M is for Mombasa

15 Apr

a-to-z-letters-mOkay. Well, this is weird. Creepy even. I was seriously still tossing up this morning whether or not to write about Mombasa, Kenya. Specifically that I survived an Al Qaeda suicide bombing at the Paradise Hotel on Nov. 28, 2002 in Mombasa, when 12 other people didn’t. Of course, it’s a major event in my life. Were it not for that event, it’s highly unlikely I’d be sitting here typing into a computer from a home in Los Angeles. I’d probably still be living  in Israel.

And so I thought, this morning – do I really want to write about this AGAIN? Believe me, as a journalist I’ve written about this horrific experience more times than I care to think. I’ve written about it from both a personal and a professional level. I’ve wept tears; I lived through PTSD counselling – the whole nine yards. And I’ve even mentioned it on this blog before – when the operative who masterminded this horrific event was finally taken out by an air strike. You can read that here.

And this morning I was wondering do people really want to read about this? I don’t know. And of course, a couple of hours later, we hear about the bombings in Boston at the Boston Marathon, and while work has kept me busy all day tracking down locals who were there, in the back of my mind I guess I saw it as a sign that I was indeed supposed to write about Mombasa – one of the most painful experiences of my life. Because the images seen on the television today in Boston are not dissimilar than those I witnessed first hand in Mombasa (only mine were naturally much more up close and gruesome), or what I and thousands of other Israelis witnessed during the height of the second intifada in Israel when bombings – suicide bombings in particular -were a regular occurrence.

My heart goes out to those wounded and traumatised in Boston today along with the families of those killed. Believe me, I know what they’re feeling.  But rather than try and write yet another piece about Mombasa, I’m just reposting a piece I published not long after that event.

images-2

The final line of  my article from all those years ago echoes what happened today in Boston – when people ran TOWARD the blast, to try and help. You have to believe in good being greater than evil because I believe it’s true. And I believe it’s what allows us to carry on at that exact moment when it seems impossible.

A statistic no longer silent
By Kelly Hartog
IsraelInsider.com
August 1, 2003

Over a year ago, I wrote two pieces for this
publication, one entitled “The ripple effect,” the
other “Hats off to the journalists.” Two major events
have occurred since then, compelling me to write once
more.

Firstly, “The ripple effect” dealt with the emotional
fallout in the aftermath of the murder of my brother’s
boss – Yigal Goldstein – on September 9, 2001 in a
suicide bombing. On July 1, 2003, my brother and
sister-in-law celebrated the birth of their new son.
He is named, unsurprisingly, Yigal.

And so, life goes on.

“Hats off to the journalists” was my tribute to every
reporter who has been forced into the front lines of
this bloody conflict. My praise was high, as I, an
editor, safely shielded behind my desk, would not,
indeed feared to, go out and tackle the terror scene
head on.

Not until fate and G-d had other plans for me and
placed me in the midst of the terror attack in
Mombasa, Kenya on November 28, 2002.

What was supposed to be a relaxing foreign assignment
— a week-long junket to write about a Kenyan safari
— never happened. Within minutes of arriving at the
Paradise Hotel, that idyllic world was blown apart
forever.

The events of what happened there have been written
about enough. As the only English-speaking journalist
there, indeed possibly the only English-speaker, you
can find my reportage of that horrific day on the
websites of scores of radio, television, and newspaper
sites around the globe.

But they are the stories of a journalist. A reporter
going into automatic pilot and just doing her job in
the worst conditions imaginable. They are not the
stories of a woman who lived through the death of her
guide, two angelic Israeli children, 10 Kenyans, and
witnessed scores of physically wounded people.

And no article will ever be written by this woman in
either a professional or a personal capacity about
what she truly witnessed there, if for no other reason
than no one should ever have to know the horrors of
such an event.

Indeed, it is has taken seven months to even
contemplate writing on this matter in anything but a
professional capacity.

After five months of intensive trauma counseling I was
presented by my therapist with a chart that over
months clearly delineated my (thank goodness)
ever-decreasing depression levels, Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder levels, and my cognitive capacities
concerning the entire event.

And I was shocked. Shocked at how traumatized I was,
particularly when I realized that I was lucky enough
to escape the attack physically unscathed.

And once again I find myself reflecting on how
traumatized our entire nation must be. It’s hard
enough to comprehend the sheer numbers involved when
we think about the families of all the dead, the
physically wounded, and the ongoing traumas they all
face every day.

And then there are the silent statistics. The ones who
were there but walked away physically intact. I know
what they know because I’m one of them. And there are
thousands of us walking the streets of Israel.

I know what it’s like to be scared, truly scared. To
jump every time you hear a car door slam. To wake up
in the middle of the night sweat-soaked and crying
uncontrollably. To fear that every time you walk out
the front door it might be the last time you do so. To
rail against G-d. To be wracked with guilt; with
questions of having lived when others died; to feel
you must justify why you still have the privilege –
and yes, it is a privilege – to walk the streets every
day.

And I know what evil looks like. And believe me, evil
does have a face. I’ve seen it up close and personal.

But I also know, just as those charts showed me, those
fears do subside. They never disappear, but most of
the time they become controllable. You learn to live
with the terrible, heartbreaking memory of it all. You
learn to live with the horror, rather than relive it
every single moment of every single day.

There are still so many, many lessons to learn from
being in a terror attack. And I’m learning new ones
every day.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I think. That,
despite what I wrote in “Hats off to the journalists,”
I was wrong about myself.

Prior to Kenya, if anyone had told me, that I, who
passes out at the sight of my own blood, would take
the shirt off my back to bandage a gaping hole in the
arm of a wounded teenager, because there were no
paramedics on the scene for three or four hours, or
that I would wipe ash, blood, and flesh off shaken
children, or do a live radio interview moments after
being informed my guide had been killed, I would have
said, “Sorry, you’ve got the wrong person.”

So yes, I’m tougher than I realized, perhaps even more
so than I want to be. I’ve also learned that no matter
how much compassion and caring we all feel when those
we know, and even those we don’t know, are killed or
maimed in a terror attack, that level of compassion
and caring in me has increased at least ten-fold.

In “The ripple effect” I thought my emotions had been
bled dry in the wake of Yigal’s death and what that
did to our family. Again, I was wrong.

For every terror attack that has occurred since Kenya,
I realize that it hurts so much more because I know,
profoundly, what everyone associated with that attack
is going through.

I also know I have a level of empathy that others
don’t have. I don’t relish how I got there. But I do
embrace it.

In the same vein, I have also learned this: when pure,
unadulterated evil reaches out its insidious fingers
and threatens to choke you, pure, unadulterated good
stands tall alongside it.

The selfess acts of scores of people in Kenya whose
names I never learned, and may never see again, have
overwhelmed me. I witnessed complete strangers support
each other in ways I would never have thought
imaginable. I know that as a result of one
24-hour-period, my life will be inexorably linked to
those people whose names I don’t know, and whom I
could feasibly bump into in the street and not even
recognize.

I don’t even know the names of the couple who so
kindly donated me a clean t-shirt after my suitcase
was blown up. What I do know though, is that I am only
one of those silent statistics. But we are everywhere.

One of us may be sitting next to you right now.

We are a traumatized nation. That is inescapable. But
we are also extraordinarily resilient. Had I been
given the choice, I would never have chosen to be in a
terror attack. But given that that choice was not mine
to make, I can say that while I have been permanently
scarred by the whole experience, I have also been
blessed.

Blessed with being granted the opportunity to live
another day when so many, many, others haven’t.
Blessed with the knowledge that I can face so much
more than I thought was possible. And blessed with a
level of empathy and compassion that can only help
make our lives stronger.

Because these are the traits that are required to
fight terrorism, and evil, wherever it may rear its
ugly head:

To stand upright, alongside our greatest fears and
greatest enemies, and to risk the chance of being
bloodied, and broken.

But never bowed.

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5 Responses to “M is for Mombasa”

  1. http://expatbrazil.co.uk April 16, 2013 at +00:00TueUTC #

    Beautifully written, I completely agree especially your ending,
    “To stand upright, alongside our greatest fears and
    greatest enemies, and to risk the chance of being
    bloodied, and broken.

    But never bowed.”

    Perfect, thank you
    #atozchallenge
    maggie winter

    • Kelly April 17, 2013 at +00:00WedUTC #

      Thanks Maggie.

  2. jesstopper April 16, 2013 at +00:00TueUTC #

    What an incredible story – I drew a breath at the end and it was literally ragged, just from reading your words. The resilience of the human spirit is remarkable. Amazing.

    • Kelly April 17, 2013 at +00:00WedUTC #

      No argument here. Thank you.

  3. M is for giving us a memorable read. You’ve out-done yourself this time and shared an amazing story.

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