Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A year later....Westgate revisited

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of my arrival to Nairobi. Mike and the kids had been in Nairobi for some time before I arrived, so it was just me and the baby. It's a tough transition to have to endure as it is, but only 4 days after arriving, a terrible terrorist attack happened. Below I have attached an essay I wrote as my personal experience: "The Day of Westgate" We are reliving this day because the one year anniversary is coming up and HBO recently released a documentary on that terrible event, which we've now watched and I can't help but feel thankful, angry, relieved and so so sad. We were in that mall just an hour before the attack started with our 4 children, one of whom was only 2 months old. It is such a scary feeling to think what if... but also to think of all the people who have suffered from this event.

The Day of Westgate:
Arriving home, she stomps up the stairs and calls down to her husband, “I just need a nap.”  It was a long night with the baby and she hasn’t quite recovered from the 32-hour journey from Arizona. The days have been long and the nights even longer.
Her husband enters the bedroom apologetically, “There was a shooting in the mall we were just at. I might have to go to work, I’m sorry.”
Rolling over, she pulls the covers off and glances at the time; it’s only been 20 minutes since they arrived home.
Padding down the stairs, the baby is crying and the TV is on full blast, she feels more annoyed. “What happened?” she huffs as she walks into the kitchen, grabbing a glass of water that is sitting on the counter.
“They say it was a robbery,” he responds.
Her husband receives the phone call, yes he has to go to work, which leaves her to set up for guests arriving, none of whom she knows and play hostess on less than four hours of sleep.
The house is prepared; food is set out, the beer is the cooler, the doors are open wide to let air in and her kids are running around outside.
 “Do you think anyone will come?” she asks.
“I sent an e-mail explaining that I had to bail out, but people were still welcome to come.”
This was not the answer she wanted to hear. She relied on her husband in social situations, how could he expect her to host a party without him? Her annoyance level increased as he walked out the door and drove off. She could see dark clouds in the distance, maybe there will be another storm; the weather has been so dreary since she arrived.
The kids are happy in the yard and it’s now 30 minutes past the posted start time of her Welcome Party, an appropriate time to pour a glass of wine and check the news online as no one has arrived yet, perhaps no one will come. The police are asking people to stay away from the mall and the Embassy has sent an urgent message asking people to shelter in place. The knot in her stomach is growing, but not from the fear of hosting a social gathering; the news coming out of the mall is that terrorists have taken over and have hostages.
She looks out the window to watch the dark clouds roll in and spies her first guest, on his cell phone, holding a bottle of wine. He has a little girl in tow, must be the neighbor from across the street. The kids run through the house screaming excitedly.
Throughout the evening more guests come in and out of the house, welcoming her to her new home. “Sorry you got here at such a horrible time,” was the typical thing people said. Wandering from one conversation to another, all the talk was about what was happening.
“My co-workers wife was shot, she didn’t make it.”
“I hear there are 20 people in there with guns.”
While most people are being chatty, no one is without their phone, checking the internet, receiving phone calls from worried family members and friends.
Before the end of the party the computer starts making a noise. “I think that’s your Skype,” someone calls to her.
She approaches the computer with a guilty feeling, she wanted to answer and talk, especially since most of the people around were on their phones, but she was host and knew it’d be inappropriate. She ignores the call and sees her guests off.
Once everyone has left and the children are in bed, she walks through the house locking it up and turning on all the lights. Her husband is still at work and doesn’t know when he’ll be home.
Sitting at the computer she reads the news for hours. The longer she reads, the more she can put the timeline of events together; it seems that the sleep she so longed for got them out 10 minutes before gunmen entered the parking lot and started shooting. Her heart is heavy with grief for those who are suffering inside the mall and out.
She turns out the lights and walks up the stairs; it feels like a hike up a mountain, the events of the day have left her exhausted.
After checking on each kid and giving them a kiss she checks her phone, her husband called to say he would be coming home around 2 a.m., it’s only 10 p.m.  She sinks into her bed, letting the day’s events run through her mind as she falls asleep, the fan in the background and a light breeze blowing through the window.
She wakes with a start, it’s her phone ringing. Her husband is locked out of the house. “I’m in the backyard, can you let me in?”
Walking into the backyard she notices that it rained while she slept. The air is fresh and cool and everything in the yard is damp. The wind blows her hair gently. Her husband looks up from his phone, “You look beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she says looking down at her pajamas and  sits down on a chair near him.
He lights a cigarette, the first she’s seen him smoke in over a year. “There will be a meeting tomorrow to determine if we will become a voluntary evacuation post.”
She gives him a serious look, “I won’t leave.”
“I didn’t think so, I just wanted you to know,” he says. “I have to go back in early tomorrow.”
Knowingly, she stands up and walks up the dark stairs.
 As he settles into bed he pulls her close, hugs her tight and kisses her head.

Lying in his arms, she forgets the anger she’d felt earlier in the day over her lack of sleep. They fall asleep, thankful to be alive and together.

This essay was written just after the event. With an educated timeline, we now know we left the mall at least 45 minutes to an hour before the attack happened. 

Below you will see a picture taken from our house of the mall burning and also a picture of the book our son made for himself. He was 6 at the time and I decided I'd rather have him home until everything was resolved, he took it upon himself to make a picture book out of the stories he was hearing.

View from our guest room. The siege was 4 days...

Finn is a smart boy and this is what he came up with to deal with what he was hearing and feeling

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