On grenades and guns and violence and reality

In my comfortable little upbringing, growing up in leafy Surrey, the idea of conflict – you know, real war, danger, fighting – was a million miles away. Something I never considered. My concerns were with getting homework done, or which friendship group I was in. I would worry about running to catch the school bus, but never fleeing for my life. In my sheltered English life, it all seemed so far away, so distant. Violence is something that happened, happens, in those foreign lands. In DRC, Gaza, Syria. So difficult to relate to, to understand, to remember as I went about my daily life. And that was my reality.

Yet it’s not the world’s reality. For billions, violence, war, conflict and pain is everywhere you turn. Lurking in every dark corner. Inescapable. It squirms its way into the smallest of cracks, seeking to bring destruction. To damage, to ruin, cause chaos as best it can.

And today, it’s near. It’s close. And it hurts. It knots my stomach and stretches my weak and fragile heart.

On Sunday a grenade was thrown into a matatu in Eastleigh – just down the road from St John’s – and killed 7 people. This attack is just one of a string of grenades that have been thrown in Eastleigh and surrounding areas in the past couple of months. Last week one was directed at the airbase, just 10 minutes walk from St John’s. A few weeks ago it was St Polycarp’s Sunday school that became victims. Prior to that, a supermarket, again just 5 minutes walk from St John’s. Too close to home.

The grenade attacks have been linked to Al-Shebab, a predominantly Somalian, Islamic-militant group that Kenya is at war with and trying to push back from the Kenya-Somalia boarder. It is believed that many of the grenade attacks on Nairobi are a retaliation from Al-Shebab and it is the Somalian community that have been apportioned the blame and are suffering the consequences.

Yesterday, Eastleigh was under attack. Kenyans and Somalian’s rioted as Somalian’s became the scapegoat for the most recent attack, and Eastleigh is a predominantly Somalian area. And being a stone’s through from Pumwani, it’s close to home. Too close to home.

Little did I know, a few years ago, living my cosy little English life that yesterday I would be one of the ones running from danger. Yesterday I was on the bus, on my way over to St John’s, when people outside the bus started screaming and running. At the same time four men jumped on the bus, all shouting. I couldn’t know what they were saying because people on the bus were all shouting, wanting to alight. And my brain couldn’t function properly, everything became kind of fuzzy. The driver refused to stop. The men kept shouting. We went past the place I wanted to alight, past St John’s. My mind was flickering between thoughts of hijacking and what to do if a grenade is thrown at you. And then, all of a sudden, the bus stopped, the shouting stopped and we got off the bus. The men disappeared. I don’t know what happened. I just walked, fast, to the relative safety of the compound.

We worked while listening to gunshots coming from Eastleigh as the police tried to disperse the rioting crowd. I tried not to jump at the sounds, as children passed through the office. It’s not something I’m used to – me and my comfortable past.

And yet somehow I have to recognise that violence is reality for so many. It’s not just computer games where you control the ending. It’s real. It was certainly real for the guy who came into St John’s compound yesterday. He’d been spotted acting suspiciously with a few others outside the compound and not recognised by locals in the area or St John’s staff. People were understandably twitchy after Sunday’s grenade explosion. St John’s would be a perfect target for another attack. The police were eventually called. The small group dispersed before they arrived, this one coming into the compound and up the high school steps. The police arrive and fire a shot. They miss. He comes down and gives himself up to the police – wise choice. I don’t know, maybe he was guilty of planning an attack, who knows? And what else could be done than call the police? That’s a discussion for another day, but I’m sure that guy grew up knowing a life of fighting and guns regardless of whether he was guilty or not.

It’s world away from what I’m used to. And yes, I recognise how blessed I am, how fortunate, how lucky I am to have grown up not having to know the reality of violence so many face but today, after today’s events, I realise that ignorance is not bliss. By growing up a world away from it all, I grew up thinking my reality was the world’s reality. Forgetting those living in war-torn lands. Forgetting the millions fearing for their lives. And worst of all, forgetting to take my role in this world that’s spiralling into destruction. My role as a prayer-warrior, fighting for justice and peace.

*The decision to write this was after reading my friend Katrina’s blog on war and peace. Read it. You can also read more information about the riots in Eastleigh on the BBC website.
Also, watch this video. Shot yesterday in Goma. It’s important. It may not be your reality. It may not be ‘comfortable’ for you to watch. But it’s reality for the people living it, and I can assure you, it’s not comfortable for those running. Stop what you’re doing, get on your knees and pray.

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