Fame and heroism is a lifetime pursuit for most people, yet some don't want to be famous, and some without knowing or pursuing fame they find themselves famous and being the focus of the world. And that was my fate, sheer coincidence brought fame my way, and the consequences as well.
Everyone looks forward to a day when they will be able to venture out of America and be in a distant land. A place where they will be able to tell of the return tales and adventures that they had while there. A distant place that many would only look for on the map or google it on the internet yet may live never to visit the place. I had for long purposed to visit any interesting country in Africa for some long holiday and enjoy the sun, beaches, hospitality, the animals and the weather in general, and this I purposed to achieve before I turn twenty.
The chance presented itself in November of 2002, during our academic calendar break from college, when we pooled together with two of my friends and decided to have some adventure in Africa. I was eighteen by that time and feeling independent and free, independent enough to go to a country so far away without my parents, after all I was legal. After debate we agreed on Kenya as the destination. This was fro the sheer fact that it enjoyed relatively more diverse flora and fauna, the democracy was relatively stable than other countries and the fact that it was on the equator made us conclude it would be the place to go.
The most noticeable thing in Africa is the hospitality and the welcome nature of the people who live therein. They have a sense of genuine welcoming at the airports, with lines of dancers along the plane exit dancing their waists away while presenting us with flowers and raw coconut drinks. Such was the welcome that made me feel at ease upon arrival confident that I was to have the best time of my life.
The arrival date was November 26, 2002 and our stay was meant to run for two weeks. The next day was for us to be taken to the beach and enjoy the beach life, the boat ride, the sand, the hospitality of the locals. It was a perfect scene. With the aid of our guide, we moved from one beach to the other. The most outstanding that I still recall to date was the Watamu Beach, Nyali beach and the Ukunda South Coast beach. They presented the best of the marine life and the deep sea diving was like none other that I had seen and hope to see. The marine life there is exemplary, I was told by the diving guide that it is due to the tropical climate and the sun that facilitates growth of underwater plants consequently attracting wide variety of fish. He further informed me that the timing was good since it was warm season and a lot of marine life was closer to the beaches.
November 28, 2002 was to be a much slower day, taking into account the rigorous activities we had the previous day. We decided to have an easy time, at various beach hotels, sampling the various menus and the provisions that they had. The last to visit before we went back to our hotel room was Mombasa Paradise Hotel located at Kikambala. Nothing fell short of a perfect cross cultural experience. We got to learn that it is an Israel patron hotel. This meant that we experienced the African culture from the people there as citizens and the large number of Israelis. It was a perfect mix of cross cultural experience and exchange. We never felt like leaving the place but fatigue had the better of us and we had to finally leave.
It was warm as usual outside, I missed the air conditioned hall where we were and almost went back but I had friends who wanted to go have a rest. Whatever followed was more dramatic than anything that I have ever seen. As we were reversing so as to exit, a rude SUV driver never cared to stop and let us reverse, our even though he had seen us reverse halfway out of the parking lot. Matt, the friend who was driving caught up with him by applying emergency brakes. The SUV nevertheless never stopped by kept squeezing between the left space between our car and the wall.
My first instinct was that he was going to give us a bad scratch and I needed to have it all in camera. I pulled out my camera and video camera and quickly stepped out of the car, he kept raving madly and I kept my camera rolling. As he successfully squeezed his way through, I went to the back of our car, luckily we had no scratch.
The unusual thing that followed was him driving past all the regular parking lots and headed to the back of the hotel towards the entrance to the ramp as though going to offload. This made me even more agitated and wondered how a staff could be that rude. I followed the SUV with my camera rolling, accompanied by my Matt. The SUV never stopped even upon reaching the ramp but strangely bulldozed through the glass entrance into the reception lobby where we had a few seconds ago bid bye to a friendly receptionist.
Scared, I forgot about pursuing my right to explanation and apology and ran backwards to the open yard. I sensed that something was a miss. It was not the intelligent instinct, neither was it the natural IQ that made me to draw back, but more of common sense and the application of the daily acquired intelligence from the movies. The next thing I saw was a horde of security personnel rushing in to contain the driver who had since stopped by the reception desk and refused to leave his car.
Not three minutes passed as the security were still negotiating with the rogue driver, when I saw a big, bright ball of fire accompanied by a deafening bang. It was quite strong and even at the yard where I stood with my camera rolling I felt the effects. Debris was thrown allover and the ground shook as though an earthquake was passing through. Dust engulfed the air and confusion rented the whole place.
People ran from the scene, I was as well scared since the only place I had seen such incidences before were on the movies which I knew were not real. I switched from my video camera to the still camera and aback several times with no apparent reason, whichever way, my camera kept rolling. I had been thinking of finishing my studies and getting into the photojournalism but I never expected it to start by that time, and not in that style.
I was scared, dead scared but I adopted the journalist attitude and kept telling myself that the story has to be told somehow. Once the dust settled, I was still carried away with the events that I walked closer to the scene of destruction and met grisly dismembered bodies and body parts. At a moment I thought I could just walk out and go, but something kept me clicking the camera button.
It was not until 30 minutes passed that the Kenyan police arrived at the scene with dogs and the ambulance full of paramedics. This is when the extent of destruction state to sink in. Quite a number were injured and the majority died, all the cars at the parking lot were destroyed beyond recognition. I could not trace our van. Neither could I trace any of my three friends.
It was after extensive search that I found Dave and Brandon, we had the duty of looking for Matt. The search was not easy but at one point I recalled we had left the van with him to confront the SUV driver. I led the police towards the rear entrance where we were will Matt, the sniffer dogs did their wok as we proceeded. As if luck was on our side, we found matt half buried under the debris though still breathing. He was attended to but to date, sadly, Matt is bound to the wheel chair.
The next day I had to call the U.S. embassy and get the directions as to how I should handle the two tricky situations. First, the welfare and the treatment of Matt and the second are the footages and the photos that I had. Luckily my calls were picked and we got immediate assistance, we had to fly from Mombasa to Nairobi fro better medical attention and were under strict instructions not to divulge the footages to anyone.
I had a meeting with the ambassador that very day and handed over the footages and the photos to his…