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Published: September 30th 2013
We are one
The front of our church the morning after the tragedy started
(Murray owes you a blog on his trips but I thought many of you probably want to hear from us at a time like this.)
Many of you have been in contact with us about the Westgate Mall tragedy in Nairobi. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers for us and our family and friends. It has been a rough time, but we are “lucky” no one close to us was killed or injured. However, as Nairobi has a pretty small expat community, and we have been here nearly 6 years, we do have friends of friends killed and seriously injured. There are many people far better at writing and expressing themselves (they would have used a much fancier word than “better”), so excuse my writing as I try and document to you what it’s been like to be here.
I was at a different mall when it all kicked off, visiting some of the chains that you may have heard about in the news. I was at Junction Mall, completely oblivious; I had just had a coffee with a friend visiting Kenya at Art Cafe (Junction Mall). She lives in DRC so when she comes to Nairobi for R & R (Rest and Recuperation) from the field we treat her and ourselves with nice coffee and croissants. Then we did our food shopping at Nakumatt (Junction Mall). Then I drove home, she was meeting a friend and came home later, and that’s when we got the call from Murrays company, that there is a “shooting at Westgate, avoid the area”. The Junction Mall is 7 mins drive from our house, Westgate mall is 14 mins drive from our house in the other direction. I was safely at Junction Mall, Murray and the kids safely at home, while the Westgate horror was starting.
2 years ago we were told not to go to Westgate, because the compound was not secure, with a road passing close by Art Cafe, it would be easy to throw a grenade into the cafe and blow up the mall . . . . that was the warning . . . . 2 years ago, when Kenyan troops entered Somalia . . . . and it happened . . . . last week . . . .
In the days following we couldn’t get fresh milk for a few days (at the local corner store, didn’t try Nakumatt Junction), if a phone rang or someone got a text message everyone jumped and listened carefully to new information that was emerging. You messaged everyone you knew who might be there and freaked out when they didn’t respond, but you don’t want to ring them in case they ARE there and hiding from the terrorists. When it officially finished, you rang everyone you knew, old work colleagues, old kindy teachers, just asking how they were, ie. “Were you in Westgate Mall when it happened? Are you ok?”. Monday morning, half the school were away. You see black smoke from Westgate from the school field. Parents hover in the school coffee shop, “I’m just here in case my kids need me, to ask any questions, you know” not that they needed to say why, there were many of us milling around for the very same reason. When you greet people its “Hi, how are you? And you and your family and friends, are they ok?” Not asking specifics, but are they “ok”. You watch every video, read every article you can find on the web. You don’t look at local news websites or look at local papers, as you know there is no filter as to what they will show you. You hear a rumour about someone you know, but not well, and proceed to scan the web for info on if their loved one is ok, without knowing their last name, why do I not know the friend from kindys last name? You can see the black smoke, from all over Nairobi, you can hear the helicopters, worse the closer you get to Westgate, friends closer to Westgate ring you – they can hear explosions and gun fire. You watch the lines of people on the news waiting to donate blood, and then you hear that Nairobi is out of blood bags, so people are sent home.
Many of you are asking, has this changed our feelings on living in Kenya? It has, but not in the way you would think. This is my home, the only home my kids know, these are my people that are hurting, we grieve with foreigners, with Kenyans, with white Kenyans, with Asian Kenyans, with Somali Kenyans, with everyone, every tribe. This is our home. I apologise to those who don’t share the same faith as I do, but in times like this I cling to my faith more than ever. God is in control, God spared my family, for which I am thankful for, it could have been us. I don’t understand why anyone died and the list of injures is horrendous, God only knows, and I don’t pretend to understand. Many of my friends made split second decisions the morning of the tragedy to not go to Westgate, but different malls, for which I am forever grateful for.
Hayley and Emma are oblivious to anything being different, apart from the 20min wait to get into church on Sunday as security got stepped up, and the extra askaris (security guards) at various places.
Charlotte however does know that something is wrong with our world. We told her, as our training says, “Bad men went into Westgate Mall and the police are there”. We waited for Charlotte to process it, and ask more questions. The Questions didn’t come. Then she went to school, where kids had been told different things, some had watched the news, some had parents injured, some knew people who had died, some were inside the mall when it happened. So now, each day we ask if she wants to talk about anything, and ask what happened at school that day. One day she tells me “so-in-so doesn’t have a mummy anymore, and so-in-so doesn’t have a daddy anymore.” And when I explain that both parents are alive, but very seriously injured and in hospital, she asks me if I know because I was there at Westgate Mall . . . . And now daily she is asking me if I was there, if I have ever been there, what’s it like there, why did I go there . . . . Then her school disco gets cancelled, which as a parent I understand why, we were a country in mourning, people are afraid, security etc. But when a very disappointed 6 yr old looked at me and asked what the bad men at Westgate have to do with her disco being cancelled, I couldn’t answer her . . . . I looked into my gorgeous little girls blue eyes, full of confusion; and I heard myself say “there is no good reason”. So we held an impromptu disco for 20 of the year 1s and 2s we had phone numbers for, because carrying on your normal routine, so the experts say, is healthy for your kids. So, no disrespect to those grieving, but we decided to celebrate life, and to come together as a community to comfort and be there for one another, and for one evening to have a different focus. To focus on our kids, who don’t understand what’s happening, but “hear” a lot.
I can’t comment on the fear that people are feeling here about terrorism. I don’t feel fearful, and I’m not sure why. I can’t comment on how people who were there are doing, or how people who lost loved ones feel, and to pretend that I did would be an insult to them and their pain. We have felt pain and disbelief but it is nothing of what others are feeling here.
So, we are here, in Kenya, for however long God wants us here for. I can only pray for protection for my loved ones and for Kenya, and pray that justice does prevail.
Many reports now are no longer helpful; they raise more unanswered questions than answers. What were the police actually doing? Who got shot by friendly fire? Were the people we thought were undercover police actually civilians running around Nairobi with guns saving hundreds of people? Were people tortured? How many actually died? Where are the 60+ people still unaccounted for? The underground tunnel was it used to escape? Who had time to loot all the jewellery shops? Will another attack happen soon? Which place next? Where is it safe to shop? What will our President do? The same President who is wanted at the IOC for crimes against his own people during post-election violence? Where do we go from here?
Bad, evil things happened at Westgate, and I choose to support those who have lost, to support our country in prayer, and to rejoice in the good stories of how people got out, and how strangers rallied around each other. To focus on the good, not the bad.
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