In the pit latrine


An injured man in a scenario. Thomson Reuters Foundation/ Katy Migiro/ 19 Feb 2017.

The acrid smell of the pit latrine made me feel like retching. But I crouched down inside, pushing the toilet door open slightly to let some fresh air in.

I could hear a crazy-sounding man tramping through the undergrowth not far away, calling out: “Where are you little girls?”

It was Day 2 of the IWMF hostile environment training. The scenario: an attack on a bar.

As I listened to the shouts and screams, I thought about the Rwandan woman I interviewed a couple of years ago, describing how she’d hidden in a pit latrine during the 1994 genocide.

I focused on breathing through my nose to calm myself, remembering how a woman from my yoga class had done the same when she got caught up in the Islamist militant attack on Kenya’s Westgate shopping mall.

I thought about a previous hostile environment training I had done, where I panicked, unable to breathe with a sack tied over my head. I didn’t want to get caught and go through that again. 

I was so scared, I didn’t come out until about 10 minutes after the scenario had ended, when I heard the teacher repeatedly calling my name. 

Some scenarios had fellows in tears, bringing up memories of previous violent confrontations or just out of fear of being thrown into a scary situation. Others said they wanted more realistic scenarios, where they got to punch and kick their attackers to find out if they really can floor a man.

For me, I learned that I am braver than I realise. I fear driving alone down Nairobi streets at night. I get palpitations whenever I see the police. I think about terrorist attacks when I visit the supermarket.  

But I was pretty calm after the first scenario.

I realised my imagination is my greatest enemy.

And I can run like mad when I have to. – Katy Migiro