There is a creeping awareness this week that we Australians, for all our fretting about porous borders ( a lot of nonsense) have it just way too good. I have always known that of course. On one occasion my return to Australian soil after a precarious adventure was so emotional I wanted to do ‘a Pope’ – kiss the tarmac I was walking on when I finally arrived home. But this is a bit different. Being resident here, even for a short period of time, makes me aware of a different sensibility. It’s the fact that your enemy might truly be walking the road with you. That the crawling vehicle might truly be doing a recce. If Australians have an enemy (and we don’t really have a sense of one) they are out there over the water somewhere, ill defined and with no malicious agenda. Kenyans know they have an enemy, provoked by their intervention and ongoing military action in Somalia. And its an enemy that can simply walk here if they are resolved enough to do so. It seems some are. Which makes these people wonder who in the checkout queue really is a friendly.
The papers here are full of handwringing about the attack on the shopping mall. Who is to blame for the tardy response and the alleged extravagant deaths? Who failed to heed the warnings which were available? Then the moral examination of a community so thoroughly corrupt that its Army would loot the shops of that centre. A moral examination that is underlined by the Chief Registrar who only this week excused her use of public funds as “I am just like any other Kenyan…I needed to offset a mortgage” and which it seems most found acceptable. The papers do fret another theme however. Our enemies can just walk here and do what they will. It’s a sense of vulnerability as I walk around town that I never hear, or feel in Australia. For which I am thankful.
And yet it’s a sense of vulnerability that most seem to shrug off. Nervous shopkeepers next to the Westgate were open the next day and as I shopped for BBQ supplies one of them simply said “What can I do? I have to eat.’ Last week I dined with people who were anxious and out of sorts, wondering if they could live in this country any longer. The killings in their shopping centre (in Sydney I might equate it to an attack at Chatswood Westfield) had them distressed and unable to concentrate on any line of sensible thought. But throughout the evening they would pause and shrug and say “But what can you do? You can only press on.”
Last night one of my co residents had some friends over prior to heading out to go clubbing in the same area as the Westgate. Over pizza (heavy carbo loading prior to hitting the dance floor) they expressed their indignation at the moral corruption of their police and army. They were embarrassed, they said, the more so for people like me who looked in through a foreign window. They dragged their phones out and recounted any number of Twitter feeds that catalogued the abuses by their security forces and hooted in derision by any attempts by those same authorities to explain actions or justify themselves. But they reserved their most thoughtful commentary for the fact that these terrorists walk among us. The stories here of Al Shabbab fighters who changed clothing and walked out of the mall and getting away despite other shoppers pointing them out to police are front of mind for most.
But these young Kenyans, disturbed by the prospect that their enemies can walk from Somalia into their shopping centres with no opposition, have their own solution. Most emphatically they tell me the moment the ArtCaffe is open at the Westgate they are having a coffee and cake there. They slap the table to make the point. ‘They might walk among us but they cannot terrorise us.’ And as if to underscore the point the cab driver arrives and they pile in and head into the heart of town, an enduring prime target. I make sure the outer gate is locked, the security guard is awake, check the inner gate is locked, lock the front door and go to bed. The electric fence alarm goes off. It’s silenced after thirty seconds so I console myself that the guard is still awake. I hope it’s only a monkey. Those things certainly walk among us.