Like many people in my generation, I will always remember where I was when the September 11th terrorist attacks occurred. I was a senior in high school, sitting in the ubiquitous plastic and metal school desk. We put away our copies of A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man, and our teacher wheeled in the chunky t.v. on its cart. We watched the twin towers collapse over and over again on replay.
For me, as a 17-year-old American, September 11, 2001 was the first terrorist attack that I was truly aware of. I had never heard much about other terrorist attacks or witnessed the televised replays of bombings or plane crashes. In my naive mind, terrorism happened in other countries, to other people. I don’t think I was alone in this thinking.
Today, as an American living in Kenya, terrorism is never far from my mind. When I go to the mall, a security guard looks for weapons and bombs in my purse and pats me down with a metal-detecting wand. I overhear Kenyans making jokes about Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda. I plan vacations around the U.S. Embassy’s travel warnings. I read the local papers, where the headlines alternate between stories about the upcoming elections, and stories about recent terrorist activities.
Since I arrived in Kenya in June, 3 people have died in a nightclub bombing, and 15 people have died in a church bombing. Deadly riots have broken out in response to the killing of a Muslim cleric with suspected terrorist ties. Several aid workers have been kidnapped, and a package of explosives has gone missing.
There have been other violent events in Kenya since I arrived; these are just the ones linked to terrorism.
Terrorism is such a frequent occurrence in Kenya that as an expat you can either choose to leave Kenya, or you can get on with your life. In a way, it’s freeing
After September 11, people in the U.S. have tried so hard to eliminate all terrorist risks, but it has generally just made us a more fearful country, not a safer one. While they were not linked to terrorist activity, the recent shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin, and New York have shown that you cannot always predict or prevent a violent act. Our big folly in the U.S. is to think that we can.
Photo of the September 11 Memorial by: Paul Arps