Column: Reflections On Surviving Mass Shooting

September 26, 2016

1-Fullscreen capture 25092016 80159 AM[A reflection on surviving a 2013 mass shooting in Kenya that left 67 people dead, written by Bermudian Joanne Ball Burgess]

Three years ago, I woke up ready to practice yoga and take part in my afternoon jazz dance class. It was an exciting day. I was invited to the set of a television show to make a guest celebrity appearance.

Hours later I would find myself hiding in a bathroom stall for 4 hours along with several other people, wondering whether or not this was the end of my life.

All of the points of those hours in Westgate have been recounted again and again in numerous interviews. One can Google them if they like. Some items that did not make it into the interviews that I think of every now and again that I’d like to share here:

1. Being close to death didn’t make me nicer

As I walked into Westgate the female askari [guard] checked my bags and waved her [magic] wand over my head. I’ve always felt this to be a useless exercise for a number of reasons and rolled my eyes as this weak display of a security attempt took place.

Later on, while gunshots hailed outside the bathroom door, I heard painful wailing in the stall next to me. As I peered over the stall I recognized this same askari holding her wand over her head while crouching and shuddering.

“How is it that you were outside checking my bags with that wand and now here you are crouching and crying like a baby? You couldn’t help anyone with that thing!” I shouted over the bathroom stall while standing on top of the toilet.

I was there because I was trying to see if I could crawl up into the bathroom ceiling to hide in case the terrorists came into the bathroom shooting. Nevertheless, I wasn’t nicer than usual in this situation.

2. My children gave me inspiration

Crouching in a bathroom for four hours listening to raining bullets gives someone a lot of time to think. My thoughts swayed back and forth between huge courageous to thoughts of hopelessness. What gave me the energy to know that I had to survive was my children. The thought of not being around to raise my children or someone else raising my children was not a good picture in my head.

I knew that I had to get out of there somehow, for them. This was three years ago. I had no idea at that point that I would have another child who grasps for every moment in life like a magical moment. When I was envisioning my children to be able to get out of Westgate I had no idea that if I made it out, another little one would come into our family. Rainn is our miracle baby for more than one reason.

3. Interviews are a great distraction from trauma healing

My father is Bermudian and my mother is Canadian. I was born and raised in Bermuda and would visit my Canadian family every year. My Canadian heritage hails all the way back from freed enslaved Blacks who fought with the British, against the war for Independence and were given land in Canada as a reward.

Where they were given land was right on the doorstep of three First Nation Tribes. Needless to say, my family history is colourful. Literally.

So when the attack happened, Bermudian and Canadian newspapers wanted interviews from me. For about a week and a half, I recounted my ordeal like a well-rehearsed play. Each time feeling more and more detached from the actual happenings.

Then suddenly, everything came to a crashing halt. There were no more interviews. Other happenings in the world took precedence over those of us who had survived Westgate. It was time to face the reality of what really happened, which meant time for self-care and self-healing. It was time to remove the distractions so that I could begin to truly live again.

- Republished with permission from Joanne Ball Burgess


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Comments (2)

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  1. reddamtibi says:

    Why did this attack happen in Nairobi? For the same reason all other similar attacks happen in Africa – regime change/resource aquisition. A corporation wants in for the country’s resources – two things can happen the local government says yes or no – in the case of yes they are compensated (yes bribery)- not as well as they should be, given the massive profits the said corporation is about to make; or they say no. In the case of no, then an opposing faction is then armed by some clandestine or even privately contracted organization to topple the existing government. People die, weeping and wailing etc – the beat goes on – the corporation gets its resources and all are non the wiser and we get to read this gibberish from you.

  2. Yes I says:

    The scramble for Africa still exists today. Thanks for sharing your story Joanne!!