Never thought I would be writing a post about bombs and cycling in Nairobi. If you have followed this blog, you know I like to show folks who want to cycle, how “easy” and “safe” it is to just get on with it.
I work in the larger vicinity of the Westgate Mall and cycle by once a month to pick items that I cannot find at the other supermarkets, from Nakumatt Westgate. This mall is also one of the few establishments that has (well, had) a secure bicycle parking, and I mentioned their parking in an earlier post. Before you get to Westgate Mall coming in from Waiyaki Way, there are two other options for shopping at the inter section of Waiyaki Way and Chiromo Road – Naivas Supermarket and Uchumi Supermarket – both located smack in the hubbub of Westlands roundabout area, but both without bike parking. There is also the Uchumi Supermarket at Sarit Centre, where ornate bike racks are provided, but no Nakumatt Supermarket :/
Pedalling up the little climb to the parking ticket stand and barrier, as fast as I can to clear it to the top and scoot around the metal bar, the all-male security guards always shout cheerfully for me to stop for the mandatory security check. They fumble not knowing how to handle me – female, bulging cross-body bag and all – men in this city have a healthy fear of women’s handbags. On several occasions I have jokingly said to them, “Oh, I am afraid I left my bomb at home today” or “I think I left my bomb at home,” “Ahhh, leo nimeacha bomb nyumbani,” as I pretend to grudgingly open my bag for one of them to take a quick peek and find no bomb, of course. Not much of a check up. Sometimes they stop me as an excuse to chat me up, asking me how far I cycle and how far I am going, or why I haven’t got a carrier seat in back for a passenger.
On Monday, as the images and videos of the Mall attack were aired, I found myself squinting hard to see if I could spot any of the charming, all male security guards at the car parking entrance. Had any of them survived? Had I “attracted” this misfortune to Westgate Mall with my loose remarks about bombs?
I suppose there is so much more danger I face daily as a commuter cyclist in a cycling-unfriendly city, that bombs are the least of my worries. So much so that I can mention them in jest. I am so so so sorry.
The well thought out and designed bike stand (pictured above), that can take up to five bikes, is in the basement parking to the immediate left of the entrance, by the stair well entrance. Every single time I have been there, there are at least three other bikes parked; nothing fancy, just a pair of the popular ‘Black Mamba’ and a Dutch-style, well-used, single-speed, complete with a carrier and bungee, rear blinky light and numerous reflectors. The owners park the bikes respectfully, leaving the nearest spot empty for anyone else who may not stay long. I never spend more that 30 minutes in the supermarket being a thrifty shopper… and I cannot carry much by bike.
On Monday, as the images and videos of the Mall attack were aired, I wondered if the owners of these three bikes survived?
Some of them may belong to the security guards at the entrance. The ‘Blackie’ is a strong symbol of poor man’s mobility in Nairobi, second to walking. While the world and Kenyans focused on the wealth and opulence the edifice that is Westgate Mall represents, these bikes stood in the dark corner out of sight, like their socially invisible owners.
On Monday, as the images and video footage of the Mall attack were beamed across the world, I had a poignant feeling that those bikes will never again be powered up the hills of Nairobi from home to work and back.
As I prepare to leave the basement on my bicycle, I ride around to the left side and onto the middle track facing the exit to gain enough momentum to clear the climb out of the basement parking. Flipping the mountain bike gears quickly to ease the pedalling. Whizzing past the security check again, this time without much fun fair, the smartly dressed guards wave and call out their fare wells.
On Monday, as the images and video footage of the Westgate Mall attack were aired, and the roof collapsed, I knew I will never hear those cheers again.
May the wind be on your back all the way to the other side
Update: All the security guards survived except one.