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The Target Of A Major Terror Attack, A Kenyan Mall Reopens


Now, President Obama himself will be in Africa later this week. One stop he'll make is Kenya, where his late father was born. Two years ago, the images the world saw from that country were of carnage. Somali militants carried out a bloody attack on the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi. Now that mall is having a grand reopening this weekend, just in time for President Obama's historic visit. NPR's Gregory Warner sends us this postcard.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Westgate has always been part mall, part symbol. Just look at the name Westgate - Nairobi's Premier Shopping Mall. And it was a symbol of Kenya's Western leanings and its economic rise that Westgate was targeted by gunmen from the Islamist group al-Shabab in September of 2013. And then it became a new symbol for Kenyans - of vulnerability and unpreparedness to the terrorist threat, a place where just four gunmen could hold a mall under siege for four days against all of Kenya's security forces. This weekend at the mall's reopening, I stood by a beeping metal detector at the entrance to ask shoppers what Westgate is a symbol of now.

DOROTHY WANJIRU: Strength, great strength.

WARNER: Dorothy Wanjiru had come to get her nails done and send a message.

WANJIRU: My presence here means that we are more stronger than ever, resilient and that terror can never overcome the good that we have in our country. I'm here to support our country.

WARNER: For Al Graziano, who has lived in this city for six years, Westgate carries a different symbol.

AL GRAZIANO: A symbol of weakness.

WARNER: It's a symbol of weakness.

GRAZIANO: I would like more the security to be improved.

WARNER: Since Westgate, there have been several major terrorist attacks in Kenya.

GRAZIANO: That plastic thing on the wall...


GRAZIANO: Yeah, I was sitting just almost near there.

WARNER: Graziano was there in the mall that Saturday, having coffee.

GRAZIANO: People a few meters from me died. I was lucky enough to be able to escape.

WARNER: But inside the refurbished mall, you will not find a memorial or a plaque to the 67 people that lost their lives here, no video archive of survivor testimonies, no bullet hole preserved in glass. It's easy to imagine shoppers in the near future who see this as just another mall in a city with more and more superstores. The retail giant Wal-Mart just opened a store here. But today, at least, history does weigh heavily on even the most basic consumer act.


WARNER: In a boutique men's clothing shop on the third floor where the least you'll pay for a shirt is $65, Alfred Kairu is buying himself a new shirt and new pants.

ALFRED KAIRU: And this is a place I used to shop a lot. It's an achievement because they've opened. It shows we're resilient people.

WARNER: So does buying a shirt and pants today feel like more than just buying a shirt and pants?

KAIRU: It does. It does, of course.

WARNER: What does it feel like?

KAIRU: It feels - it feels heroic, in a way.

WARNER: Not so heroic that he doesn't also ask for a first-customer discount, which he gets. It has, after all, been 20 months since this store's last sale. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.
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