These words have been turning over in my head since Saturday and despite the fact that this will never be perfectly worded, I have to write about the place that was the true star of this whole blog.
Last week I was feeling such nostalgia for Nairobi out of the blue. I met an American working there who lived in my old neighborhood, I started using the bag I used everyday there, wearing the jacket I bought for my trip, and doing my hair like I did there. Little acts or memories that no one else would notice, but to me Nairobi was actively in my thoughts and heart.
As I was driving home this weekend for our third wedding in a row Shaun read out loud a headline about the Westgate attack and my heart dropped into my stomach. I did not expect to have such a visceral reaction to this event. Especially since it feels as if the past year for me has been filled with terrorism – from the topics I study and classes I take, to the Boston marathon bombings, and now the events in my temporary summer home, Nairobi. Shaun even asked me if I was having trouble with the amount of terrorism in my life lately. I laughed and said something along the lines of me having chosen this topic and being lucky enough to not have been in these attacks. Looking back this sentiment seems silly to me. I think I felt that because I was not in the attacks I did not have a right to need to cope with them.
Since the attacks in Nairobi, people who I love have messaged me that they are so grateful I am not there and that they are thinking of me. These short acts of kindness made feel so grateful and that it was okay for me to feel sad about such violence being so close to a former home (even if only a very temporary one). I even had an indignant message from my sister, “You told me Nairobi was safe.” It was safe and possibly still will be safe. From Boston to Nairobi, it seems like there is no place where we can shelter ourselves from violence.
This morning the first thing I did when I woke up was find David’s business card to make sure he was okay. All I could think about was that he would never have left someone he was driving inside if he was there. He would have felt it was his job to keep them safe and I hated to think of him being involved in such violence. Luckily, he was outside the city this weekend.
On my walk to the T all I could think about was the place I was lucky enough to call home. The beautiful sunny, yet crisp, weather this morning made me think of the sunny days there when the city looked so different. I looked around my current city and attempted to take in every detail here and appreciate the little pleasures I was able to witness. I even stopped with the tourists to take a picture of two swans outside the pond in the Public Garden.
Once I got on the T I pulled out my New York Times and for some reason felt like it was time to open the floodgates and let myself feel. With my newspaper splayed out across the seat in front of me (resulting in an annoyed look from the man sitting in front of me who I accidentally hit with the front page), I let little tears come out. I looked around and for some reason felt like everyone else on the T should not be going about their day like nothing happened, but feeling with me.
It was as if I suddenly realized it is okay to just feel, to not have to be feeling for a particular person or because I am in danger, but just to feel emotional about an act of violence. This past year when I have immersed myself in the study of violence I feel like I have so rarely let myself feel things. This is especially strange because usually I am overflowing with emotions.
Nairobi is the type of place that grows on you. There is so much I did not appreciate (or even enjoy) while there that I look back on now with such fondness. When I was writing my blog I used to muse about whether I could call Nairobi home, when I was only there for a short time, but now I think it has nothing to do with how long you were in a place. Nairobi was a home for me because I built a special kind of life there, even if only a temporary life. I had a routine and people in my life who were important to me, even if they did not realize it
Often I end my posts with some sort of resolution or explanation of my feelings, but today I end exactly where I started. My heart is heavy for Nairobi. A place that warmly embraced me is now associated with violence and tragedy. I do not want Nairobi to be known for this. I feel for the Kenyans who have lost friends and family members and the ex-pats who also lost loved ones and now may feel uncomfortable in their temporary homes. Although I try not to let myself think about it, perhaps part of me also feels scared at the fact that I could have been in this tragic situation myself.
I was not a victim of this attack and I am fortunate enough to be safe. Even if it feels cliché to write, events like this truly do make me stop and feel grateful. Not only am I grateful that I was not in Nairobi at this attack, but I am also grateful that I got to be in Nairobi. That I got to call Nairobi home, got to be welcomed by so many kind people in Nairobi. Also, grateful that in my more permanent home I have so many people who love me and know that an attack in Nairobi is something that I would be emotional about (even if I wasn’t yet letting myself feel these emotions). For now, I am going to let myself feel and continue to send my love and thoughts to the people and places I once got to be a part of. Although I am no longer part of life in Nairobi, Nairobi will certainly always be a part of me.