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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Back to the Mall

Not Westgate, which is still a crime scene, heavily shrouded in secrecy and collapse.

But to Village Market, a more out-door sprawling ad-hoc mall, which convoluted corridors and multiple loosely connected one and two-story buildings, another popular mall, this one nearer the embassy and UN.  We drove to the outskirts of Nairobi this afternoon for a Varsity Football (soccer) match, RVA vs. Braeburn Gardens (a British/International school).  Which was a wonderfully refreshing couple of hours in the midst of a very stressful and loss-filled week.  The game did begin with a minute of silence and bowed heads in honor of the national days of mourning, but then we were lost in the normalcy of sport.  After a tense first half in which Jack finally scored to equalize 1-1 against an aggressive and competent team, the Braeburn boys wore out, and we pulled ahead 6 to 1.  Jack had his second hat trick (out of only 3 games so far) and we rejoiced over impressive goals by his friends as well.  Julia meanwhile won her tennis match across town, but she and her doubles partner were the only victorious RVA students, so the team lost.

At any rate, after the games, we decided to stop off at Village Market for a few groceries on the way home.  Which was a glimpse into the new reality of shopping in Nairobi.  First, the gate we usually enter was closed, and we joined a queue of vehicles at a further gate.  We had to step out of the car while security guards searched inside, under our seats, opening the hood, looking in our bags.  Then once inside, there were abundant parking spaces since few people had ventured in.  After parking, the usual security guards at the open, out-door entrance points actually made the effort to look through my purse and scan me with a wand.  These guards have long been posted, but they generally only paid attention to men prior to Westgate.  Not today.  They were careful.  Once inside, the bakery had no bread.  The vegetable store had only one cashier.  Scott found Nakumatt nearly empty.  Clearly, people are still reluctant to visit the Malls.  Which is, I suppose a point of terrorism.  To impart terror.

However, there was also a good side to the post-Westgate reality.  A helpful but idle vegetable store employee helped me wheel my cart of produce out to the car.  As we stood waiting for Scott to unlock, he kindly asked if I had lost anyone at Westgate.  He told me he was thankful that none of his friends or family had been there.  We talked about the quietness of the shopping area now, about the sorrow of Kenya.  It was a small conversation, but a week ago I don't think that such a person would have initiated personal conversation with me, would have found that point of connection from shared tragedy.

Because Kenya has shared this tragedy.  Each and every person has taken it personally.  Many, many people had visited Westgate, as showcase for the country.  Many foreigners found it a place to feel at home, but the vast majority of the clients were Kenyans.  Most people seem to find some connection to a neighbor's relative, a friend's friend, in the victims.  Everyone spent four days glued to the news, to tweets, to discussion, to papers.  Unprecedented numbers responded with donations of blood and money and time and prayers.  In an attempt to harm and divide and terrorize, the gunmen accomplished something that prosperity never seems to do.  They brought the nation together, they gave a venue for the best to be seen, for bravery and kindness to prevail.

Scott also had a conversation with one of the security guards at Westgate when he was later waiting for me.  Was he reconsidering his line of work, Scott asked?  Absolutely not, the guard replied.  "I am here to help people. If anyone wants to disturb this place, they will have to go through me, and I will never back down."  Wow.  What makes some people terrified galvanizes others with a surety of what is right.

Yes, after Westgate, security is intense and public shopping is fraught with a shadow of potential disaster.  But after Westgate, people are reaching out to connect with each other in a way that is powerful.  They have clarified what matters, and are sure of their course.  We know we need each other, and we are one.

1 comment:

deborah said...

We continue to pray for Kenya during these days of grieving. Thanks for sharing.