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January 17, 2019

Down But Not Defeated!

tragedy: A Kenyan woman is helped to safety after the attack by the masked gunmen at midday on Saturday.
tragedy: A Kenyan woman is helped to safety after the attack by the masked gunmen at midday on Saturday.

You will forgive me for the brevity of my column today. I’m finding it hard to do a lot of things, among them talking, writing and praying. In particular, I’m finding it really hard to pray. Like I said in my Facebook status update yesterday - it is very difficult to pray at a time like this. Where do we start? What do we say? Our hearts are broken, our spirits crushed. Loss mixes with anger mixes with futility....

On Saturday morning I was at an event in Karen full of life and colour, lessons and laughter. At some point maybe, 11am. I put my phone away because I had to take the podium and do my part. It was only at about 1pm that I finally looked at my phone again and by that time I had to figure which of the various calls and text messages I had to give priority to. I had a total of 55 text message and almost an equal number of missed calls. I had actually at some point told the gathering to avoid the Westgate area once we finished because of gunfire – but I assumed it was another case of a robbery gone wrong.

Little did I know that this wasn’t a robbery – far worse, far far worse than I could have imagined.

My mind was racing as I left Karen to head towards Westlands. I didn’t want to believe anything beyond what my colleagues or our newsroom told me. I wanted to stay positive and believe it would all be over by the time I got onto Waiyaki way. I was making a beeline for MP Shah where some of our staff members had been taken.

But as I got closer to the hospital and tuned into the various radio stations in my car – it all began to unfold, the surreal nature of what was being reported starting filtering through. The shock numbed me and I think I’m still in denial. The sheer horror of the moment made my entire body break out in goosebumps. Then my head started to ache and my pulse rate quickened. My daughter and I love playing at Westgate. What if I wasn’t having this event ? Would Nduku and I have been there? I packed the car just to steady my hands. When I started driving again and got wind of the number of fatalities, my numbness and disbelief turned into fear - what could never happen to us, just did.

For the first time we’re seeing our vulnerability. For the first time we’re learning that we don’t have the answers to everything. This sort of thing happens in other countries. Countries that we see on the news, on television. Every time there’s a news item of an attack such as that at Westgate, I watch with curiosity and simply move on.

But it happened here, and now other people are watching us on the news. The term surreal has been redefined for Kenyans once again. In all this, I have learned that I must try now more than ever before to tell the people who mean something to me that I love them, that they matter. I’m trying to remember what I last said to Ruhila Adatia and all that comes to mind was the two of us chuckling about the fact that she had started to waddle and we were in for a Christmas baby. Ruhila was pregnant. The only thing I wanted to do from the moment I heard about Ruhila, was to try and get to her and see if we could save the baby she was carrying. I remember telling Kamal Kaur as I left MP Shah to rush to Aga Khan, “we can’t lose them both”. I was actually optimistic as I drove from MP Shah to Aga Khan. My GM had a nasty accident a few years ago and I remember knowing in my heart and mind even as I drove to the hospital that he would be fine. In fact I was busy thinking about which doctors we needed and why. I had carried all my cards and some cash just in case he didn’t have his wallet in him and even checked to see that I had his wife’s number. That’s how my head works – I cry later. I called Prof Wasunna and asked him where I should go and what we should do once we got there. I was on a mission to ensure we saved Ruhila’s baby. I knew that the Aga Khan Hospital has the best pediatric ICU in the country if not the region and if there was a chance for that baby – it would come from there.

Baby didn’t make it either.

Three days ago we were immortal – we are Kenyans for crying out loud – the most resilient nation on earth! So here’s the deal - We are down, but not defeated. We are shaken, but not destroyed. It will take awhile for the reality of what happened to sink in and when it does, we must dust ourselves off and look to what’s next.

I am learning to pray again. Every time someone comes out of Westgate alive I say “Thank you God”. It’s a start ….. it’s all I can handle right now.

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