The terrorist attack and four-day siege at a mall in Kenya is hitting very close to home for people in Nashville's Kenyan immigrant community.
Robert Kamau left Nairobi, Kenya, six years ago and moved to the United States. Despite last weekend's attacks on the Westgate Mall, Kamau said he hates he wasn't there.
"I wished I was there to help save more lives, to save one more person who has been wounded," Kamau said.
His sister-in-law's office is right next to the Westgate Mall, so his first thought was if she was she OK.
"I called her and asked her, 'Are you safe?' And then she said, 'Yes, I'm safe, but many of my friends have been wounded. Many of my friends have been killed,'" Kamau said.
Kamau leads a Swahili church in Nashville and goes back to Kenya three to four times a year, traveling all over Africa to train pastors and church leaders about the word of God. He and his wife are going back next month.
"When we hear such things are happening, and we're getting ready to go next month, it's shocking. It's horrifying," he said.
Idah Mathu is also from Nairobi.
"Nairobi is such a peaceful place. We never thought that this kind of thing would happen," Mathu said.
She was glued to the TV, worried about her parents and sister.
"They are fine," she said. "There have been some horrible images, but there are some images that give you hope."
She said her phone was her lifeline during the crisis. Her brother was in contact with a friend who was caught in the middle of the shootout.
"He thought it was a bank robbery, but it wasn't," Mathu said. "When he peeked out of the window, he saw people laying in the parking lot and [who] had been shot. So, that's when he went into hiding and entered a stairwell in the mall."
Even though they're thousands of miles away, those in the Kenyan community in Middle Tennessee can't help but feel for their families who are still there and for other families who are dealing with devastating loses.
The violence is also bringing back memories of al-Qaeda's U.S. embassy bombings 15 years ago.
"That was pretty shocking the first time it happened in 1998, and then being so far from home and hearing the same thing is happening again, it kind of brings back the same feeling of fear and anxiety that we felt in 1998 when I lived in Kenya," Mathu said.
The Swahili congregation will be holding a prayer service for the victims and their families Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m.
The event will be held at the Christ Lutheran Church, 299 Haywood Lane, in Nashville.
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