One of these survivors is 22-year-old Caroline Wanjiru. She is among the scores of people who were left with broken limbs, serious burns, and an uncertain future, albeit one that Caro, as her friends call her, is facing courageously.
Here is her story.
â€œIt was Monday, May 28, 2012. I had just a
rrived at Assanands House, Stall No. 9, where I was employed. I sold menâ€™s clothes.â€
She was a new employee, having worked there for only two months. But she had already formed a fast friendship with Josephine, a young woman who worked directly opposite at Stall No. 10. She also sold clothes.
Caro, the first born of four children, had completed her secondary school education the previous year. She travelled to Nairobi to look for a job in the hope of saving money to pay her college fees and help her mother look after her younger siblings. She wanted to study computer engineering,
â€œMy mother, Elizabeth Muthoni, is a single parent and has no stable job. Therefore paying my school fees would have been next to impossible,â€ she says.
Caro and her family had been displaced from their home in Uasin Gishu County following the 2007 post-election violence.
â€œWe lost everything, but my mum did not give up and relocated to Nairobi, where she worked as a house help to keep us in school,â€ she says.
On that fateful day when a murdererâ€™s bomb brought Nairobi almost to a standstill, Caro and Josephine were at work, busy serving customers with intermittent chit-chat here and there.
â€œCustomers had been streaming in and out. It was a beautiful day, the sun was out, business was good â€” there was no indication that anything so terrible would occur.â€
However, the tranquillity was shattered at around 1pm soon after a â€œcustomerâ€ left an innocent-looking bag at Josephineâ€™s stall.
Caro will never forget the face of that man.
â€œHe was tall and bearded and wore a casual shirt. He was carrying a small black bag. He walked into Josephineâ€™s stall and asked to see a yellow T-shirt that was on display. Josephine told him that the T-shirt was going for Sh1,000. However, he claimed that he did not have the full amount, that he had only Sh700.â€
Josephine told him that the amount was too little. Carol says there was nothing suspicious about the banter as negotiations are part of the business. Eventually, the man asked if he could leave his bag as he dashed to an M-Pesa outlet in the next building to withdraw the remaining Sh300. Josephine agreed.
Moments later, the bag exploded. The blast ripped off a section of the roof, shattered the windows, and shook nearby buildings.
The Assanands building had more than 20 stalls that stocked all types of merchandise, including clothes, mobile phones, computers, and stationery.
According to eyewitnesses along the busy Moi Avenue Street, there was a deafening blast that was followed by fire. Smoke billowed and flames quickly spread to highly flammable goods such as clothes and shoes in the stalls. The explosion tore off the buildingâ€™s roof and brought down the windows across the street.
Those in adjacent buildings were quickly evacuated as military police cordoned off the area to keep out thousands of curious onlookers.
At first, the blast was alleged to have been caused by an electrical fault but this was soon discounted after a two-foot crater in Josephineâ€™s stall was uncovered by firemen.
â€œI remember struggling to crawl out. Broken glass, pieces of wood and metal were strewn all over. And then I passed out,â€ narrates Caro.
Of the 36 people who suffered broken limbs and bruises, four were seriously injured. One of them had a fractured hand, the second had deep cuts, while the other two had serious burns. Caro and Josephine were the two who sustained serious burns. Caro suffered 78 per cent burns.
Her mother, Elizabeth Muthoni, learned about the blast from friends who called, asking if she had contacted Caro to find out whether she was safe.
â€œThat day, my boss called and informed me that there had been a blast in town. Wondering why heâ€™d call to tell me that, I asked him where the blast had occurred, but he evaded my question, eventually telling me that it had occurred along River Road.â€
However, he insisted that she call Caro to find out whether she was fine, since she â€œmay have been strolling along River Roadâ€.
â€œI called her, but her phone was off,â€ Elizabeth says.
â€œAlthough I knew that the blast could not have affected my daughter if it had occurred along River Road, there was this strange, sneaky, fearful feeling that she was in danger.â€
Her worst fears were confirmed when a family friend called from town to say that there had been a bomb blast at Assanands House.
â€œMama Caro, bomb imelipuka Assanands mahali mtoto wako anafanya kazi. Kuna moto mkubwa kila mahali, (a bomb has gone off at your daughterâ€™s workplace. The building is engulfed in flames),â€ he said.
â€œI was shocked, my heart nearly stopped,â€ says Caroâ€™s mother.
She would later learn that her daughter had been taken to Kenyatta National Hospital, unconscious.
Continues Caro, â€œWhen I came to, I was in hospital, in the ICU. The pain was excruciating. Every part of my body ached. I couldnâ€™t move a muscle without feeling as if Iâ€™d pass out from the pain,â€ she says.
But what was even more devastating was when she learnt that her friend Josephine did not make it â€” she died in the bed next to herâ€™s.
â€œI was devastated, and at that moment, my pain ceased to matter â€” I couldnâ€™t believe that Josephine was gone, dead.â€
Caroâ€™s burn wounds took a long time to heal and when they did, they left her face and body disfigured. Her left leg was also broken, and she still walks with aid of crutches. By the time she was discharged from hospital six months later, her self-esteem had suffered.
All kinds of defeatist questions swirled in her mind: What kind of life would she live? Would anyone ever find her beautiful again? Why was life so unfair?
Since leaving hospital, Caro has been slowly fighting to piece together her broken dreams. It has not been easy, especially because of poor health, but she is determined.
â€œIt has been a tough period. Sometimes I break down and cry and ask God why it had to me, but then I recollect myself and give myself a stern lecture because I know that these kinds of questions have no purpose,â€ she says.
Besides surgery to correct the damage on her face and legs, Caro also needs urgent surgery on her left eye, which was partially burned, but was not properly treated.
Doctors say that if it not treated soon, she may lose it. But she and her family cannot afford the Sh3.5 million required for treatment in India that includes corrective surgery on her face, ears, and leg. She is currently not taking any medication to ease the pain that sometimes assails her because her body has become resistant to pain medication.
Since it is difficult for her to do most things for herself, her mother stopped working to look after her and her younger siblings. Fortunately, a good samaritan has housed the family in a store behind his shop, so rent is not an immediate headache.
â€œI am grateful to my mother, who has sacrificed so much to look after me. I am also grateful to friends who have stood by me in my time of need. I keep reassuring myself that I survived for a reason.â€
She admits that sometimes she succumbs to sorrow and sadness, but she always manages to shed the darkness that envelopes her and reach out for hope.
â€œI believe that I will recover. Surely there must be people who are in worse situations than mine â€” I will pull through this eventually, I have to, Iâ€™ve got no option,â€ she says, her voice steely with resolve.
Caro is also determined to achieve her dream of becoming a computer engineer.
â€œI still have my hands and my brain and given a chance, I will use them to achieve my dream.â€
But her daily prayer is that this country gets lasting peace and security.
â€œI keep praying that such a terrible act of terror may never happen again. I pray that our government will be able to enhance security everywhere so that every Kenyan can live and work without fear.â€
Would you like to help? Contact Elizabeth Muthoni on 0726 741 629