Monday, August 7, 2017

19 Years Ago

"May the innocent victims of this tragic event rest in the knowledge that it has strengthened our resolve to work for a world in which man is able to live alongside his brother in peace." - Inscription, August 7th Memorial Park

This weekend, I joined a small group to lay wreaths at the August 7th Memorial Park. It was my first time visiting the site, which is where the U.S. Embassy in Kenya used to be.

For those who don't know or (like me) were too young to remember, the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi was bombed on August 7, 1998 by al Qaeda. Hundreds of innocent people died, including Americans, Kenyans, Embassy employees, and bystanders. You can read a declassified FBI summary of the Nairobi attack (and simultaneous attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) here.

The Memorial Park was small but thoughtful. The grounds were lovely. I saw at least one sculpture made from debris from the actual bombing, and there was a memorial wall with the names of those who were killed. Another American who was there with me shared a few of the stories behind the names etched on the wall - for example, a father and his teenage son, who had only been at the Embassy working a temporary summer job.

There was also a small museum with just one exhibit hall. I learned more stories there, like one about a woman who was nearing the end of her pregnancy when she heard gunshots. When she went to the window to see what was happening, the detonation shattered the window and shot its shards into her head. She was rushed to emergency surgery, where local anesthetic was the only option to try and save her baby. The same day, she was saved and her healthy baby girl was miraculously born.

The most moving part of the experience was being joined by a few Kenyan local staff from the Embassy (pictured above with the Ambassador and his wife) who were there 19 years ago and survived. One shared with me that the explosion killed her husband, leaving her and their four-year-old son alone. I learned another was a guard who saved countless lives by pretending he didn't have the keys to the gate and making the truck carrying the bomb stop where it did.

I am honored to be a part of preserving the memory of not only the tremendous loss of all the bombing's victims but also the inspiring courage of heroes (like the guard), the light that shines in darkness (like the miraculous birth), and the hope that motivates human beings to go on in the face of incomprehensible devastation (like the widow). If anyone reading this has some time in Nairobi, visit the August 7th Memorial Park. It's worth it.

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