I started an early morning road trip to Nairobi, Kenya for a three-day science communication congress on the invite of Media for Science Health and Agriculture (MESHA). With more than three traffic and several other stops on the way, i almost excused myself each time in spite of having a very light breakfast at 6.30am. Traffic officers lay all over the road and each time they stopped the bus they had nothing serious to say, but asked for Kitukidogo (some money) indirectly, in Kiswahili with the bus conductor.
At one of the Kenyan towns Turbo in the Rift Valley region, we found another gang of these such officers who still demanded 1000 Kenya shillings (about 30,000 Uganda shillings or about 12 dollars) alleging that the driver was over speeding. Failure to heed to their demand, the driver would drive the bus to the police station.
A female bus Inspector had earlier cautioned the driver to slow down and run at a 50km speed. This didn’t amuse me because I had sat in a ‘Modern Coast’ bus for more than 11 hours already and not about to arrive Nairobi before dark. I was worried of getting to Nairobi lately despite the Wesgate Shopping Mall atrocity in the earlier days.
End of Day one of the congress, i and other east african 30 journals were chauffeured to Galexon. My room had not been booked in spite of the earlier email message received earlier. On day two as i strode up to my room on the second floor, i carefully read a fire caution notice before i went to bed; I had just glimpsed and passed it the previous day.
At 12.30 am I woke up suddenly but lay back after a bath. At about 1am, in a dreamlike scenario there was noise . I had mistaken it for a fist fight so i ignored. I opened the door to witness the chaos but a huge smoke welcomed me. This is when i sensed trouble had come. I grabbed my property close-by forgetting the cellphone and shoes and clothes. On the run, other room occupants had already fled for safety.
A terror attack had just rocked a shopping mall three days earlier. The ’famous’ Al-Shabab terrorists had attacked Westgate Shopping Mall killing several people. While in panic, i remembered a friend online way back home telling me that going to Nairobi was not the best thing to do at the time. I also remembered a young woman i had read about and seen over the news who had jumped through a window of the shopping mall for safety.
It’s then i realised and thought of how people die during fire incidences. The fire heavily raged on for more than 25 minutes as the Chef and other attendants ran to the different rooms for water, when the fire extinguishers had run out. Thirty minutes later, G4S a private security firm came in handy with three trucks. I never spotted a police or any government fire brigade truck. The manager of the hotel who prefered anonymity said several calls went un answered. The cause of the fire, he said was probably due to a short-circuit; all mattresses and other belongings in the store got burnt. One Kenyan from the neighborhood said, “the police is always reluctant when the people are in need”. Some occupants ran out naked and were given sweaters, blankets.
Galexon hotel stores on fire (indoors) and the main building above
These extinguishers were dumped after they run empty. Water was the only option as the fire fighters came in to rescue
We were later booked at Dalton Hotel, within the city centre. I kept asking myself what the stories would be if some of the occupants including journalists had got injured and or died eventually.
From the aftermath of the Westgate shooting, this kind of situation is unimaginable of how someone leaves their country and gets an accident or even dies in another country at the same period of time when an atrocity of terrorism in nature has just happened.
See this link (40 Journalists escape hotel Fire–daily nationonline) http://http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/40-journalists-escape-Nairobi-hotel-fire/-/539546/2009726/-/wdf903/-/index.html