The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2014 - page 60

60
JULY-AUGUST 2014
|
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
AFSA NEWS
Westgate
BY NATALIE LEWIS-VASS
20 1 4 AFSA MER I T AWARDS—
BEST ESSAY WI NNER
I have always lived in a safe
place. In Vermont, I enjoyed a
nearly Rockwellian childhood.
We never locked our house,
knew our neighbors, had rou-
tines, close family and shared
a common culture with the
community. Life was simple
and I never worried about
my safety. A world of vio-
lence, robberies and terrorist
attacks happened on TV, in
books and articles. Then I
moved to Nairobi. My most
memorable Foreign Service
experience was the loss of
that innocence.
My mom had recently
joined the Foreign Service
and I had to change schools
in my senior year and relo-
cate to Africa. My senior
plans, which had included
concerts, friends, extracur-
ricular activities and a care-
fully selected class schedule,
were abandoned. Instead,
I was moving to a place
nicknamed “Nairobbery”
and sent to a class called
“Security Overseas,” where I
was taught what to do if I was
kidnapped, held at gun-point
or evacuated. While the class
was interesting, I thought it
was fairly useless informa-
tion.
I arrived in Nairobi and
found my life was quickly
similar to Vermont. I made
friends, ran track, and had
good classes. Nairobi didn’t
seem that different from
other places, but on Septem-
ber 23rd, that all changed.
Al-Shabaab attacked
the Westgate Mall, a place
where I went to see movies
and sipped coffee with my
friends. A girl from my school
was killed and one of my
track teammates sustained
a gunshot wound. The siege
dragged on for days and we
feared there would be more
attacks. The community
was devastated by the hor-
rific losses and the fear was
paralyzing.
This event changed me
almost instantly. Immedi-
ately, I began to draw on my
“Security Overseas” [Semi-
nar] I had dismissed just two
months earlier. When I walk
into a restaurant, I assess the
best escape routes and try to
sit with a view to the door. I
time my outings so I’m not
in crowded places during
peak times. I observe my
surroundings closely, to pick
up on anomalies quickly and
assess if they are dangerous.
I am a far cry from the teen
I would have been, had we
stayed in Vermont.
The Westgate Mall terror-
ist attack was terrible, but it
is also my most memorable
Foreign Service experience in
positive ways. After resenting
my mother for moving me in
my senior year, I witnessed
first-hand how important
her work is, as she and her
colleagues spent hours in
hospitals and morgues to
make things easier for Ameri-
cans in devastating situa-
tions. I became inspired by
the Kenyans’ response to the
attack, as they descended on
hospitals to give blood for the
injured, just a few miles from
the ongoing siege. People
had the choice to hunker
down in fear or to rally and
meet the challenge. Witness-
ing the response to Westgate
has shaped who I am.
n
Natalie
Lewis-Vass is
the daughter
of Valerie Vass
(State) and
Matthew Con-
ger. She graduated from the
International School of Kenya
in Nairobi, and is attending
the University of Massachu-
setts-Amherst with an unde-
clared major in the fall.
ÁSGEIRSIGFÚSSON
From left, Merit Award winner Olivia Sullivan, Representative Christopher Van Hollen (D-Md.), AFSA Scholarship
Director Lori Dec, AFSA President Robert Silverman and AFSA Scholarship Committee Chair Ambassador Lange
Schermerhorn in conversation following the merit award ceremony.
1...,50,51,52,53,54,55,56,57,58,59 61,62,63,64,65,66,67,68,69,70,...84
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