Store manager who survived Kenya’s Westgate Mall attack won’t return to work

Fatima Abdul-Rahman is pleased the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, is reopening this weekend. But, after barely surviving the attack at the mall, she doesn’t want to work there anymore.

When Al-Shabaab terrorists attacked the Westgate nearly two years ago, they killed 67 people and injured more than 175 others. Abdul-Rahman was one of those who were badly hurt.

“[The shop owner] gave me my job back, but since he is going back to Westgate I had to tell him that I won’t be able to go back and work there, and he understood,” she tells As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch.

Abdul-Rahman was a manager at the Erita E Jewellery store. She was on her lunch break when she the violence began.

“At about 12 we heard a loud bang,” she recalls. “The guy I was with pushed me down and then I heard gunshots close to where I am. One [bullet] hit me on my left leg.

“Then they started to throw grenades. I remember getting up — I decided to run into the kitchen area…when I was on that side they threw a grenade and it fell on another lady, and it happened to catch her. I slipped on her blood and got a grenade burn on my left hand.”

After hiding under a kitchen counter for five hours with a few others, she was taken out of the mall by security forces.

“The first time when they came and they asked if anyone was alive…I didn’t think it was safe to say a word, so I just played dead. The second time when someone came he showed his face and I recognized him so I went with him.”

After nearly two years, her recovery is ongoing. She says a visit to the reconstructed Westgate Mall last week helped her move forward.

“I thought, ‘Let me face my fears now’,” she says.

While she was able to visit the place of the attack once, that was enough. Besides the emotional toll it would take to work at the mall, Abdul-Rahman is worried about safety.

“I’m not so sure about security in Kenya right now. As much as they try to make us feel like it’s okay…I’m not so sure.”

In spite of all that, Abdul-Rahman welcomes the reopening of the mall.

“It’s a bit sad, but it’s for the best,” she says. “It shows the terrorists that we defeated them. No matter what they did to us, we can still stand up on our feet.”

During our interview, a child is heard playing in the background. Abdul-Rahman reflects on the day of the attack, “My daughter was what kept me going.”

Published by Ayesha Barmania

Ayesha Barmania is a journalist-entrepreneur and audio documentary maker, living and working in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.