I was at the big grocery store, Nakumatt, with Grace asleep in her stroller around 9 am. I was comparing the labels on two different products when all of the sudden everyone around me starts screaming loudly and running towards the exit. I actually saw two people get pushed over (literally!) and I was seriously bumped into by two other people during this mass panic. A VERY nice man who worked at the store came and said to me, "You have to evacuate, there's a fire. I'll help you." So as people were bumping and pushing and whirling by us, he tried to clear the way for me and the stroller, helped me out of the mall and down the stairs, and safely across the street.
I then called Charles who was parked in the basement garage and he said the car was already out of the building and he would find me. My nice Nakumatt-guy came over to check on me, which was very thoughtful, and I asked him, "Where's the fire? I didn't smell anything or see smoke?" He said, "Shh...it's just a drill. But I knew that you would get trampeled if I didn't help you." In Kenya there have recently been a few fires that killed a lot of people and so I think it is very good that they do drills here. But I have never experienced such panic before! And he also told me that there had been an announcement over the loud speaker in the store but it almost impossible to ever understand what they are saying (and it is usually in Swahili) so I wasn't listening at all. I guess I will start paying attention to those announcements from now on.
Two fire trucks arrived within 5 minutes, which was VERY impressive given that there is only one firehouse in the entire city (yes, that's right, a city of about 3.2 million people has one firehouse). When Charles found me we waited for them to re-open the mall - I had planned to just go home but the roads were blocked and once I knew it was a drill I still wanted to pick up a few things! - but before they would open up the doors, someone from the fire department went on a megaphone from the fire truck to make a big announcement. It sounded something like this:
"God sent Abraham here to save you but you have to help yourselves too. God and Abraham can't do everything. You were supposed to be out in 2 1/2 minutes and it took you over 4 minutes to get out. You have to get out faster or next time some of you will die. God and Abraham won't save you next time. Next time it won't be an exercise. Next time you will die."
Now I have nothing against God or Abraham...but I couldn't quite understand what they had to do with the fire drill. And he also talked for over 5 minutes - it was like we were all getting a lecture! As Kristoffer said tonight, this guy didn't say anything about remaining calm in an emergency situation or looking out for one another (and the mzungu with the baby!). It was just "get out faster!!!" or else.
In reflection, the worst part about this crazy experience was that when the screaming and running started, I initially assumed it was a terrorist attack. How terrible is that?! Would I have thought the same thing if a similar incident happened at home? Or was it just because I am in Kenya (a country suspected to be home to a lot of terrorists)?
Also, I was talking to my friend about it this afternoon and she suggested that next time I should take Grace out of the stroller and run with her. But when I really think about that situation, Grace was much safer buckled into her car seat with all these people pushing and shoving than she would ever have been in my small arms!
Finally, there were two goods things in all of this. One, that Nakumatt-guy was so nice and restored my faith that there are good Kenyans here who are not only trying to take advantage of expats. He didn't have to help me, but he did. Then, my favorite part of the day was when we were driving back home. Charles said to me, "Madam, I was so happy when you called me to hear your voice and know that you were OK." That was a very nice way for Charles to let me know that he cares about our family, and it made me feel so good that we employ him.
All of this happened before 10 am. I was ready for a nap but of course when it was all over Grace was just waking up!