A life of courage: Kenyan embassy bombing survivor sings for peace at Lansdowne church
LANSDOWNE >> In 1998, seven months pregnant and bleeding profusely, Caroline Wavai was in a Kenyan hospital fighting for her life after she climbed over dead bodies through the bombed-out building next to the U.S. Embassy.
Today, the Marple resident will share her experiences through song in a 2 p.m. performance at the Sword of the Spirit Church at 71 S. Union Ave. in Lansdowne as she crusades for peace throughout the world.
“It is in my song,” Wavai explained. “I will sing the songs out. It makes me cry. I don’t want people to cry because I will cry.”
Born and raised in Kenya, Wavai was working on the 19th floor of the Cooperative Building, next to the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, on Aug. 7, 1998.
On that day suicide bombers parked trucks loaded with explosives in front of the embassy and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The simultaneous explosion killed 213 in Kenya, including 12 Americans, and wounded 4,000, and killed 11 were killed and wounded 85 in Tanzania. The attacks were linked to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda.
“Our building stood next to the embassy,” Wavai explained. “Many of the people died. We never had anything like that. I had so many cuts on my body. There was a deep cut in my left eye. I almost lost one eye.”
She remembered hearing some of her colleagues beckoning, “Go, go.”
“The building was shaking,” Wavai said. “We were stepping over dead bodies.”
Eventually, she made it to a hospital, walking there as no ambulances were available. Her friend, Joanne Kanini, added, “She was in the hospital and people kept telling her she wasn’t going to make it … and the doctors kind of wrote her off, like, ‘You’re not going to make it.’
“When I think about it, I could cry,” Kanini said.
Wavai said her older son was traumatized too. “He was told, ‘Your mother died yesterday,’” she said.
With a blood clot in her uterus, she had to stay on bed rest until her son Lucky was born on Oct. 7, 1998, two months after the attacks.
He was given a grim prognosis when he was born but with therapy weekly for a year, he began to progress.
After a while, Wavai came to the United States for medical treatment and has stayed. Her oldest son, Kelvin, graduated from Marple Newtown High School and Lucky is a sophomore there.
Once told her son might not make it, Wavai shared his status now, “He’s one of the smartest children in (the school) district.”
Wavai herself said she still suffers pain from the experience, with severe discomfort in her head and hand.
“Glass keeps coming out of my body every now and then,” she said. “Because glass is clear, the machines cannot detect them.”
Wavai said her country had not had any large violent incidents like the bombing prior to 1998.
“That’s why I’m calling for peace,” she said. “Kenya has gone through a lot of trauma. We have gone through so much trauma, so much killings.”
She pointed to the massacre in April in which 147 people were killed after the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab militant group burst into a Garissa University College dormitory and shot students and took hostages.
In 2013, Al-Shabaab attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, overtaking it for four days, killing 67 people and injuring more than 175. The gunmen were also killed.
Wavai said she lights a candle at all of her performances as a prayer for non-violence everywhere. “I light a candle to show them the light of peace,” she said.
Proceeds from her performances support her Baraka Care International organization that works to provide fire safety education, financial support for disaster victims and post traumatic counseling. It also works to distribute fire extinguishers and smoke detectors in Kenyan schools.
Using her song and story, Wavai is advocating for all to work towards peace, love and unity.
“Look at me after going through all this,” she said. “I’ve made peace within myself first. I made peace with my children and I’ve made peace with my community. I want peace to come all over the world.”
Wavai’s performance will be 2 p.m. today at the Sword of the Spirit Church, 71 S. Union Ave. in Lansdowne. It is open to the public and the cost is $25 per person.