Among the 218 people that lost their lives during the August 7th, 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi were seven women all named Margaret. These are women that probably did not know of each other and did not know they were going to suffer the same fate, but they did, and now their names occupy the top row on one of the boards listing all the victims that succumbed, and when you read their names the rhyme is not lost on you, almost as if these innocent women never want you to forget their names, and I promise you, you won’t.
When I walk into the memorial’s museum, I sort of know what to expect, but still, the place manages to surprise me. It’s a beautiful intimate space with white walls decorated with framed photos of the before and after the attack. At the reception, a gentleman named George welcomes and gives me a brief history of what happened on that fateful day. I can tell he has told this story so many times because of his mastery, but he still manages to make me feel as if am the first person he is narrating this story to.
“I used to work at Afya Centre and so that fateful morning I got a rare view of what was happening on the other side,” he says, pausing to let this sink in, and perhaps to hint at why he was now working at the Museum.
He shows me around then backs off so I can take the tour by myself. In the middle of the room is a round bench with some vitenge decoration, and this is where I sit so I can balance my equilibrium before I start my tour. I first read the quotes by famous people on one of the walls before venturing into the Memorial Room. It’s a sullen room with a black ceiling. On one wall, behind a glass case, are the flags of Kenya, Rwanda and the USA. Next to them is the framed speech of President William Clinton. On different walls are personal possessions of the victims donated by family members and the list of names of those that lost their lives.
But what strikes me are the photos of two praying women. In one, we have an ageing woman in a white head wrapper, a leso thrown over her shoulders and her white hand stretched out to touch the wall, a red rosary dangling from her fingers. In another photo is a woman in a white T-shirt. Her eyes are squeezed shirt and her hands are spread in that way we most do when praying, and she is praying, the pain in her face sipping into me the more I looked.
These two photos have stayed with me.
In the end, George plays me a short documentary based on the attack and the survivors. By the time it’s all over and I am walking out, I can’t help but appreciate life a little more.