Mary Walker: My heart breaks for Kenyans in wake of terrorist attack |

Mary Walker: My heart breaks for Kenyans in wake of terrorist attack

I am currently in Nairobi where I spend several weeks at a time visiting a young woman Caroh and her son Biden several times a year. She has been unable to obtain a tourist visa to visit me and husband, Michael, in Clark, so these are my only opportunities to spend time with a young Maasai woman who is like a daughter to me.

On Tuesday, I saw an alert email from the embassy in Nairobi, and as I always do when I receive these, I quickly opened it to see that Americans were being advised to stay away from an area in Westlands where gunshots and explosions were ongoing. As always, I was grateful for this update, although I am staying a couple of miles from the attack so did not feel particularly unsafe.

Kenya has suffered several devastating terrorist attacks from Al Shabaab, an Al Quaeda-linked group in Somalia — the most well publicized being at Westgate Mall in 2013. I was fortunate to not be Nairobi at the time of that attack, although I usually walked to Westgate every morning when visiting Caroh, who was studying biology at University of Nairobi at the time. On a Saturday morning, I would certainly have been in the atrium coffee shop as usual, while Caroh was studying.

It felt strange Tuesday afternoon to realize that this time I was here and that an attack was happening. The neighborhood where I am staying, Kilimani, is a quiet residential area, full of upscale apartment complexes mostly lived in by expatriates and Chinese business-families. I can’t think of any specific reason that the area where I am staying, with its own upscale hotels and mall would not have been the target instead of Westlands.

These are the uncertainties that can never be explained, although of course, I am very, very grateful. As always, the television news that night was in Swahili, until the 9 p.m. segment that always airs in English. Caroh and Biden have been staying with me, so Caroh was my source for understanding what was being reported.

We went to bed without any firm information about the extent of the attack. In the morning, gunshots and explosions were still ongoing, according to the news. By evening the government was reporting that all of the attackers had been killed, one being a suicide bomber, and several people involved in the planning arrested.

As those of us who spend significant amounts of time in Kenya, over the course of many years, know, Kenyans are incredibly warm and engaging people. My heart breaks for the pain and suffering that they are feeling.

I absolutely agree with the outrage that Kenyans are expressing about the New York Times’ decision to publish one particularly gruesome photograph along with their coverage. I believe that it is generally true that western journalism steer clear of publishing photos of dead victims of terrorist attacks in western countries. They should practice the same restraint when deciding what to show of attacks in developing, non-white countries.

Mary Walker has lived in Clark since 1987 with her husband, Michael. She is the great-great niece of Margaret Duncan Brown, author of “Shepherdess of Elk River Valley.” From 2007 to 2013, Walker oversaw a post-secondary education fund for a group of Maasai girls in Kenya rescued from FGM and child marriage. She continues to travel to Kenya frequently to visit her friends Caroh and Biden. 

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