An Open Letter to HBO

Dear HBO,

Please stay out of my backyard. Or better yet, just stick to fiction.

I watched the Westgate Attack video last night. It was not the best decision for me given the time of day, and the fact that I was all alone. Several times I shut it off and tried to sleep but then I would turn it back on. Surely there was going to be a happy ending, I told myself, this is HBO. And twice when I went back the video had been taken off YouTube for copyright reasons, so I had to refresh my search for a fresh upload. You see, I don’t have cable. So. Yes. Sue me. No, please don’t. After all, I am just a poor Kenyan who lives and works 10 and 1 minutes’ drive away from the Westgate, respectively. I was practically there, really. And you simply cannot afford me, poor being the real and honest definitive word.

This Westgate, which had a shopping mall inside a one stop shop called Nakumatt with an ESCALATOR that one witness said was a pretty big deal in Nairobi (even though it’s not the only Nakumatt in Nairobi with an escalator in it — let’s see, across the road you have Nakumatt UK which has an ELEVATOR with GLASS WALLS and I’m pretty sure the Nakumatt on Ngong Road which is open 24 HOURS a day – many more than Westgate – has escalators in it too, or maybe it just has ramps but seriously who gives a crap about a moving metal staircase when you’re pushing a trolley overflowing with shopping? But what the heck, that witness turned out to be a BLOODY AWESOME mother-hero so it’s a big deal to me now), was on HBO. I just had to watch it.

Such mundane details aside, I was moved to tears not only for all the lives unnecessarily lost, but more for the many men and women who survived and boldly recalled every minute. Personally, had I been anywhere close, I would have blocked the whole thing out of my memory FOREVER. And then there were the brave men who forced their way into the chaos past our guys in uniform and cleared the mall of survivors whilst the latter were outside eating pies or masturbating or whatever it is they would call it before they went inside to shoot at themselves. So much strength and bravery and stupidity in one place! The humanity! I wept.

I walk past Westgate almost every day and I know in my heart of hearts that if only I was twelve years younger, with the access I have now, I’d have trespassed the flimsy metal sheets blockading the entrance to see what I could see for myself. As it is, every time I pass there I wonder of souls long departed from the balcony where I myself sat for brunch once or twice, where had I not overslept the previous night I could easily have been at the time of the shooting. I say a silent prayer to the silence; I see you, do you see me? It is shrouded in mystery and yet it stands there in broad daylight. May I never have to pass by there during the night time. Not happening.

The other day Dutch journalist with her one-man camera crew stopped me as I was walking back to my office from Nakumatt UK. She said, “Did you know that one of the terrorists was Dutch? What are your thoughts? Can we film your reaction?” I said no thanks. And no, I didn’t know there was a Dutch terrorist in there. Dear HBO, did you know this? Anyway the journalist went on to say how he was a well educated individual from a comfortable background and was I not shocked by this? UM. Well. More shocking things have happened, I thought, as I glanced over at the deserted building, still displaying its bullet wounds.

Was he a Dutch Somali? I only ask because alongside the footage of four Somali-looking shooters, someone once told me there is a saying that Somalis are called the gods of war as a result of Arabs breeding with devils. Mind you, it’s just a saying I heard. I know gods of war when I see them and my Somali friends are not that. Smart, peaceful, respectful, cool, or morally upright, perhaps. Still, somehow, I know better than to dare piss them off. But I digress. No doubt I sound like one lady you interviewed who expressed her intuition that being an American Christian made her a bigger target than “The Kenyan lady” who helped her carry her children to shelter, when in truth (as we all know, and the documentary reiterates) even black Muslims were killed on that day.

I should at least thank you for the happy ending. The shooters died in the wantonly executed explosion three days after the attack, you say. They were fighting the same Kenyan armed forces who you showed leaving the building within 90 minutes of entering but somehow went back in or something? Whatever. At least it helped me sleep that night. But the next day I woke up knowing that my eyes did not deceive me when I saw the CCTV footage, shown on local TV, of the shooters walking out of the building from the back at about midnight on the first night. You didn’t show that clip. What happened there? I’m just not convinced.

That is one detail I could not ignore. To me it seems that documentaries about bad times in my neck of the woods are just not your thing. And I understand, because the truth  is one nasty ending. Gods of war you simply are not. Perhaps this is why you should stick to your day job.

Much obliged X


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