombies walking aimlessly with blank stares at the wrecked home left behind. Well, everyone except for my host dad who was already rewiring the gate and security camera that they had destroyed (engineer by trade). We later discovered that aside from messing with the security system, they had also cut the internet and phone lines. This was clearly not their first rodeo. They left with the family car, cell phones, our passports, keys, money, laptops, chequebooks, computers, cameras, jewellery and everything else they found of value (including my underwear!), I felt so violated.
I wanted my gifts that I had just bought for my parents the day before back. I wanted my earrings I purchased on my trip to Margarita Islands. My host brother wanted his Game Cube and laptop back. My host sister wanted the internet. My host mom and dad sat us down and reminded us that we had our lives and that alone was plenty to be grateful for. My host dad then instructed us all to go and try to get some rest. It had been a long night.
They were right. Thank God for clear perspective and priorities. It was now some wee hour in the morning, we just had guns held to us, and here we were worrying about our material possessions. I felt horrible. We all did. It was at that moment I promised myself to always remember to keep my priorities in check. This lesson was one I would not soon forget.
My host sister invited me in her room to sleep that night. Neither of us did any sleeping though. We laid awake staring at the ceiling and replayed what had just transpired over and over again. Our bodies would not allow us to sleep. Adrenaline from the fear that was still very much alive was running through our systems. As we replayed the events over and over, I felt more and more grateful for my life and the lessons learned.
In those hours I realized:
When we need to learn something badly, it gets taught by any means necessary. I was too focused on material possessions, and not appreciative for all that I had without them.
My flashbacks did not show possessions, rather moments. At the end, only love and relationships matter. The love of family, the love of friends, the love of moments that become great memories. The love and desire to make a positive impact in this world. The rest is trivial. When staring the possibility of death in the face, only time spent with loved ones mattered.
I wanted more than anything to leave a positive impact on the lives of others, especially family and friends. Nothing else matters. My priorities were finally in order. Reality check complete.
Apply it Goal Chaser:
Having a clear perspective and ordered priorities directly impacts our fulfilment with life; we are content in knowing that we have exactly what we need and work at nurturing the things that matter most - great relationships. Now that's a goal worth chasing!
Don’t wait for a wake-up call like I had, start showing your appreciation for the things that matter now. Make chasing the goal of impacting loved ones in a positive way a priority.
Take a moment and think about what's most important to you. Now answer this next question honestly - Do you act as if these are your priorities? I understand, it's easier said than done.
It's easy to say your kids are your priority, but do you attend PTA meetings? Do you help with homework and have real conversations with them? Do you invite them to cook with you? I don’t want to hear that you don’t have the time (see last week’s post).
Is your number one priority your family? When was the last time you told them that you love them?
Stop and think if today was your last day on this planet, would you be satisfied with the legacy left behind? It's never too late to change your priorities.
We are human and are bound to slip up every now and then, how quickly we rebound, however, is on us.
Slow Down Partner!
Don't go so fast - sign up to become an official Goal Chaser by clicking here and get an email weekly with the latest blog posts to assist you with Chasing your goals!
I also speak about fear and priorities in my book Lucky Code so be sure to check it out!
One Last Thing!
Sharing is caring so be a sweetie and Like, Comment and Share this post and my page!
Chao for now,