GUN-violence survivor Caron Asgarali continues her mission of turning hurt into hope through the power of storytelling.
The author of inspirational books From Lion to Lamb, A Spiritual Journey, Bounce Back Better and 10 (+1) Key Steps for Building Resilience has published a new book that explores ways in which some people overcome trauma.
Hot Cocoa on a Rainy Day, 10 (+1) Stories to Warm Your Heart is a compilation of short stories by a number of writers, among them actor and comedienne Deborah Maillard and politician and economist Winston Dookeran.
"Using stories, it reveals the capacity of everyday heroes to overcome life’s challenges via a complex matrix, inextricably bound by faith in God, composed of the power of community, the resilience of our people, the richness of our culture and the fine flavour of our people," Asgarali told Newsday.
"There is not a person in the world who does not relate to trauma. Trauma is a sudden downturn in your health, an abuse of trust, failure at an examination, fear of any sort, leaving home for an extended time, worry about your financial situation, a devastating accident and more," and the book touches on all those things.
It is the first in what she hopes to be a series that she said aims to give people a voice on troubling issues.
"It was conceptualised in August 2019 and I had all the stories in between December 2019 and January 2020. It was supposed to be published in July 2020 but final publication date got pushed back for a number of reasons."
Asgarali said she opted to self-publish because other publishers just weren’t getting the aesthetics right.
"I wanted the book to have a certain look and feel that they just weren't getting so I decided to self-publish."
The stories were compiled by Asgarali and the foreword was written by former English teacher Rodney Yamin-Ali.
The 55-year-old mother of one was shot in her chin and shoulder on January 29, 2013 while she was out with a friend. She said the experience was harrowing and she spent over a month at the San Fernando General Hospital, where the prep work for rebuilding her chin was done.
"The actual reconstruction was done at a private facility because some of the plates they needed to do it were not available at the public hospital." But, she said, contrary to public perception, she has no complaints about her stay at the hospital.
"These nurses and doctors did an amazing job... From the staff in the ICU, on the ward, the cleaners, everyone was very very nice. And even after I was discharged and had to do follow up visits every week I had no complaints. I understand sometimes to people it may seem that they are rough or they don’t care, but sometimes there is a lack of resources and they may be tired. They are only human."
Her chin was rebuilt using graft tissue from her hip, thigh and shoulder.
"Now I don’t like to see myself. I was left with an overbite and I constantly feel as if someone is slapping me in my face, I speak with a lisp and there are many scars along my left side."
She said there are times when the wounds hurt but she has learnt to live with it.
"Maybe it's because of the weather, or maybe I'm not hydrated enough, or maybe it's because I talk too much," she laughed. "I wasn’t always this talkative. Now I find that sometimes it's like I can't stop talking."
Asgarali later founded Project RARE (raising awareness on the ripple effects of gun violence), an educational organisation through which she shared her story of her personal devastation to raise awareness of the effects of gun violence. That project earned her the accolade of being one of BBC’s 2018 Outlook Inspirations nominees. She was also the recipient of the Award for Determination in Dallas, Texas at the Amway Hero Awards in 2019.
"I did a lot of work with RARE, on my own and with support from others."
A year after the incident, post surgeries, she felt she needed to tell her story in black and white.
"I wrote the first draft, which was completed in two weeks or less. It was very therapeutic. From there things started taking off and I wrote two other books."
And because the writing helped her through the healing process, she felt she could use it as a platform for other people to help themselves and others at the same time. She extended an invitation to people she knew had stories to share.
"Some of the authors of Hot Cocoa said they didn’t realise how much writing about their trauma could help them. For them it was always about helping others."
Asgarali never considered herself a writer and said prior to being shot she had taught chemistry at secondary-school level for 22 years.
"I had collaborated on a chemistry text once. After the incident, as part of my personal therapy I started writing and recording what had happened and it helped because there were a lot of things I didn’t want to say to others. I wrote it, got it out and destroyed it."
She is now retired on medical grounds, but still gives private classes.
"Now I had to do online teaching. It’s not too bad especially with smaller classes."
And she continues to do "inspirational speaking."
"I used to go to schools and collaborate with various groups to tell my story. Now I also do reflective workshops."
And as part of her continued therapy, she runs.
"I was in my early 20s when I started running. I did a lot of 5Ks before the incident. After I was shot I eventually got back into it and trained for a half marathon in 2015, which I completed. I don’t enter races any more but I’m still an avid runner."
Her faith too, is major player in the healing process.
"God's hand was always there during and after incident. I felt protected in ICU, I healed quickly, and He's the only reason I’m here to spread the word. The book is an element of faith shining out through in all the stories."
She has already started working on the second book in the series, The Cancer Journey.
"I will be partnering with cancer patients, caregivers, cancer-related entrepreneurs, cancer support groups, and I would also like to partner with sponsors on this one. My intention is to launch in June because that’s cancer awareness month."
Hot Cocoa on a Rainy Day, 10 (+1) Stories to Warm Your Heart is available on Amazon, paperback and kindle versions.