Thursday, September 26, 2013

NTV Abdul Haji Interview

Last night I watched in absolute rapt awe, the interview with former defense minister's son, Abdul Haji - who went into Westgate on Saturday to save his brother - then ended up saving countless lives through his incredible bravery and heroism.

I also learned a lot about the highly organised Asian support network in Parklands and Westlands - many of their internally appointed/volunteer security officers were the among the first on the scene - venturing into Westgate to provide backup and coordinate rescue operations.  Without their actions, the outcome surely would have been very different.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Westgate Shopping Centre - terrorist attack

Shopping centres in Nairobi have increasingly become a way of life over the past 5 years - at weekends they are so crowded that I have heard of people searching for parking spaces for half an hour, then leaving disappointed and giving up.

But they are crowded in a good way.  Great, newly built edifices, they are the embodiment of modernity, success, middle class living in Africa. Sparkling, modern, new - the place to be and be seen.  At weekends there are promotions, competitions, fun events - all drawing in ever larger crowds. 

Shopping Centres in Nairobi are not just the preserve of the wealthy, or of expat customers - they are jam packed with Kenyans, which today is a melting pot of age groups and cultures - people are mixed together - happy to be rubbing shoulders - celebrating growth, prosperity with an exciting, dynamic vibe.  Shopping Centres are fashionable, edgy places, where people are dressed up - they look cool.  The feeling is optimistic, positive - shopping centres like Westgate are 'the place to be'.  From teenagers hanging out at the cinema or grabbing an ice cream, young kids with their mums off to buy school shoes while nagging for something from the sweetie cart.  A visit to the dentist, optician, modern business lunches in cafes, singles surfing the internet on laptops - cappuccino in hand.  A family lunch at a shopping centre is a weekend treat.  You might be booking flights at the travel agent.  Service industry staff pop into the supermarket buy a pint of milk or a loaf of bread - Africans, Asians, Arabs, Westerners-  Christians, Hindus, Muslims.  The prospect of a trip to the shopping centre, up until now, always represented a treat in store.  People watching. Fun. Buzz.

Since Kenya entered the fight in Somalia, we have received numerous security warnings - not just threats relating to shopping centres but other crowded places and events too.  We read them and sigh.  For the past two years they have popped up as text messages on our phones almost monthly.  We individually assess the risk, do we go or not go? What is the truth in this message - but many people have no choice because life has to go on.

Fortunately none of my direct family or friends were at Westgate when terrorists stormed the centre last Saturday - but like so many others (and Nairobi is by no means a small place), I know people who were there.  I have been to Westgate so often myself that I know the place well, I know my favourite stores and hangouts - have spent many fun hours there and I am left with the feeling; 'it could have been me' or worse 'it could have been my kids'.  One can only imagine the horror people must have experienced to have been inside the centre on Saturday at lunchtime. Tragically, our house help's niece was working at Westgate over the weekend.  Neither rich, middle class or expat, she was killed early on during the siege.

The incident resonates so much worldwide because it makes us all think -where next?  Terrorism has reached a new level. I cannot help but reflect on the fact that after the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi and Tanzania, came 9/11.  Over the weekend, this felt like Nairobi's 9/11.  It makes you sick to your stomach - but also extremely proud of how the crisis was handled in Kenya - the almost unbelievable resilience and bravery of people in the face of the most terrifying of circumstances.

At this point there are still more questions than answers.  As a bystander, we just continue our lives but also talk, watch TV and read accounts, desperately trying to make sense of the whole thing - even though there is no sense to it.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Nairobi - milk more expensive than fuel

Came back to the VAT craziness - where VAT has been added to almost every product and transaction in the country seemingly overnight - no doubt to pay for school laptops which was part of the current governments election promise.

It's a shame that some basic goods have also been hit by the tax, which squeezing ordinary people (again).  Is is me, or is milk now more expensive than fuel?

Also, MPs voting for Kenya's exit from ICC is alarming.

Politics aside, it's beautiful weather in Nairobi after months of overcast days - yay!  Waking up to a Nairobi dawn lifts the spirits.

Somehow we managed to get through our entire water storage capacity in 3 days - and that is with one child absent!  Not sure what is gong wrong.  Re-supply from city council not due until Sunday/Monday.  This could get depressing.  Time to call in the water bowser/truck.  At least the power supply is behaving for now at least.  Am missing the longer, light evenings of England. At 7pm am thinking, who turned the lights off?

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Gone Girl

So here I am, surgically attached to my phone, so as not to miss a single call or text - while my eldest daughter is at school half way across the world.  It seems odd to say the least.

How did we get here?  Well, the truth is, there was quite a lot of thought and consideration that went into our decision.  We've been agonizing over this for blooming years.  I am beginning to find it difficult to respond to daily question from others who ask why we decided to send our daughter away to school.  I fumble and stumble - to be honest, it's not really clear cut.

The drop off that I was dreading went surprisingly smoothly.  We unpacked with a lump in our throat and then my daughter said to my husband;
"Shouldn't you be going now?" She asked.
No tears.  She was very brave and fingers crossed - seems to be doing fine (we talk or text everyday).  Snatched conversations always;
"I'm off bowling - rushing to an English lesson - where's my yellow book, I hurt my toe in hockey."

My eldest and I spent a summer holiday that was beautifully summed up by a friend of mine with a similarly blossoming teenage daughter of the same age - bouts of  "furious shouting followed by loving hugs."

I had a wobbly on the plane back to Nairobi from Heathrow - exacerbated by the fact that my husband had tipped a full cup of cold water over my lap at the beginning of the flight.
"Why are we leaving her there?  Will she be okay?  Are we mad?  How long will we have to do this for?" I said tearfully.

The house is a lot quieter and to be brutally honest (and this is something that some parents may not like to admit) - it is easier too, more manageable. A respite from hellish nagging over homework and revision, egos clashing, little stresses that descend into mega dramas.  Work/family balance is easier to manage - there are fewer groceries to buy - no more long teenage showers using up all of the (hot) water.  We still have 2 children at home, but without our eldest there are fewer laughs, less chaos and less life.  Frankly, there's a big empty space.  It has been 4 days and counting......