The radio was on. Background noise as I lay napping on that hot August day. As the news came on, I began to blank out when the newsreader began to read the report of a bombing in the KENYAN capital NAIROBI…that was all I heard. I sat bolt upright, heart pounding and got off the bed, rushed to log onto the Internet (in the days of dial up…it was the longest I ever waited to go online!) to see what was going on, then I began to frantically dial home. Luckily for me, the phone lines were not yet too busy. I got through on the first try and spoke with my sister. Our house was ‘Command Central’. Everyone was calling in to report that they were OK. I really wanted to be in Kenya at that moment. I wanted to be there with my family. Much as it was so good to hear their voices, I eventually had to end the call because other family members would be trying to call in. (This was before cellphones).
At first it seemed like nobody in our family had been caught up in the madness that was the Embassy Bombing…then people started wondering why my aunt hadn’t yet called in to say she was fine. The family realized that she worked in the Cooperative Bank building. She had gone to work that day. My uncle, fearing the worst as he drove into town from Eastlands abandoned his car somewhere near Machakos Bus Station (engine running, keys in the ignition) and ran the rest of the way to try to find his wife. In all the chaos there was no hope or any news for a while.
Sitting in Montreal, I called all the Kenyans I knew. I tried getting through to Kenya again to no avail (I’d been lucky. Most of my friends were not able to get through for hours). I worried about my aunt. I called my sister in Philadelphia. I watched the news compulsively. As Kenyans in Montreal we reached out to each other, reassured ourselves that it would be OK. Over the next few days the picture was clear- it was a terrorist attack. Many Kenyans and Tanzanians were dead. I wondered what was the point in killing all those innocent people. In hindsight the attacks were probably a trial run for future terrorist attacks.
Finally, they found my aunt at Kenyatta Hospital receiving treatment. Apparently when the bomb went off she wound up trapped by her desk. Her colleagues, clearly shaken and in shock had run off and left her to her own fate. One had told her “We jaribu kujitoa tu” (just try and free yourself) before she clambered over the debris and out of the office- not sure if they still exchange Christmas cards 🙂 .
There was no predicting who had been affected…anybody could have been walking past the US Embassy at that time (god only knows how many times I did so on my way to Moi Avenue after getting off a bus at the ‘Agip’ bus stop). There were always people hanging out around the front steps of the Cooperative Bank building whenever I walked by there…I wonder how many were there on that day. The images that stay with me to this day are of the burned out shells of the buses and cars in the street, frozen in time; makeshift stretchers being used to haul victims out of the ruins; Joseph Kamotho being helped out of the Embassy, his face bloody; and the poignant story of Rose, the lady trapped in the debris for hours awaiting rescue.
Human beings have been committing acts of violence against each other for centuries. We never learn. It does nothing but breed more violence. It has been 10 years in which the world has seen so much more turmoil (granted peace has come to many places in that time too). So many more acts of violence continue to take place. I feel that we, as human beings have not made more progress to safeguard the lives of more of our fellow men. When you think of all the people that were affected on that one day in Nairobi or Dar es Salaam you cannot help but extrapolate that number to Somalia, Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan…then multiply this by the number of days that these areas have been in conflict. In commemorating this day, I am asking myself what I will do, as 1 person so that one less innocent person has to be affected by another’s violence.