“Our greatest fears lie in anticipation.” — Balzac
Last night’s second grenade attack killed one person and injured eight. And the news keeps getting worse: yesterday, two victims of the nightclub bombing succumbed to their injuries. That makes three dead in 24 hours.
Al-Shabaab hasn’t claimed responsibility for the attacks. News articles are clear on that fact, but the situation in Nairobi is still being framed as part of Kenya’s war with al-Shabaab. I wonder, though. The grenades were detonated in crowded areas downtown, but they’re not areas that foreigners frequent. So far, only Kenyans have been injured or killed. That, combined with al-Shabaab’s silence on these attacks, makes me wonder where the attacks are actually coming from. Al-Shabaab swore they would destroy skyscrapers and target foreigners, which hasn’t happened so far. These attacks could just be a rogue element within al-Shabaab who’s decided to take matters into his (her?) own hands, or just some crazy person with access to grenades.
Kimathi Avenue, downtown Nairobi
It’s business as usual in Nairobi. Sort of. On my walk to get groceries today, a rifle-wielding soldier stood sentry outside the posh colonial Norfolk Hotel (alongside the hotel’s regular private security), watching the ex-pats come and go. I wondered if every loitering car had a trunk full of explosives. I usually just buy a day or two’s worth of food at a time, but today I stocked up on as much as I could carry — if everything goes to hell, at least we’ll be well-fed for the first week.
I’m touched by the number of friends and colleagues who’ve gotten in touch over the last 24 hours to ask if I’m okay, wish me well, and tell me to stay safe. I’m not going to lie that I’m unsettled by what’s happening here, but the fact remains that I am incredibly fortunate: if things get worse, either the Aga Khan Foundation or the Canadian government will get me up-on-outta-here in a hurry. I can’t say the same for the millions of Kenyans who call this country home. I hope for their sakes — and selfishly for mine, as I really don’t want to leave this otherwise fantastic city — that it doesn’t come to that.
I especially feel for the Somalis living in Kenya (and abroad) who have nothing to do with al-Shabaab but get lumped into the same camp. No doubt they’ll be taking the brunt of some Kenyans’ anger over the coming weeks.
the I&M building, one of Nairobi's tallest skyscrapers
Aside from the regular warnings I receive from the Canadian government, Nation Media has started sending “Security Bulletins” — complete with emergency numbers and evacuation procedures. I’ve already stored the numbers of multiple private ambulance companies in my phone, as well as the emergency response number for the Red Cross (1199, if any Kenyans are reading). Other than that, there’s nothing I can really do, aside from avoiding crowded areas, following my instincts, and hoping for the best.
Being in a situation like this changes your perspective. My biggest complaint about life here used to be pollution and traffic, but yesterday I found myself flipping through my medical insurance policy to find out what kind of coverage I have if my legs get blown off by a terrorist. Sirens are no longer background traffic noise — my mind immediately jumps to grenades, carnage and debris.
When I accepted this contract, I weighed the risks and benefits… and in terms of personal safety, I wasn’t too concerned. Nairobi is known for being a crime-ridden city — but that means robberies and car-jackings, which are unpleasant but don’t usually end in death or mortal injury. There are diseases too, but that’s more of a risk outside Nairobi. There’s no malaria in the city, and there’s good sanitation in the areas where ex-pats live… plus some of the best hospitals on the continent. So, when I told people I was moving to Kenya, I was overly flippant in response to widened eyes and is-that-safe-be-careful. I never imagined that the city would become a war zone. Two low-casualty grenade attacks are not on the same level as the devastation and horrors of places like Somalia and Afghanistan, but things are definitely not heading in a peaceful direction here. Even the Amurrrrrrcahns are admitting they may get involved (in fact, I would be surprised if they’re not already on the hunt).
In the meantime, I’ll be here on my balcony filing stories with a mug of tea and a watchful eye on Nairobi’s skyline. I may be in more danger than friends and family back home, but when you take a good hard look at the grand scheme of global poverty, violence, rape, fear, and torture, I’m still incredibly fortunate. I just have to hope that luck holds.