Westgate: There must be more than grief

Westgate. There must be more, something more human, than reports of smoke and explosions and flying bullets and destruction and carnage. There must be more than `eye witness accounts’ and there must be more than smart analyses of why Kenya, why now.

There must be more than, other than, grief to unite a people, a nation. Kenyans have responded not only with horror at the violence. They have responded with support, with blood, money, sweat and tears, and prayers.  But there must be more …

Last year, Kenyan poet Njeri Wangari performed part of her poem, “When Change Comes”, to a gathering in Nairobi. The poem begins:

“When villages grow into towns
Towns into cities
Shops into malls
Spaces into estates,
When streets turn into avenues
Avenues into highways, super highways
Subways and runways
Then things change.

Villages become old frail women deserted by their offspring
All gone to the cities with big lights,
Who, unlike prodigal sons, only return in coffins.”

Wangari’s reading omits the last part of the poem:

“When you realize that your fate was sealed in that moment of conception
Even before you took your first breath in this cosmic space
You then know, it takes more than yourself to survive.

When you are born in a small dark room
In the slum-ghettos of Nairobi,
The wrong side of town
Born in the wrong side of jobs
Wrong side of school
Wrong side of life
Wrong side of everything good in life
Except life itself
Then you know it takes more than yourself to be on the right side

It takes governments that are willing to accept the growing gap
The gap between those with and those without
It takes bridging that gap with informal jobs, equal opportunities
With Youth, women, men empowerment bridges
Bridges that seek to empower minds, endanger idlers
Bridges that recapture people’s dream of equal opportunities
And put them back into peoples’ hearts

It takes more than corrupt officials
It takes more than paying taxes for more government officials
It takes more than policemen gunning down innocent youth
It takes more than black men looking down upon their brothers as lesser mortals

It takes leaders willing to listen to the cries of their people
It takes systems that will help its people come out of mental slavery, self pity, oppressed lives
It takes everyman to make that change.
you, me, him, her, them,

That was July 2012. A few months later, a poem by Kenyan poets Shailja Patel and Wambui Mwanji wrote a poem, “Our Camera Has Come Home: A Found Poem”. Here it is in its entirety:

Our Camera Has Come Home: A Found Poem

in her absence we could not see properly
a way of being
engendered by her presence
was denied us

we did not die
we were not sick
or even depressed
just newly prone
to random piercings
of grief

she allowed us
to quarrel
with ways of reading the world
she explained
why our eyes stop
where they stop

other cameras
work well
we have nothing against them

other cameras
sit badly in our hands
like borrowed reading glasses

only she who has come home
is ours

The world mourns. The world mourns the loss of poets, such as Kofi Awoonor, and presenters, such as Ruhila Adutia-Sood. The world mourns the loss of those connected to people with names, such as Mbugua Mwangi, nephew to Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta. The world mourns the children, and the adults. Around the world, the national news media report on `their own’ who were killed in the massacre. The Westgate Mall has been a popular, and safe, place for many in Nairobi.

The world mourns, and world leaders and their messengers claim `We all stand with Kenya.’ We don’t. Instead, we watch the spectacle of grief at a distance, as a distance. After the post-election violence of 2007, Kenyan poet Sitawa Namwalie understood this. She understood that a first, decisive step in creating a road to peace would be to scramble the map. When they ask you where you come from, answer “I come from everywhere.”

I come from everywhere

you, me, him, her, them,

only she who has come home
is ours

There must be more to grief, and life, than reports of smoke and carnage and loss in the distance.


(Image credit: A Mishmash Life!