Kenyans recall their suffering after terrorist attack

Survivors of bombing rally at U.S. Embassy

September 23, 2001|By Samson Mulugeta | Samson Mulugeta,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NAIROBI, Kenya - Douglas Sidialo lost his eyes to flying shards of glass, and with it a father's simple pleasure of admiring the face of his daughter.

Nancy Kilonzo lost her eyesight and also the will to live.

Diana Mutisya, confined to a bed until a few weeks ago, missed cooking ugali, her favorite traditional maize meal, because her hands lacked the strength to stir a pot.

These are some of the survivors of the 1998 terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in this East African city, and they gathered Wednesday to lay a wreath at the newly built embassy to express their shared grief with the victims of the attacks two weeks ago on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

If there is one nation that has keenly felt America's anguish, it is Kenya, where the truck bomb that ripped through Nairobi's crowded avenues still echoes not only in the daily agony of those physically maimed, but also in the thousands of others who suffered no loss but remain emotionally scarred.

The shattered remnants of the old U.S. Embassy at Haile Selassie and Moi avenues downtown were demolished and replaced by a memorial park for the victims of the bombing, 219 dead, nearly 5,000 injured.

In federal court in New York this year, four men with links to Osama bin Laden were convicted of the Nairobi bombing as well as of an almost simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Tanzania, in which 11 people were killed.

The Kenyan survivors who trekked this week to the new fortress-like U.S. Embassy on the outskirts of town arrived leaning on crutches or clasping the guiding arms of friends. The group of about 20 held hands and circled an American flag, singing "We Shall Overcome." Only one embassy employee was there to greet them, but the visitors said they were satisfied that they were able to convey their grief for the suffering of Americans.

Many survivors here take the devastation in New York and Washington personally.

"I know what people in New York are going through because I went through it myself," said Kilonzo, who overcame thoughts of suicide over the loss of her eyesight only after a series of counseling sessions. "I wouldn't wish it on anyone."

Sidialo, 31, who heads a victims rights group, was let go from his job as a salesman for an auto company and depends on his schoolteacher wife to provide for him and their two children. Still, he does not advocate retaliation.

"The Americans should show a degree of mercy," Sidialo said.

Samson Mulugeta is a reporter for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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