I was sat choosing which salad to have whilst 1km down the road the start of a nightmare was unfolding. We had driven towards Westlands first to look at a car for sale and then to drop into a friends house for coffee. One of my favourite places to have lunch was a short ride away (Amani) and that’s where we were when I heard a brief news report on the radio playing in the background. Something about hostages, kidnapping, gunshots……nothing too shocking for when you live in East Africa but then I heard the location. Westgate Mall. Its a fancy shopping centre that we often drive past. When we arrived in January last year it was in our security plan to avoid. Mainly as it had been listed by Al Shabab as a potential terrorist target and attracted high profile customers. Over time the threat was no longer mentioned and it seemed ridiculous to imagine that a shiny, upmarket shopping market could be a risk. I’ve met business colleagues in the ground floor cafe for meetings and had my hair cut on the top floor.
Like most people we go about our daily lives with potential threats somewhere in the back of our minds but you cant live in fear and wonder if its safe to go and buy groceries on a Saturday afternoon.
As we left Amani one of their friendly staff members hurried out after us. “Where are you going?” she asked urgently. “You should go home. There have been gunshots in Westlands and police are telling people to keep away”. She said she would pray for our safety and wished us peace as we left.
As I write this I’m thinking about the people who started their day off like us but didn’t have the warning to stay away; they took their kids to see a movie, grabbed a coffee with their partner or stopped off to pick up a paper and what started off as a normal day turned into a living hell.
Sat with news stream online we watched the terrible story unfold one victim at a time. The news teams were quick on the ground and initially, dangerously close to the action. The gruesome footage started to appear and I struggled to remind myself that this wasn’t a film playing out, this was my city, showing views familiar to me and a horrible thought – maybe with some of my friends caught up inside. Tweets gave chilling detail – man who received a call from a worried friend got shot when his mobile rang. Women shot when she didn’t know the name of The Prophets mother. Children’s cookery show underway on the rooftop….Muslims asked to identify themselves and walk free. Would I have the conviction of my faith to stay and die?
Incredible acts of heroism also reported. This was posted on a friends FB page
“We will prevail. Because : Little children pushed other children out of harms way. Children pulled children to safety. Kenyan police ran into harms way for us with no helmet, no bullet proof vests and regular shoes. A Muslim man wrote a short prayer on a piece of paper for a Christian man he was hiding with and helped him to memorize it in case the terrorists asked him to say something from the Quran. The Secretary General of the Red Cross, put on a volunteers vest and went on site to work with his paramedics. The Kenya Defense Forces went in there like superheroes. No hospital turned a patient away. Blood banks were full before they were empty again. #KOT outrage on NY Times images made them pull those images off. Heaven was filled with prayers and questions.
We will prevail.”