Best and worst of 2019 – 1


January 2019 did not kick off to a good start for me. I couldn’t walk, for one thing. The previous November I fell hard on my knee, not realising I’d torn my meniscus–a cartilage that acts as a cushion between the tibia and femur. Instead of getting an MRI when in Nairobi, where I fell, I flew back to my home in Lamu, a lovely island with lots of sand. The image lingers of me dragging my legs to dinner parties. Sand became my number one enemy. A ten minute walk to the Peponi pub seemed like an expedition across the Sahara.

Thus began a long slow road to 24/7 pain management. The first phase, lasting nearly eight months, was all downhill.

In early January, the Somali-born militant group, al-Shabaab, attacked the Dusit D2, a business and hotel complex in a suburban area of Nairobi, killing more than 20 people.

Funny because the day of the attack I’d flown back to Lamu. I sat next to a ethnic Somali from Garissa, who was working on the Lamu port. Peering out the window at the mostly unblemished expanse of the Indian ocean, we talked about how al-Shabaab hadn’t carried out any attacks in Kenya in three years. Lamu seemed safe and sound.

When I got home just an hour or so later a UN friend phoned to inform me of the attack. I was stunned. I didn’t know what to make of it. It later became clear that Somalia had hired second rate Kenya terrorists to execute the attack. Instead of black scarves swaddling their heads the militants wore baseball caps. Most had been recruited from the dominant and largely Christian Kikuyu tribe. (Non-Somalis are less prone to be profiled as terrorists)

Had I stayed in Nairobi to have my knee examined, I might have been able to cover the aftermath of the attack on the ground. I felt better just going home.

I soon learned that one of the fatalities was an American in his 30s. Jason Spindler was the CEO and managing director of the San Francisco-based I-DEV, a strategy and investment firm with an office in Nairobi. He’d been dining at the complex’s Garden Restaurant when the attackers began shooting. Spindler, originally from Texas, apparently loved Lamu. He spent most of his time at the Majlis hotel, though he’d often rent villas across the channel in the posh enclave of Shela. Staff working at his favourite spots knew him well and said they were devastated when they heard he’d died.

When The Daily Beast editor contacted me asking to write about the attack. I had nothing to say. It was just another al-Shabaab attack. After awhile they all seem the same. Only the location and body count seem to differ. The incidents are all depressing and mind-numbing, especially after I write about them and they’re published.

In February I turned a certain age. I try to tell myself it is the beginning of a new beginning.