Not Just a Number

Confession time. I’m a nerd. And I listen to talk radio. A lot. Yesterday I had to do a fair amount of driving and so I had lots of time to listen in to my favourite talk radio station. All day there was one main story that everyone was talking about. Over and over. The Boston Marathon bombers trial as he was being convicted yesterday.

You say “Boston Marathon Bombing” – and everyone knows exactly what you are talking about. That horrific tragedy two years ago where 3 people were killed and an estimated 264 others were injured.

If I say “Garissa Attack” I’m not sure it has the same recognition.

And it happened only one week ago. And an estimated 147 students were killed , 79 injured and many still unaccounted for yet today.

 In North America, we can feel safe and removed from much of the terror around the world. I was thinking of this yesterday as I was using the bank machine inside our grocery store. As I casually put my purse on the counter as I did my banking, my mind drifted back to using bank machines and entering stores in Africa. To enter the local mall near our hotel in Nairobi, I had to have my purse searched, and I had to walk through a security scanner (similar to airport security). Every store in the mall had armed security guards at the door. Another time, when I was at a restaurant and asked where the bank machine was – the manager walked me outside to the group of armed security guards. The guards walked me across the street to the bank machine, and waited outside until I was done before walking me back. There is an underlying sense of fear and caution on a good day in Kenya.

But here, in Canada, I can be lulled into a false sense of security. So when something like the Boston Marathon Bombing we are shaken. I think of the shooting on Canada’s Parliament Hill. We all called our loved ones “did you hear?” and sat listening to the news all day for updates. One person died.

 Now, I do not want to sound crass – that “only” one person died on parliament hill. Or “only” three people died at the Boston Marathon. A life is a precious gift and any life lost in such tragic ways, is an incredibly sad loss. I took my own daughter to the funeral processional of Corporal Nathan Cirillo who was the one shot on Parliament Hill. A life lost like this deserves to be honoured.

And that is my point exactly. Years have passed and we mourn the three lives lost in Boston. The one life in Ottawa. The 11 lost in the Paris shooting at the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

One week has passed – and have we already forgotten the 147 lives of those lost in Kenya? Africa can seem removed from our day to day world here. But from my time there I have learned one very important lesson.

We are all the same.

On the outside our lives and circumstances can look vastly different. But spending some time alongside my African peers, it is quickly apparent our differences are overshadowed by our similarities. I sit in a home with a mother preparing her children for school. Trying to finish laundry before the kids get home. Struggling to pay the bills. Laughing and teasing friends. Hoping for a safe and happy future.

When I think of my time in College – I remember how I was constantly thinking of my future at that time. What would I “be”? Where would I work? Would I go on to more school? The future was exciting, and endless.

My heart goes out to the 147 univeristy students who were killed and who’s future was taken from them. From their families. From their nation. From my world.

In Kenya there is a movement – using social media #147isnotanumber to humanize the victims. Let’s not let them become just a number. Let’s remember their faces. Their stories. Their lives. HERE you can see some posters that Bryan (who blogs for us on Tuesdays from Kenya) has created.

Kenyans, still raw from the emotions of the Garissa Attack – now also have to deal with the fear from the attackers additional threats. “Kenyan cities will run red with blood,” al-Shabab said, according to the SITE intelligence monitoring group. “No amount of precaution or safety measures will be able to guarantee your safety, thwart another attack or prevent another bloodbath.”

With the country mourning the innocent lives, and the new threats echoing in their ears - these are tough days for our Kenyan friends. And we want to stand with them. Mourn with them. And not forget. 

I took some time to ask some of our friends Jack and Bryan in Kenya about how the Garissa attack has effected them and their country. You can read this information below…



How did you hear about the attacks?

Bryan - I heard about the Garissa attacks while I was in school. It was on Thursday so I had morning classes at 7 am and by 8 am I logged in to my twitter and saw #GarissaAttacks trending. I read the tweets and it was Garissa University that had been attacked and by then I had no idea about the number of people who have been killed or injured. It was like the whole country was in a state of confusion not knowing really what was happening and how could Al-Shabaab possibly attack a university with over 1000 students.

How did this tragedy effect you? How did you feel?

One of our artists, Jack, shared he felt traumatized. That the attack made him feel even more insecure than he was before. The attacks also effected them economically for when these attacks continue, a lot of people especially in the tourist sector are going to lose jobs. 

How did the attacks effected you as university student.

(Bryan is a university student in Kenya)

Bryan - The feeling was really bad. Of all the places terrorists have attacked before. Nobody could imagine that they had actually killed students and injured scores at Garissa University. I felt like I should have been there not to take photos but to help the injured and the rescued. These attackers realistically broke my heart and I felt like as if something was totally wrong with my government after having read a couple of tweets from friends on twitter. Some of them were stating that the government was warned that there would be an attack at an institution in North Eastern Kenya and they didn’t take the Intel and warnings seriously. I felt like as if a lot had been shattered and crushed. I mean those university students were just like me and my friends at Multimedia University who had gone to build a future and a life for themselves and their families back home. I felt like as if a lot had gone to waste. And an attack that could have been prevented just snatched innocent lives and dreams. 

It's been a week (or it will be when I post this) - what is being done now in Kenya about these attacks?

From talking with friends, it seems there is a definite feeling of caution. Jack shared that the public is being “so, so much careful”.

Bryan shared - Kenyans from all ethnic backgrounds have come together to mourn and grieve with the families of the departed. Families of those killed at Garissa University have come to Nairobi’s Chiromo Mortuary to identify the bodies of their fallen loved ones. The families have been camping near the mortuary for days now since some of the students are missing. Kenyans have also donated blood to help the injured victims who are currently being taken care of at Kenyatta hospital. Last night there was a nationwide candlelight vigil at Uhuru Park in memory and honor of the 147 departed souls. 147 candles were lit and 147 crosses were planted down at Uhuru Park to represent those killed in the attacks. So far the government has detained some people suspected of terrorism and over 80 bank accounts have been frozen since it is believed that in one way or another they are funding terrorism activities in the country.

What is the general feeling in Kenya about the potential threats?

 Bryan - The whole country is being urged to stay vigilant and to report any suspicious activities to the relevant authorities. Security has been beefed in major public places like cinemas, malls, churches, schools, supermarkets. There are policemen and security personnel all over the city center who are conducting searches and scanning anybody entering any government or public building. At least people are being assured of safety and security at this time of mourning and anguish.Despite all that some people don’t even want to board public buses, they would rather walk to their destination if it is not that far but business in residential paces is going on as usual. Armed police are also seen walking around these places like Kibera and Rongai trying to ensure that law and order is properly maintained. The general public is however condemning the government for not responding quickly to curb the attack at Garissa. 

In North America, it is easy to feel removed from this tragedy - what would you want us to remember or know?

Bryan - Africa as a continent is condemning the western media on how they covered the Garissa attack because it didn’t seem like a big deal to them. People are complaining and comparing the attacks to the one that happened in Paris (Charlie Hebdo) where 12 editors were mercilessly killed inside their workplace. Same to Garissa where 147 students were killed inside a university. Thus is however the second massive terrorist attack after the 1998 bombings in Nairobi that killed 224 people and injured over 3000. The western media has however paid minimal attention to the Garissa siege and world leaders are not even talking about it and this is a matter of concern to the entire African continent and the general Kenya republic. A campaign is currently ongoing on twitter using the hashtag #AfricanLivesMatters because of the airtime and attention that western media has given to the attacks at Garissa.

Are there ways people here can help? (a fund for victims families or their funeral costs or anything?)

Both Bryan and Jack recommended donating to the Kenyan RedCross. 

Bryan - The people in North America can help the victims. Some have large open bullet wounds on their arm, shoulders and legs. Some would require operations and so the Kenya Red Cross is where they can send their donations to help with the treatment and care of the victims and survivors of the attack. The money from the donations will be used to provide psychosocial support, tracing and restoration of family links of the victims. Garissa University has now been closed indefinitely following the attacks and it is not clear when the institution will come back to life again.

Anything else you'd want to share.

Jack - Kenya needs prayers.


  Krista is married to her college sweetheart, Mark and they have two daughters - Madison and Eden. When Krista isn't working at JustOne she can be found behind the camera at Edison Photography. It was her photography that first lead Krista to Africa in June 2012. Later that same year Krista founded JustOne. 

1 comment

  • Monica

    Thank you for sharing this, K. I have been wanting to ask you about this attack, and what it means to you and your friends in Kenya. All lives are precious. Thank you for sharing the stories of our African brothers and sisters – must be such a difficult time for them.

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