I Didn't Visit Westgate Mall

Matt Hunte (2nd from right) and some Global Voices friends eating out in Nairobi in July 2012.

Matt Hunte (2nd from right) and some Global Voices friends eating out in Nairobi in July 2012. Photo by Ayumi Nakajimi.

1. When I was in Nairobi last year, I didn’t visit Westgate Mall. I spent most of my extra day in Kenya moping around my hotel room alone, only stirring when I discovered late in the afternoon that the friend I had had presumptuously assumed would host me for a night in London on my way back home would be visiting Paris with her boyfriend. I’m not a good tourist.

2. I took note of the high, barbed-wired walls around the buildings in Westlands; armed guards at patted us down at hotel entrances. I took an afternoon walk with some friends on the campus of a nearby school. My friend asked a teacher if she could take some pictures. The teacher politely replied that it probably wasn’t a great idea.

3. I brought along Naipaul’s “A Bend In The River”. I’d planned to read it on the trip. I listened to rock music instead. I slept very little.

4. We were on the deck of a busy Nairobi bar, overlooking the city. I don’t drink and can’t dance. My roommate tells me about his parents’ life under Communism. His father was a photojournalist. I think he mentioned something about them trying to defect when he was a child. When the Berlin Wall fell he was only three. His sister lives in Florida now.

5. Her name is Aminah.

6. Someone told me to not bother getting any authentic Kenyan fabric from the market because most of that stuff is really from the West anyway, Ghana and so on.

7. At breakfast at the hotel I tried to make conversation with a girl. She was planning to visit “home” for the first time in since leaving as a child. My knowledge of Somalia is superficial: Black Hawk Down and, of course, Iman. She mentions Siad BarrePuntland, Al-Shabaab. I make a quip about Grover Norquist and pirates.

8. In “White Noise”, DeLillo said that supermarkets are our new cathedrals. I never quite got that book.

9. I see on Twitter that a Ghanaian writer has been killed at Westgate Mall. He was attending a literary conference in Nairobi. I Google his name. See that I’ve read about him before. Can’t remember when or why.

10. I’d always wanted a Mac because they were beautiful, different and incompatible. I was almost the only one at the conference without one.

11. My roommate and I spent all night listening to music. He drank Coke. I drank water. Our tastes were disturbingly similar. How did the conference organiser know to pair us? We both like Britpop. But I don’t know any Hungarian music.

12. At Nairobi airport, we had to pass through a security scanner at the departures terminal entrance and two more to enter the boarding area. A guy asked if he could take a photo with his smart phone. His request was politely denied.

13. On checking out of the hotel, I gave one of the security guards a nearly full two-litre bottle of Coke. My roommate hadn’t managed to go through that one yet. I think he's in need of an intervention.

14. A few months ago I saw on Twitter that there’d been a fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. I've only just realised that I never followed up to find out what caused it.

15. Went to an Ethiopian restaurant with some friends. We planned to walk the short distance back to the hotel, but a member of the hotel staff insisted we shouldn’t. We didn’t. I was supposed to be the first drop-off but I missed my stop. Taxi turned around and made the two-minute trip back. Paid him two hundred shillings, about six Eastern Caribbean Dollars.

16. The group claiming responsibility for the attack on the mall had its Twitter account taken down.

17. Some guy tweets that some lefty academic would argue that the attack on the mall was anti-consumerist. Chuckle.

18. One night, my roommate and I played The Clash's “Somebody Got Murdered” over and over. It became a constant refrain while we were watching the UEFA championships. Good times.

19. “The sinking feeling when the Kenyan police announce they’ve taken over the mall and then go on to say that “most” of the hostages are free.” Still sinking.

20. My last day in Kenya I warmed some leftover injera and beef over the water heater in the bathroom. Hadn’t noticed that we didn’t have a microwave. The food was at best lukewarm. I didn’t spit it out.

Matt Hunte is from the eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia.

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