It was overcast in Lavington and I figured it may remain that way for the rest of the day. Decided to wear boots and jeans with the East FM t-shirt. Must have been half 10 when I left home. Mum was dropping me. We passed by Chandarana, Lavington Green before heading to Westgate. Bought milk, bread, rice and oil as I had the intention of giving charity (sadqa) for some odd reason that morning. Mum dropped me at the roundabout of Westgate Mall. I crossed over and went to Ukay Centre, as there’s a disabled man who usually is there and accepts charity.
Walked back to Westgate through the main entrance, via the stairs. Security lady checked my little bag that was around me. Walked in and bumped into Tariq, my optician, his shop’s on the first level of the mall, Eye-Co. Had a chat with him and he saw my t-shirt and goes “didn’t know you’re with radio now”. Told him it’s been a couple of year’s man, how don’t you know? But anyway, we have Superchef Junior going on on the rooftop parking, it’s round 2 of 4, pass by and check it out. It’s loads of fun. And I took off to the escalator to the rooftop.
Got there and it was just starting off. Started to get hot up there. My shift actually wasn’t till the afternoon, but I decided to go over earlier to help out where I could. The challenge for the kids was being revealed at the time. They had to come up with a cold starter and a hot desert. All 8 teams, 3 kids per team, came up with their menus and passed it over to the judges. Their menus were revealed to the audience and so the competition started at 11.50AM.
Oddly, before the competition started, Aleem (a colleague) bumped into a drinking glass, and it fell at his feet and broke. A very Asian oriented saying this is, Kamal Kaur (another colleague) went on and said “small things happen to prevent big things from happening”. A couple of minutes after the competition started, I got the judges together and asked them to pose for the camera. One of them, Sheally, by mistake, elbowed the lid of an oven, which shut over a pan that had boiling milk in it and the pan fell over. Picture didn’t happen. Odd situations.
It must have been around 12.40PM when all of a sudden we heard an explosion. The rooftop parking leads straight to the food court. At first we thought a cylinder may have blown up. So we looked around our counters and at each other. And then suddenly two more explosions and then we saw people running from within the mall out into the parking. And that’s when we all left the tent we were under and ran behind, to a corner where cars were parked. We all stood still for a moment not understanding what just happened. We started hearing gunshots from a distance. And then they got closer and everyone ducked. The last thing I heard was Aleem asking me where Seema, his wife (and a colleague of mine), was. And I had no idea and we immediately ducked when more gunshots were fired. At the time I sent my mum a text “Gun shots. Like 100 shots. In Westgate and around the area. Everyone’s panicked. And we’ve all duck down in a corner!”
People were trying to go through a little gate and some hole that led into a vent of a sort. They opened fire to people going that way and then threw a grenade. We all ducked and I blanked for a few seconds when it blew up. I opened my eyes and there was smoke all around me. They threw a grenade in the middle of where I was. And it didn’t go off. Mohammed, one of our judges of Superchef suddenly got up with his family reciting something from the Quran, and I looked at him thinking what on earth does he think he’s doing! He’s gonna get himself killed! And I had no idea where he disappeared to after that.
I had 2 girls under me, and 3 teenagers around me. All holding me tight. I had ducked down in an awkward position and a broom stick under my leg. My leg was cramped up and my back bent really low. I wanted to see if anyone on the other side was ok, so I looked under the car and saw a man walking around the tent in which Superchef Junior took place. He had casual clothes on. I freaked out and came back up.
A lady next to me rang up her husband to tell her she loves him and that triggered me to call my mum. I had sent her a quick text before the whole ordeal but she apparently hadn’t received it until after my call. I was panicking and told her I don’t know what’s going on but it doesn’t look like I’m coming back home alive today so I’m just calling you to say I love you and she started crying and said to pray and not to panic. My brother, Rizwan, snatched the phone from her and said he’s calling me back from his phone as he had more airtime. He was being brave for me and said if you have kids around you, calm down. Hold their hands. Get everyone to hold hands and make sure the kids are fine. I gave my hand to the little girl next to me and she held my hand so tight. Riz and mum stayed on the phone with me the entire time. Owning a BlackBerry, I told Riz to stay on the line as I was going to send a message to my friend in ORC (Operation Reduce Crime – which is a community patrol/security team) and tell him what’s going on. I got to my home screen with my brother still on the line, and then messaged my mate on WhatsApp. He informed me that help was on the way and kept updating me on what was going on on the outside. That TV crews are outside and there’s a cross fire right now. That’s what the current gunshots were. And I kept sharing the same information with those around me at a very low tone so no one else (the gunmen) would be able to hear me.
Riz asked me to send him a picture of my situation; I took only one picture and sent it to him via WhatsApp.
After a while he called me back and stayed on the line.
The battle went on and on. And every time gunshots went off around us, we all started praying harder and faster. A couple of minutes later, I heard two men speaking to each other. It sounded like Somali or Arabic. Not sure. And then they disappeared. But after that it went quiet and the only gunshots were at a distance.
At some point, an African lady who was months pregnant started to scream in pain. Everyone had cramped up and people were sitting on her legs. And she went frantic. I begged her not to scream but she was in so much pain. All the kids suddenly started to cry and scream and we all started panicking, hoping that they don’t come back. That’s when I noticed my other colleagues. I spotted Kamal and her daughter and Shiksha, and my boss’s Aunt with her son. Was so grateful to see familiar faces. Roshni, a contestant in Superchef Junior, was at my feet. And the other girl next to me had a friend across from us who had a bullet in his leg and injured his arm. He was bleeding heavily. She threw her scarf at him and said tie it up. A gentleman was shot in the foot and head next to us, just laid there, breathing and not saying anything. Someone luckily had some soda’s on them, so we passed it on to the injured to get some sugar into their system to give them some sort of energy.
An African teenager across from me suddenly tried to get up saying “he’s calling us. He’s telling us to go there”. We couldn’t see so we told him to get down and not move. What if you go over there and they shoot you. Just stay down. And 2 minutes later, a white man, wearing a green t-shirt with jeans came over. And an Asian man with him. Telling us that he’s with security and he’s here to help us. He told us that we’ll have to go through the tent, straight ahead, then through the bamboo plants and into the Java Kitchen and then he’ll lead us from there. I told Riz what was happening. When we got up and headed to the tent, is when we noticed all the dead bodies. I spotted my boss, Jasmine, and her husband and she had no idea what was going on, so I told her to get up and move! We couldn’t go through the tent; there were too many dead bodies. Some women who were hiding with me noticed relatives who were shot and dead, and I said that we can’t do anything right now and that we need to move now! They had kids with them! We went round the tent and headed to Java. The white man suddenly told us to run back, as he thought the gunmen came back. I tried to hide behind an ambulance, but I was so afraid at that point, because I was exposed. I was at the edge of the space, in the open, and would probably have been the first to shoot at, so tried to sit down, on the ground and squeeze myself further in the space. But turned out he was security as well. So we were told to jump over quickly. I told Riz to stay on the line, I’m putting my phone in my bag. Jumped over the bamboo plants and went into the kitchen. It was pitch black in there. Couldn’t see anything. Could only make of shadows. While in there, I got to ask the white man what was going on and he just said we need to get you all out of here. Women sat at the entrance of the kitchen, not moving, a man started to move in towards the eating area of Java and we told him to get back inside! The rescuer told me which way to go. He was pushing me from my back, which was making me push the women who had sat down. He told me go down the stairs. No one was ready to go down first, in fear of what awaited at the bottom. There was a policeman, in blue, with a massive gun who waited at the door that led to the steps. I decided to go down first and led the way. Reaching the last floor, an Asian man with a gun pointed his gun at me and I put my hands up and he said “go go go – how many are you?” I said, way too many as I went towards the exit door. Another security guy checked if the coast was clear and he said it’s clear, go straight and run to the outside and take a left. I landed in the middle, and a man in a suit across said “go go go go” pointing towards the left. And I ran as fast as I could to the main road.
I stopped running and started walking looking around, looking for any familiar faces. And I couldn’t see any. I got my phone out of my bag, and told Riz I was out and safe. And that he should hang up now and I’ll call him back in a bit. An Asian man knew me by name and gave me some water and said if I wanted, I could go over to his Aunts place to sit and wait it out. I saw my colleagues come through. Jamil fell in my arms. And others came out frantic and crying. I tried so hard to calm my boss down but she just wouldn’t. Her husband kept telling her to calm down and go up the hill to safety but she was just so worried about all the other team members. All team members who were injured were already rushed to hospital, thankfully.
While waiting in the parking lot of some apartment that people told us to get into, I started getting phone calls with horrible rumors. I chose to ignore them until I heard it from someone who was 100% sure. I got a call from our studios asking if I was safe and in any position to speak. I wasn’t, but said I would just so they could get first hand information from a team member and eye witness of what had happened. I spoke to Radio Jambo and Kiss 100.
In a while, Shiksha came through, and waited with me in the same parking lot. We had a quick chat. She was telling me about Aleem being hurt in the eye and then he screamed at the gunmen saying he was Muslim, and they asked him to recite something, and he did and they let him go. She said they were letting Muslims go. That her Muslim friends sent her messages with recitations in case she was asked to say something from the Quran.
I wasn’t aware of this at all. I had no idea that they were letting Muslims go. And then I thought about it, had I known, I still wouldn’t have gotten up. Aside being completely afraid, I don’t even look Muslim, according to the gunmen. I was in jeans, boots, and an East FM t-shirt. I had no Hijab. And aside that too, I had these little girls around me. How could I leave them there, defenseless?
Later on finding out that aside reciting something from the Quran, they started asking deeper questions about Islam. Eg. What’s the name of the Prophet Muhammad’s (saw) mother? For a second, when I heard that, I froze. What if I gave the wrong answer under that pressure?
There was a gentleman by the name of Suraj, who was driving in the area when the whole ordeal started. He got stuck as they weren’t letting cars go, so he parked where I was waiting. He got permission to leave, and asked me if I needed a ride as I had no other way to go home. And no one was allowed to come within the area, and all friends who could take me home were part of security helping everyone to escape. Suraj, and his friend (who was on the first level of the mall at Dormans having a coffee, witnessed killings as well) were kind enough to drop me home. I started receiving phone calls from colleagues who weren’t at the event yet and had the afternoon shift. Confirming that my beloved friend and colleague, Ruhila Adatia-Sood, who was months pregnant, passed away. I didn’t know what to say or do.
At this point, I just wanted to get home to my family.
Still getting non-stop phone calls and SMS’s and WhatsApp messages. My Twitter and Facebook was so busy as well but I couldn’t speak and respond to everyone at that time. While in the car, I was checking messages etc. Most on Twitter saying just seen you running out of Westgate on Al Jazeera. Some saying just heard you on Radio Jambo or Kiss 100. Glad to know you’re safe.
I got home, and ran up the stairs. Actually tripped over the stairs going up and fell at the top. Got up and ran. Rang the bell countless times and landed in my mum’s arms and just burst into tears and held her so tight. Hugged and cried in Riz’s arms too. And then watched the ordeal on television.
To think people were still in there was so difficult to deal with. To see and hear everything was so horrific. To see myself on television was so unbelievable. The fact that it was so unbelievable, I oddly felt normal. I was repeating the same story to friends. I was ok with speaking to anyone. I was “pretending” that I was ok.
Not realizing that Riz had shared the picture I had sent him, international media started to get in touch. I only spoke to Sky News that very night though. Had a phone conversation with Mark that evening and the next morning Nick got in touch saying they want a TV interview. Interview took less than half an hour with Stuart and I only spoke of my experience and what I heard and saw. Nothing was distorted and nothing was misquoted.
More media got in touch and here’s a list of whom I spoke to:
Dailybeast – America
BBC Radio 5 – London
BBC Northern Ireland – Belfast
Radio 6PR – Perth
Europe 1 – Paris
Feature Story News – Washington
The more and more I speak to international media, the more they want to know about what was being recited and if it was true about them letting Muslims go. One of them even asked me, how come you didn’t get out. You’re Muslim right? The fact is a fact, they were letting Muslims go. But they also killed and injured Muslims as well. When word got out that they were asking people to recite something from the Quran, Muslim friends started to message and teach Christians and Hindu’s and others how to recite the Kalma, in case they were asked to recite something.
These terrorists’ have Islam so distorted. They don’t even know what Islam is! They are not Muslim’s!
ISLAM DOES NOT ALLOW TERROR, VIOLENCE, KILLINGS.
A lady rang me up on Monday morning saying that I’m hearing that media is misquoting you and that you sound Anti-Islam, just be careful with what you say. – I went through each interview to hear and read what I said, and I said nothing wrong. The truth is the truth. The situation is what it is. People will agree and people will disagree and that is the fact. For someone who was not even in that situation cannot and does not have the right to comment on what to say and what not to say. Aside that, verbal attacks on Twitter.
I received this tweet when I had my little rant out of anger on Twitter after that call:
@SadiaOfficial Qur’an 6:151 says, “and do not kill a soul that God has made sacrosanct, save lawfully.”
This also circulated on Facebook:
Me being Muslim, agrees that what is going on is wrong. The fact that they’re using Islam as a reason and their shield to create all this terror IS WRONG! Islam just does not allow all this. Islam is such a peaceful, and loving, and nurturing religion. Just like Christianity and Hinduism and any other religion.
All religions focus on peace and happiness and meditation and prayer. Open any book and you’ll see it for yourself.
I’ve been trying to understand myself and trying to deal with the trauma. I’ve been a little skeptical about speaking to any news network on camera now as well. I mentioned this to Jenetta Barry, a great friend, who is also a grief expert. She said to me … “One of the things that comes to mind, is that the terrorists asking people to recite and answer things was conducted randomly … And the killing was also conducted randomly. That shows that it had nothing to do with Islam. That’s why men, women and children of every religion and faith including Islam, died on Saturday because essentially, it was not about Islam.”
A lot of people need to realize this. Terror, is never created in the name of any religion. It’s always in the name of evil. The man who did the shooting at the cinema in the States on the premier night of Dark Knight Rises. The elementary school. Think back to times of terror that wasn’t created or done by someone with an Islamic name or who spoke Arabic. Terrorism, no matter what race, religion or country you’re from, only, and only stands in the name of evil.
Kenya, our beautiful country, our beautiful people, we showed the world that #WeAreOne by coming out the very same day to donate blood for the victims and casualties that came out of the Westgate siege. We donated food and drinks to journalists and our armed forces to keep them going as we went into several days of ongoing battle. We prayed for all victims, all hostages, and all families and loved ones affected by this siege. We spread so much positivity and gave hope to those who needed it the most.
Looking at social media, my favorite quote had to be a message to the terrorists:
THANK YOU, because now the blood of a Hindu runs inside a Muslim and the blood of an African runs inside an Asian and the blood of a poor person runs inside a rich man.
THANK YOU for binding us by Blood, Love and Unity.
Every country, every Nation in the world, goes through some sort of terror attack. But that doesn’t stop them from living. It doesn’t stop them as a Nation from developing and moving forward. Kenya has always been a highlight and attraction for tourists. Our white sandy beaches, holding one of the 8 wonders of the world, our history. OUR PEOPLE.
If anything, this teaches us to live our lives to the fullest, every single day, because we don’t know if we’ll get to see tomorrow. If you love someone, tell them! It doesn’t matter whether they love you back or not, but tell them, so they know! Appreciate your parents, your siblings, your friends, every single day. Spend time with them. Don’t postpone a meet up with a friend. Set a time and date and make it happen. Get on to your bucket list! Start that course that you’ve always wanted to do. Make your dreams come true! Work harder towards your goals. Start living your life to its full potential! It doesn’t matter whether it all works out; at least you know you gave it your best!
I strongly believe I’ve been given a second chance, and there are many things that I am going to change about my life.
Change begins with you.
You can make a difference.