I had a chat with Jasvir Kambo and I’m going to let you get goosebumps the way I did too. Keep your tissues ready. My tears spilled over.
Give a brief introduction of yourself.
My parents moved back to Kenya from the UK in the 70’s. I am the second eldest out of four sisters. I was raised and educated in Nairobi. I returned to the UK in 1997. Although I studied Art in high school it was never a field I intended to pursue further. Painting is more of a hobby than something I do professionally. Though I am often encouraged by my family and friends to pursue my hobby and share it with anyone with a similar passion.
When did you first hear of what was going on at Westgate?
The first thing I always do I’m sure like most of us, is check the latest newsfeed on Facebook.. On the morning of that dreaded day while scrolling through the newsfeed I read an update where someone was alerting people about a possible robbery and shooting at Westgate. They said to stay away as there was a lot of gunshots heard. I read this update at 10am UK time. Honestly at that point I thought nothing of it, as anyone else living in peaceful Kenya would never in their wildest dreams think it’s a terrorist attack that was going to lead to such a huge loss.
What was your first reaction?
It became evident at 2 PM that this was not an armed robbery. I received the first image of an innocent child who was taking part in the cooking competition. My heart sank, I could not believe it! I was cold, and numb. I was angry at why someone would send me that image, thoughts of me sitting on that floor were running through my head. As I was sat at that very spot in the upstairs parking as odd as it may sound painting my nails on my last visit to Nbo in Feb this year.
You have family in Nairobi. Whom did you get in touch with first?
The very first person I contacted was a very close friend Savraj Chada. He told me that all this was real it was unbelievable, everyone was in shock. He also told me that Pavraj and his grandmother lost their lives. On one of the Facebook comments I was even more shocked to read that, Kamal Kaur who I’ve known since I was in primary school was hosting the cooking competition and was caught up in the attack. I instantly contacted her sister Baldeep in the hope that she would put my mind to rest. Baldeep confirmed that Kamal was okay and managed to find safety in time, however her children were hurt. It was all too much to take in.
You followed the news and were obviously touched and pained by what was happening. Exactly what inspired you to pick your brush and paint?
I stared at that image of the soldier with the baby for hours, and I said to myself, this image is so powerful. The soldier with both the baby and a gun. I was speechless at how gracefully the soldier held both. The baby so oblivious of what was going on, and the soldier carried the baby with such confidence, yet you can see the apprehensive look in his eyes. It only portrayed that Kenya is not about race, colour, blood type status, or religion. It’s about Love and Unity.
Why was it this particular image?
This image captured the moment of the attack, the suffering, the will to break through and survive. Most importantly it reflects humanity.
How long did it take you to do it?
I started the painting on Friday the 27th September and completed it fully on Monday 30th September.
What were you thinking of while doing it? Exactly what was running through your head?
While I painted, the news was on in the background 24/7. Switching between channels CNN, SKY news, & The BBC. I also followed KTN, NTV, and Citizen TV streaming live all day. My attention was divided between the two. I could hear the gun shots over and over, while I painted. My mind visualized myself standing in the Mabuyu aisle in Nakumatt, because that is my most favourite aisle. I was constantly thinking of all the children on the roof top, and I was extremely disturbed by what every single person went through that day.
Where is the painting now and what do you intend to do with it?
The painting is at home with me, it’s an expression that will always stay very close to my heart. I’ve not really thought of where I’d like to see the painting. Any thoughts are welcome.
Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
Kenya is a beautiful country, peaceful and loving people, I pray to God that he gives everyone the strength to overcome this tragedy. May the souls of our loved ones find eternal peace. Only God can judge us. We should not point fingers at religion, this will not bring back those we have lost. God Bless Kenya!