Interview with a survivor (La’Nita Johnson)

La’Nita Johnson is a 26 years old blogger who struggled with her mental health after being involved in the 2016 terrorist attack at Cappuccino Cafe in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) . She created ptsdoutloud.com/  after deciding that a blog was the best way to merge her love of social networking and spread a much-needed message of breaking the stigma of mental health. She agreed to share her experience on the blog.

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La’Nita Johnson Instagram: @lanitamargarita

1.What inspired you for your blog?

The day after returning from Burkina Faso following my involvement in the 2016 terrorist attacks at Cappuccino Café, I searched for an online space for civilians that went through trauma and couldn’t find that much information. Unfortunately, much of the information pertaining to PTSD and trauma was geared towards veterans, which while useful, did not get to the core of what it was like to suffer a trauma that you didn’t see coming.

However, creating a blog was not always in my vision. As I was initially in denial about having PTSD and depression, I struggled to even vocalize that I was struggling with mental health issues. Every time someone would ask me, “How are you doing?”, I would respond by saying “I’m fine,” and plaster on a faux smile to avoid discussing the pain of mental health.

After months of hiding my true feelings, I realized that I wasn’t doing anyone any good – I was bottling up my feelings and I wasn’t giving people the opportunity to learn about those who struggle with mental health issues. So, after months and months of counseling and a tough discussion with one of my therapists about giving people the opportunity to listen to my struggles, I decided that a blog was the best way to merge my love of social networking and spreading a much-needed message of breaking the stigma of mental health. And that’s how ptsdoutloud.com/  came about!!!

 

2. Can you tell us quickly how the attack happened?

It’s definitely not a quick story, but let me try and take the readers for a brief synopsis.

Prior to the attack, I was visiting Burkina Faso with a non-profit organization to build a primary school in a rural community outside of the capital city.  I spent a week in the Morpougha community; where I worked alongside the village members to begin breaking ground on the school site, learn cultural tasks (i.e. making shea butter, crushing grain into flour, etc.), in addition to culturally immersing myself within the Burkinabe culture.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_7edaFor Burkina Trek 1-20-16-1098

On January 15, 2016, after our long day of saying goodbye to the Morpougha community and driving several hours to return to the capital city of Ouagadougou, our team was very excited to celebrate the conclusion of our mission at the popular Cappuccino Café. However, just a short hour into our arrival, at 7:30 PM, members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) entered the restaurant with assault rifles, and executed a deadly mission of targeting Western diners.

While I was blessed to make it to the bathroom to hide, two of my group members lost their lives to senseless violence. Members of AQIM, later set the building on fire and fired shots to anyone seeking to leave the establishment. As the building began to collapse, I ran for my life with a team member, we hid in a trash-filled alley for over 15 hours until their siege of the city ended and I was rescued around 10 AM the following day. I was later rushed to the hospital for my injuries sustained in my escape, and was evacuated from the country that afternoon.

Although I was involved in this tragic experience, I do NOT consider myself a victim—but rather a survivor! Throughout the course of my trip, I kept thinking about how blessed I was to be impacted by the children and elders in the Morpougha community, and I vowed that I would leave Corporate America to pursue my true passions of education when I returned from the mission. I think God knew my fear about leaving the conventional 9-5 workforce, so he sped up my timeline and sparked a change in me that I could have never foreseen!

 

3. What was going on in your head? Did you tell yourself you were going to die or were you thinking: “No, this is not the end. It’s going to be okay”?

 

It’s funny you ask that – I wrote an article called “10 Weird Things That Crossed My Mind During My Terrorist Attack.” Surprisingly, not everything that goes through your mind is depressing – I encourage you to check out the article!

However, as a brief description, many feelings are present in a moment where you face death.  At the initial occurrence of the attack, all that I could do was fear for my life and the way in which I would be killed. I laid under the sink absolutely petrified at the thought of being shot in the head. Then after the attackers left the restaurant (for the first time,) I started thinking about my phone and how I wish that I had brought it to the bathroom so that I could google what was going on, say goodbye to my parents, and take one last look at all of the beautiful memories that I created on the trip. After the attackers returned to the restaurant a second time, I pondered why they didn’t enter the bathroom. After escaping the building after they blew up, I wondered why God chose me to survive this unthinkable attack. Surprisingly, after a long night of hiding in an alley, I also thought about how my pizza never came and how incredible starving I was waiting for the attack to end.

While many thoughts crossed my mind, I was mostly just thinking about how to escape the situation alive and unharmed. Check out my article though to read about more of the comical thoughts, you won’t regret it!

 

4.How do people react when you tell them you survived an attack?

Truthfully, that’s a hard question because no two people have had the same reaction. It’s a really weird statement to come out of someone’s mouth, so quite often, I get an “Oh my God, what?” or “That’s crazy, I’m really sorry.” Unfortunately, after that, the conversation can go really downhill with a lot of stereotypes about those who suffer from PTSD or people making light-hearted jokes to ease the awkwardness of tension.

For this reason exactly, I wrote an article called “8 Things Not To Say To Someone with PTSD”. This article focuses on some affirmative and inquisitive conversation starters/responses when having conversations around one’s trauma. While it is truly difficult to address one’s mental health issues, I figured that a list of some appropriate responses would help spark discussion!

 

5.Will you ever go back to Burkina again?

I would love nothing more to return to Burkina Faso for a number of reasons. Primarily, I was there to begin the construction of a primary school in the Morpougha community and I would love to see the completed projected! The people within the community were so open to hosting us, talking to us about their culture, and giving us their blessing when we were leaving. I want to tell them that their kindness really impacted my decision to explore education as a career path and taught me love in kindness despite having survived the unthinkable in Burkina.

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Additionally, I believe it is extremely important to continue traveling even when you may face unknown challenges in doing so. One of the number one questions that I got from friends and family when I shared my exciting news about being a prospective Education Officer in the Foreign Service is “Why do you want to go abroad again after what you suffered?” And the answer was very simple — one bad experience is not indicative of all of the experiences I will have in travelling!

It is very important to recognize that there may always be uncertainty while travelling anywhere, not just internationally. However, in my opinion, you gain much more than you lose in taking that risk. There is beauty in experiencing new cultures—food, language, historical sites. You have the potential to learn and grow from meeting people different from you. Traveling helps to broaden your worldview and inspires personal growth in thought.

By Madiara Bamba

Do not forget visit La’nita ‘s blog ptsdoutloud.com/ ptsdoutloud.com. you can also follow her on instagram (@lanitamargarita) for amazing travelling photos. 

Contact afridiary.gmail.com if you have a story to share.

3 comments

  1. Thinking about this tragedy just put my soul into fear and uncertainties. For us we wasn’t at that place during this senseless act of violence, but it’s something that can happen to anybody. Burkina Faso has become a target since 2015 till now and I am praying the almighty to extend his grace on the Land of Upright people 🇧🇫🙏🏾

    Like

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