Beginning to Understand the ‘Terror’ in Terrorist Attacks

I was sitting in a cafe just outside the major mall of Mombasa. I trekked out early in the morning to make the time difference and Facetime my family and friends at home. I ended up staying for a lot longer than I anticipated as I got carried away with conversations and those I was having with myself in my writing. I sat beside a window and throughout the day I noticed some changes. The guards were doing more than thorough security checks than when I first walked through this morning. Trunks of cars were being opened and the underbelly of cars were being searched . The pat downs on pedestrians and the metal detector use was different. It wasn’t the usual wave of their detector – hear a beep – and say ‘Asante’ as you walk through. No, now they were really checking what was beeping and what you were carrying. The only thought that came to my mind was that there could be a foreign diplomat or a dignitary making an appearance and they’re just being extra cautious.

When I finally decide to leave I head to the gym. When I get there, the attendants are not behind the desk or outside like usual, instead they are circled around a small television set in silence; glued to the words being said. I always get a bit nervous when I see this because I can never make out the fast talking Kiswahili that is coming out of the set – I try to think nothing of it and get on with my work out.

An hour and a half later, I walk out and notice that they haven’t moved. Because it was late and things seemed off, I opt for a bike home instead of walking just in case. I get home and the first words spoken to me are, ‘Have you heard what’s happened in Nairobi?’ Next thing I know, I’m closing the door and we’re sitting together on the floor reading about the events unfolding at Westgate Mall. Shock and disbelief hit first. Then the horror and complete sadness set in. 

Now, Westgate Mall is a nine hour bus ride away from where I live. But had this attack been planned for thirty days ago I would have been standing in one of its small ATM rooms waiting patiently for a machine or in their washrooms or pacing the aisles of the shops. While on Holiday in Nairobi, I spent a few days travelling by myself and on one of those days I was at this very mall. Even though it was a month ago, I still feel too close.

Coming from Vancouver, I’ve never had a moment where I felt the threat of some organized terrorist group in my daily life. Even after 9/11 I still had a sense of safety and security as things like that happen ‘there’ not ‘here.’ But now the threat is very real and a very sad reality for those living here for their life’s entirety – not the mere six months stay that I’m living out.

That’s exactly where the ‘terror’ comes from. You are living your day to day life – doing things as inconspicuous as going to a mall for a quick bite or to grab a few essentials or maybe just to catch a matinee, when something like this happens. Something that destroys families, lives, livelihoods, and hope. 

This senseless attack targeting innocent people in the name of a terrorist group over matters that are not the fault of those they are killing is nothing but horrifying. It puts the worst sickness to your stomach and you get an unrelenting feeling of emptiness and a lack of hope. How can you help something so devastating? People in Nairobi are finding courageous ways and we’re trying to arrange ourselves here in Mombasa to head to the Red Cross to help with their much needed blood donations. I remind the volunteers around me that the best thing we can do for now is to teach and to be with the kids. Give them a happy day and a happy future; do the best you can.

Walking in to school on Monday was quiet and when we arrive at school my heart sinks quite a bit. The classrooms were less full and lots of bright faces were missing. Seeing how few students turned up was discouraging. If I’m being honest, it made me quite angry. It isn’t enough that these terrorists took away lives, shattered families, and put an entire country on edge – but now they’ve taken these children away from their classroom. Out of mourning or out of fear? Who knows. But they’re not here and it makes me upset and very angry.

My hope is: more people come out of Westgate alive putting families together again, for there to be a focus on the selfless individuals helping and the strength/resilience of the people united rather than the might of the Shabab trying to break them apart, and for the children to get back into their classrooms not letting this terrorist group ruin their future any more than they already have. 

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