Westgate, to me, is a word that stands for terror. You may have heard of the gruesome attack that happened about two years ago when terrorists charged into Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, murdered over sixty people and wounded nearly two hundred others.
Curiously, when you google the term “Westgate”, none of this even appears on the first page of the search entries. Instead, you are offered to look at resorts, shopping centers and schools by that name in several countries, but none of them in Kenya. Looking at this page, one could think it never happened.
The same thing is true when you visit the actual reopened Westgate shopping mall. I went to have dinner at a Thai restaurant there on my first night in Nairobi. I had never wondered how it would feel to enter the site of a horrific terrorist attack. Little did I know that within mere hours after first landing in Kenya I would do exactly that.
So what is Westgate like? Frankly, just like any other mall. It has a big open entrance with some security personnel and a metal detector, which is common practice in Kenya and many other countries. The inside is splendid to the point of pompous, with shiny marble floors, luxurious toilets, and the prettiest escalators I have ever seen. I never knew that there was such a thing as a pretty escalator before I saw those.
I got to enjoy them by going all the way up to check what was playing in the movie theater on the mall’s top level. Afterwards we went to said Thai food place. We ordered papaya salad, spring rolls, soup, Pad Thai and tofu stir fry. Everything was quite good, even though it is hard to compete with Berlin’s Thai food standards.
It was difficult to imagine the horror the victims of the terrorist attack went through while I was surrounded by tacky christmas decoration and the smell of sesame oil. Four days, the hostage situation had lasted. Fours days of fearing for your life, wounded or scared to death, surrounded by the bodies of others.
Four murderous fundamentalists presumably belonging to the Somali al-Shabaab militia changed the lives of many people. Not just those of the victims and their families, but also those of thousands of Somalis living in Nairobi. There are many reports of families being harassed, with people speaking up about it being labelled as terrorist sympathisers.
How could anything ever have been rebuilt in this place? “Business is still slow for them”, my Kenyan flatmate Adi tells me later. “But I come here often. I like to support them.” Not coming here, he explains, would mean letting the scare tactics that underlay every terrorist act work.
That makes sense to me. I wouldn’t want to let the terrorists win. And also: What’s the chance of lightning striking twice in the same spot? The Westgate shopping mall is conveniently located from where I live, so I’ll probably visit it quite frequently, be it for movies, Thai food or just marvelling at the world’s prettiest escalators.