I just returned home from a lovely weekend retreat at Rowe Camp and Conference Center in Rowe, Massachusetts (will share about this soon) and just wanted to say my heart goes out to everyone in Nairobi after the tragedy that happened at the Westgate Mall over the weekend. I am always affected by these senseless acts of terrorism, but why do I feel compelled to share my great sadness that something so tragic has happened this time?
I feel different this time because I have been at that mall. When our youngest daughter and her friend lived in Kenya for four months during their gap year, they walked often to the Westgate Mall while staying with friends in Nairobi. James Verini of the New Yorker described that area this way: “Westgate is a large building in Westlands, Nairobi’s upscale commercial district and its expatriate social hub. On Saturdays the mall is full of families from around the world. It’s a symbol of Kenya’s status as the wealthiest and most cosmopolitan country in East Africa.”
Mark and I went to visit the girls over Thanksgiving break that year, 2011. I teased Abby that she didn’t really miss us; we were just Thanksgiving food couriers; that’s why they invited us there in the first place! We were asked to bring stuffing and the makings for pumpkin pie, comfort foods from home, from thousands of miles away, that they hadn’t tasted in months and couldn’t fathom being without for the holiday.
We visited the Westgate Mall a couple of times during the short time we were in Kenya. There were armed security guards – armed with machine guns – and metal detectors at all of the entrances. We needed to put our bags on the table in front of us for them to look through and wand, and then a male security guard patted down and wanded Mark while a female security guard patted down and wanded the girls and me. Living in America, I had never seen anything quite like this. We tend to take our ability to go everywhere – freely – for granted. Not so in Kenya. And it was at this time that I really saw the kind of living conditions Abby and her friend had been living in while there.
The security aside, it felt very much like a western mall, which was in stark contrast to the other parts of Kenya we visited. In Westgate, there was an open courtyard with a tall Christmas tree, a coffee shop with seating nearby, and escalators, very similar to an American mall. I was struck by how many people from all over the world were in that one place. There were only a few places in Kenya that felt familiar to me while I was there. The Westgate Mall was one of them.
My heart goes out to everyone affected by this tragedy. And I’m thankful that our friends, who so lovingly took in our girls, are safe.
(This photo is in the parking lot of the Westgate Mall. A couple of days a week they have a market outside. You can see the mall in the background.)