A grey ambience permeated this particular Nairobi morning, allowing room for the speculation of a dull Saturday ahead…

A scintillating Safaricom Sevens tournament was one of the day’s highlights as well as the Oktoberfest and the Annual Storymoja Hay Festival, all scheduled to mark this Saturday as one to remember, however, it was clear that The Powers that be had other ideas. The sun gently stole into the sky, fading the grey clouds that had settled cozily and replaced the blanket of chill with blotches of heat. Shivers graduated to pasty beads of sweat that signaled an official change in the climatic regime: sun! Wooohooo! A promising day unveiled itself gradually as evidenced by the overzealous birds that shattered the tranquility of the morning with wild chirping and fluttering with the reckless flamboyance of dancing clowns. Weird birds…

This day was definitely not going to be wasted considering the three concurrent events that would mark Saturday 21st September as a great one. I jumped from room to room whistling animatedly, chatting with the house-help, causing the usual chaos within the silent confines of the house where, as always, I am safe from the pointy fingers of critics keen on judging my admittedly highly questionable mannerisms. As I prepared to leave the house, trying on different well-fitting t-shirts and the like, I casually log into Facebook in a futile attempt to massage my ego with my accumulating inbox messages and notifications. Scrolling down are several warnings against going to the Westgate Shopping Mall. “O-kaayy…” I murmur to myself, wondering whether it could be the usual rumor-mongering that seems to plague the overactive loins of Social Media. My hunger for “udaku[1]” and news led me to voraciously violate my already ramshackle phone in search for more information, scouring over people’s updates and comments, all the while gasping, ooohhhh-ing and aaaaahhhh-ing. Sigh.

Then the shocker that Ruhilla Adatia was dead. How I had become accustomed to her radio gossip all the while wondering from where that classic accent stemmed. My bridge to all the Hollywood mishaps and arguing with her perspectives on celebrities as if she knew me personally; as if she could hear me screaming against Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy or laughing at Miley Cyrus as she raped Robin Thicke with her bacon-strip-bottom of nothingness … Rest In Peace you wonderful soul. In our hearts you are held, in our minds celebrated and in our memories forever engraved as a revolutionary of entertainment gossip…

Switching on the Television, my eyes were treated to an overhaul of activity and the words “BREAKING NEWS” emblazoned in blood-red all over the screen, as if to pre-empt the devastating news that was about to unfold. “Kenyans held hostage by unidentified gunmen at the Westgate Mall. There are sounds of gunshots emanating from within the Mall and police are yet to confirm what is currently going on…” a familiar, celebrated news anchor ranted in a futile attempt to maintain calm as worry lines were etched all over his face. “Wait, what?” I thought to myself as I opted to change the station to verify these unconfirmed reports. No such luck. A different television station broadcasted the same news, albeit with an evident frantic tone. That was all the confirmation I needed. It immediately dawned on me, as a heavy rock dropped to the pit of my stomach and the realization hit me all at once, that all too familiar feeling that Nairobi, MY Nairobi, MY city, MY people were under attack once again…

The images on the television screen faded into blurs that whizzed by as the mélange of whirring ambulance sirens and feet pounding against the pavement became ever so surreal. I could, in an enervated state, hear as evacuees scrambled to safety animatedly, imagining their hearts pounding violently enough as if threatening to explode from its ribbed confines. I could only imagine my own anxiety as a hostage as I sit panicked in a corner of a stall as my fate hang in the balance of life and death; as a brute with an automatic gun held my life in his hands. His greed, my anxiety; his reckless ambition, my passionate grip on life; his malice, my demise. I can only imagine how as a mother, I had decided to take my little girl to shop for a new pair of trousers because over the summer holiday she had overindulged in oreos and grown three sizes larger, only to be attacked and shot at, having my child’s innocence stripped away by violent gunmen, leaving her forever scarred. Picture yourself as a tired waitress, serving rich expatriates with food that you can scarcely afford then all of a sudden, being ordered to lie face-down and watching your unyielding boss being gunned down as your only means of employment is torn to smithereens by bullet holes. Visualize yourself hand in hand with your younger brother or sister heading to the cinema, going up the Westgate Escalators to watch “Despicable Me” then all of a sudden, blood-curdling screams fill the air as you see a horde of gunmen hurling incomprehensible instructions your way, forcing you to lie down as your clueless sibling wails in confusion…

This was our reality in Nairobi today, as terrorists took OUR city hostage. They rubbished one of our best malls; one of OUR identity structures; OUR beacon of Pride and Prestige in the heart of our entertainment central. They terrorized OUR families, pilfered OUR possessions, destroyed OUR property, killed OUR people and scarred OUR children, rubbished OUR egos, treated US like prisoners and tarnished OUR image, like a scene straight out of a movie script. It was not funny anymore. It was personal. Kenya is OUR country, Nairobi is OUR heart, our pride and joy, and to see it under siege, being laid to waste in that manner was utterly heartbreaking and I could feel my heart sink a little lower into my stomach.

As Kenyans we LOVE the blame game, we love pointing fingers to lay the blame on one person or the other for a mistake made or a crime committed, a happenstance not foreseen or an expectation unfulfilled. In this case, WE were all quick to blame the police and the security systems in place or NOT in this case. We are so quick to point fingers and hurl proclivities at the police who were not at the right place at the right time. WE expect these soldiers of the law to wield wands and spells, not guns and rungus and are disappointed when, unlike in Harry Potter they do not simply vanquish these terrorists who are harbingers of chaos and fear. WE forget that these same police were to be protecting those who had gone for the Safaricom 7s and Oktoberfest, and that they are Kenyans too who may have had loved ones inside Westgate as well, therefore, they want the BEST out of this situation. In as much as WE may argue that it is their job, pause and ask yourself, REALLY, what kind of insane, absurd, life-choice would drive a human being to devote his life to forever risk death to ensure the safety of strangers? Who in their right mind would put their life on the line for someone he does not know?

WE are ALL hurt by this occurrence but the fact that all functional bodies of the police were at hand to rescue the hostages is a HUGE sign, not only of the interconnected compassion of ourselves as Kenyans but of the police dedication to their employment. As Kenyans we have this amazing ability to emerge stronger in times of adversity, to reflect our patriotism when we hit the rough patches. Even as we hurry helter skelter to save stranded babies, as we rush hurt individuals to ambulances, as we stand by waiting and praying for the safety of one another, as we accompany total strangers to hospitals to donate our blood, our support and our comfort, we show our character when the heel hits the mud. We reflect this every time we are hit by calamities (just like Shebesh was. Pahaha) and we come out a little taller, a little smarter and a lot stronger. From Post-poll violence, to airports burning down, to ethnic clashes, we emerge as the heroes we were always destined to be; the phoenix incarnate.

This is a call to US ALL to dare to be responsible for one another and to take back control of OUR city. It belongs to US; the responsible, law-abiding naturals of Nairobi therefore let us take it back from terrorists and thieves and let nobody DARE to take it away from us. It is OUR birthright and the first step to owning it is being responsible for one another. WE DON’T BOW TO TERRORISTS!



[1] Gossip in Kenyan slang

Picture Courtesy of Youtube
Picture Courtesy of Youtube

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