By Stephen Ssenkaaba
Saturday, September 21 started like a nice normal day for Juliet Nakandi. She had a couple of business meetings to attend that day.
The first was at 12:00 noon at the Westgate Mall’s Art Cafe in Nairobi. The meeting went well and as she was concluding it, a loud bang went off.
“It was a large bang; the ground shook, glass windows exploded and the tables were all blown up,” she now recalls. Before she knew it, Juliet was on the ground, lying next to bleeding people and next to broken chairs. In the midst of all that confusion, she picked her bag from a nearby chair and removed her prayer book and tablet.
“I started saying my final prayers, wrote small notes to my friends and family. I knew this was my last moment. I said my goodbyes.” Nakandi lay still among the dead, clutching at her prayer book, asking God for forgiveness and hoping that someone might come and rescue her and any other survivors. She tried to contact her boss on her tablet.
“I told him I was lying beneath two bodies and that I was going to die. He told me to be calm, that someone would rescue us…” Nakandi narrated in a telephone interview with New Vision yesterday. She is now recuperating at her apartment.
She remains highly traumatised and during the interview, occasionally broke down with emotion especially as she recounted her ordeal. She will spend the next few days recovering from the shock and wounds of her swollen leg. Around her, the atmosphere was deathly and tense.
“We were under cover of the tables and chairs of the restaurant; people could not shout or cry because we feared the terrorist could come and kill us if we tried to seek attention. So we kept the highest discipline as we waited for the rescue team to tell us to go,” she said. But from the faint whispers in a distance she could tell that some people were still alive.
“People were whispering among themselves in different languages, white people and other foreigners were texting each other sending out text messages.
At this point, Nakandi who was by now communicating on her tablet with her boss asked him to send a message to her family and relatives, to tell them that “I love them so much in case I don’t make it home…”
After sometime her battery went off. “My communication with the outside world ended here,” she recalls. At about 5:00pm, rescuers came and led me out of the mess to a waiting crowd outside the mall.”
Too traumatized to mix with the anxious crowd, she slowly walked about one kilometre from the crime scene and found a cab that drove her back to her room at Kingpost apartments in Westlands, not far away from the scene of the attack. “It was while on my way back that I realised having a swollen leg,” she said. At the apartments she got medical treatment. The doctor said the swelling on my leg was not fatal; it may have resulted from a collision with a table or a chair.”
She later that day was able to get through to her parents. Looking back how everything unfolded, a few things are beginning to add up. “I
remember seeing two people come into Art cafe — one was an Arab-looking woman, the other was a man wearing an ‘Arafat’ scarf and they were holding long guns. They passed us and went away... shortly after, gunshots rang out,” she said.
Parents speak out
Nakandi’s father, Joseph Mutaawe, says: “When we saw the news of the attack on television, we prayed that our daughter will be safe. Knowing that she was in Nairobi, we called her phone and it was off.”
“We got concerned. Later in the evening, we received a call that she had been caught up in the attack but had escaped unhurt. We were so relieved and thankful to God and eagerly await her return.”
Who is Nakandi?
Nakandi is the financial controller at Leadcom Integrated Solutions, an international telecom services company.She is in charge of Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya and her job involves supervising financial operations of the company in the three countries.
A daughter of Joseph and Marina Mutaawe of Kiteezi, Nakandi attended Ndejje Senior Secondary School, St. Kalemba SS in Nazigo and Makerere University. A resident of Kireka, Nakandi at the time of the attack, had spent weeks in Nairobi on official work.