Why Words Matter

My reporting partner and I were the first ones to climb into the van. We headed to the backseat. We waited for some of our colleagues to join us. For the sliding door of the van to be pulled shut – it was broken and took a minute to close. The driver joked as we headed up the road. After a minute, we drove up on two women walking. They blocked our route, slowing down the van and quieting the chatter from inside. The mood changed for a brief moment, and then there was a man. Gunshots. Men in mask rushing the van, surrounding us on three sides, headed for the door.

They yelled at us to put our heads down.

In the backseat, my reporting partner and I crouched down. We held hands. We knew this was coming, but it was still a surprise. My breathing was out of control. I didn’t want to let go of her hand. My ears were hot.  I was the last one pulled out of the van.

The minute my feet hit the ground my head was pushed down. A blindfold pulled over my eyes. My hands zip tied. Inside my head there was silence. Outside, the shouting of the kidnappers ­– all men – and the sounds of gunfire.

I’d been told about the HEFAT kidnapping scenario years before I applied to the Adelante fellowship in Honduras. Former colleagues had gone to various HEFAT trainings, including one with IWMF in South Sudan. They had mixed experiences – some reported that it was exhilarating, some terrifying, some “just another day”. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was told that it would give me a sense of how I would react under pressure – igniting my flight, fright, or fright instincts.

And now, weeks after, as I write this from my home city, I’m not sure how to summarize the experience. I tell my friends about the logistics of the scenario; we moved locations, we were asked personal questions, some of us were separated – singled out – most of us “escaped” at the end.

I talk a little less about the things that really stood out to me; the slice of light that shone through the bottom of my blindfold, counting to ten over and over when my legs went numb from crouching for too long, the absence of a friendly warmth as I pulled away from a hand trying to grab mine. How every time I heard a male voice, I felt anger.

I’m not sure what I learned about myself from the simulated kidnapping. I didn’t exactly fight, fright, or freeze. What I can say, however, is that I’ve never been so present and so aware of myself and my surroundings as I was during those few hours of being bound and blindfolded. My senses were heightened. I was ready to take anything as it came. To remain calm, awake, and ready.

– Kyana Moghadam, 2019 IWMF Honduras Fellow