TOO DAMN CLOSE

This blog is called “Postcards From Dangerous Places” for the simple reason that most of my travel for work takes me to places that involve a bit more risk than the average person is willing to endure. For the most part, the risk is theoretical. But not always.

Jmart

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I occasionally have need of something from a store called “J Mart”. It’s a good place to buy basic household items like machetes. A couple of months back, I was collecting two friends from a nearby suburb recently and we decided to drop in to the J-Mart supermarket quickly to buy some food.

01

In the picture, the blue line at the bottom is the store. I was in the grey car, leaving the compound to get back on the main road.

I drove the car to the front gate of the compound where there was a lot of pedestrian traffic. A navy blue Toyota was stopped just outside the gate, waiting for the traffic to pass. The driver was speaking to a man who was standing at the driver’s window.

As the blue car in front was not moving, I honked my horn and the person talking to the driver stepped away. The blue car moved forwards.

02

As I started to roll forward, a man stepped in front of my vehicle. He was from Goilala, and had a thin, angular face. About 25 to 30 years old, I would guess. He was a little guy with a short, black beard and black hair.
I tried to nudge ahead a little, expecting him to move out of the way as pedestrians usually do (they live in constant fear as drivers in PNG pay them no respect at all). But this guy just refused to move. I then turned the wheel to the right to try to move around him and he stepped back in front of the car. He pulled a home-made gun out from under his jacket and pointed it directly at my face. The gun looked a bit like this (but with a narrower barrel):

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Without hesitating, I ducked down behind the dashboard, turned the wheel and pressed the accelerator. My only thought was to get out of there as fast as I could. The car surged forward and the assailant jumped to my right.

03
The blue car pulled out on to the road and I moved forward towards the road, passing the assailant on my right.

04
The criminal fired his weapon as I passed him aiming it directly at me. The noise was extremely loud. It sounded more like a bomb than a gun. It sounded just like the IEDs that I heard when I was in Afghanistan.

05The bullet hit the car but did not penetrate the glass and the windows were not shattered.

My vehicle then entered the road and I looked up to see that I was about to crash into the large cement plant containers in the centre of the road.

06

I swerved to the left and the vehicle swung around but the front right wheel hit the gutter as I rounded the corner.

07

I then sped off up the road and once I was about 50 metres away I felt confident that no one was able to follow me on foot. I must have passed the blue vehicle on the left soon after my turn but I don’t remember it. It all happened so rapidly.

08

I sped off and checked with the passengers that they were unharmed. They confirmed that they were not hurt at all. The vehicle was drivable but seemed more difficult than usual to steer. I drove back home and made it without incident.

09

The bullet struck the driver’s window at about head height. It shattered the plastic wind guard and struck the glass, gouging out a shallow track to the left.  The front strut was bent from hitting the gutter and had to be replaced.

10

I have no reason to believe that the attack was personal or targeted at me in any way. It appears to have been a crime of opportunity. The motive wasn’t clear either, although generally in PNG, criminals steal cars and rob the people in the vehicle, often committing violent assaults in the process.

I was sore on the right shoulder and on the left lower rib cage (just above the hip) from the seat belt, but that was the full extent of the injuries. I recovered with a couple of weeks.

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I am currently safely home in Canada and enjoying feeling secure. I love being able to walk the streets safely at any time of night, thanks to the excellent police of the RCMP. I feel so much gratitude for the wonderful lifestyles that we enjoy in Canada. I try not to take that for granted.   20151217_185515 - Girls' Hockey

I’ve seen some incredible stuff in my time on this planet but I have never been shot at directly and it’s the first time I’ve been subjected to an attempted car jacking and attempted murder. It really shook me up, as one would expect. I have replayed the incident a million times. Thought all of the permutations. All of the “what-ifs”. I’ve spoken to security experts and they all agree that I did the right thing. I can’t say for sure. All I can say is that what I did got a good result. Partially through luck. Partially because dumbass criminals have weak-ass guns. Partially because I responded quickly and decisively. I’m just glad that we got out of it relatively unscathed.

I have often joked over the last year that I just want to live long enough to see the next Star Wars film. Well, I very nearly didn’t get to and had this criminal had his way I would never have been able to enjoy any of the good things in life again.

But the assailant missed. And I am alive. And I am most grateful for that. I consider every day I have on this planet going forward a bonus day and I appreciate it.

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And I did get to see the new Star Wars film today – “The Force Awakens”. And it kicks ass. And I am grateful that I have lived long enough to enjoy it. My thoughts turn to Daniel Fleetwood, whose dying wish was to see the film, and who was allowed to see it just days before he died, aged 32. I was moved to tears when I read about his situation, and how an online campaign lead to Lucasfilm agreeing to let Daniel to see an early version of the film before it was released. This post is dedicated to you, Daniel.

May the Force be With You.

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I wish you all a merry Christmas and a wonderful new year.

Until next postcard…

 

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