I won’t lie to you, I’ve been very distracted for the past 5 days by the troubles in Nairobi Westgate Mall. This is in no small way due to the fact that I know so many people who live in Nairobi. In fact I was born there, my parents grew up there and most of my mum’s family is still living there. This has led me to write this blog post, which I know is away from the usual health related topics that I write about. But forgive me, I have to get this down.
Over the last few days I’ve spent hours glued to the TV, reading papers, listening to the radio and speaking to people on the phone who live there.
I personally know several people who were in the Westgate shopping mall on Saturday. Most got out unharmed fortunately, but one of my relatives was killed. From the news I’ve got back from Nairobi it’s said that he could have got out but wanted to stay to aid the children who were there. In my eyes he died a hero doing a good thing in a horrific situation. However, there is now a 2 year old girl who will grow up without her father.
Within the London Gujarati community that I belong to most people will know someone who was in the mall that day. And we are all as shocked and horrified as each other, viewing from afar.
Initially my feelings about the whole mall siege was disbelief, horror and grief. It is now fury and anger. How dare anyone terrorise young children, parents, grandparents, security guards, shop staff, tourists. How dare someone create so much grief and torment. HOW DARE THEY!
The press have been saying that Nairobi Westgate mall is where the more affluent went, but what about those who worked there in the shops and as security? Some of them came from extremely impoverished backgrounds and they were the sole breadwinners in their family. For some their family isn’t nearby and could be in a village with no TV, radio or phone. So do they even know about their loss yet?
I have heard first (and secondhand) tales of what happened within the Mall from people who were inside, but I won’t share them here as some of it is so upsetting and the news here has covered some of it.
Kenya is not a nation without it’s problems, but it’s also a beautiful country with some wonderful people. It’s also a multinational country, which at times has led to struggles for people to live side by side.
One great positive that has come from all of this is that all of the people in Nairobi are united in their grief and anger but also in their support for one another. They are also united in pulling together to aid those who are injured, and those families who need looking after. Food is being cooked in enormous quantities daily and brought to those that need it. Blankets arrived from all places for makeshift camps. Blood donations increased for the injured. The unity is a wonderful thing, and that is the strength of community. It brings out the caring and compassionate side in people. We’ve seen this in London during some of our tragic times, recently with the tube bombings and in the recent past with the IRA bombings.
As human beings we have this basic need to belong and to feel a part of something – that is when we are at our best.
There are amazing tales of heroism from members of the public who have rushed back into the mall to save others. Many unnamed and untrained people who risked their own lives to save as many as they can. I watched the news in awe as these stories came out.
The clear up in Nairobi has only just begun, and it will bring up more torment for many families as more bodies are recovered. But I do believe in the strength that comes from the support of your neighbour, and if everyone just supports one person from whatever cultural background to help them through this then that is a positive step away from the damage created by the tormentors who tried to shatter a city.
Nairobi is going through it’s 3 day mourning period now. My relative’s funeral is tomorrow, along with others who lost their lives during the 4 days. My thoughts are with all who are gone, but also with all those who survived and now have to rebuild their lives with the memory of all that they saw and experienced. This includes the very young, the old, men and women.
Nairobi, you are not alone – I am joined with you in mourning – the world mourns with us too.