Three Years Later…

Hours later I would find myself hiding in a bathroom stall for 4 hours along with several other people, wondering whether or not this was the end of my life.

Three years ago today I woke up ready to practice yoga and take part in my afternoon jazz dance class. It was an exciting day. I was invited to the set of a television show to make a guest celebrity appearance.

Hours later I would find myself hiding in a bathroom stall for 4 hours along with several other people, wondering whether or not this was the end of my life. All of the points of those hours in Westgate have been recounted again and again in numerous interviews. One can google them if they like. Some items that did not make it into the interviews that I think of every now and again that I’d like to share here:

1. Being close to death didn’t make me nicer

As I walked into Westgate the female askari (guard) checked my bags and waved her [magic] wand over my head. I’ve always felt this to be a useless exercise for a number of reasons and rolled my eyes as this weak display of a security attempt took place.

Later on, while gunshots hailed outside the bathroom door, I heard painful wailing in the stall next to me. As I peered over the stall I recognized this same askari holding her wand over her head while crouching and shuddering. “How is it that you were outside checking my bags with that wand and now here you are crouching and crying like a baby? You couldn’t help anyone with that thing!” I shouted over the bathroom stall while standing on top of the toilet. I was there because I was trying to see if I could crawl up into the bathroom ceiling to hide in case the terrorists came into the bathroom shooting. Nevertheless, I wasn’t nicer than usual in this situation.

As I peered over the bathroom stall I recognized the same askari holding her wand over her head while crouching and wailing loudly.

2. My children gave me inspiration
Crouching in a bathroom for four hours listening to raining bullets gives someone a lot of time to think. My thoughts swayed back and forth between huge courageous to thoughts of hopelessness. What gave me the energy to know that I had to survive was my children. The thought of not being around to raise my children or someone else raising my children was not a good picture in my head. I knew that I had to get out of there somehow, for them. This was three years ago. I had no idea at that point that I would have another child who grasps for every moment in life like a magical moment. When I was envisioning my children to be able to get out of Westgate I had no idea that if I made it out, another little one would come into our family. Rainn is our miracle baby for more than one reason.

3. Interviews are a great distraction from trauma healing
My father is Bermudian and my mother is Canadian. I was born and raised in Bermuda and would visit my Canadian family every year. My Canadian heritage hails all the way back from freed enslaved Blacks who fought with the British, against the war for Independence and were given land in Canada as a reward.

Where they were given land was right on the doorstep of three First Nation Tribes. Needless to say, my family history is colourful. Literally.

So when the attack happened, Bermudian and Canadian newspapers wanted interviews from me. For about a week and a half, I recounted my ordeal like a well-rehearsed play. Each time feeling more and more detached from the actual happenings.

Then suddenly, everything came to a crashing halt. There were no more interviews. Other happenings in the world took precedence over those of us who had survived Westgate. It was time to face the reality of what really happened, which meant time for self-care and self-healing. It was time to remove the distractions so that I could begin to truly live again.

And so my life continues…and other perils of being a mom, teacher and performer

“It was because of his interest that we decided to include a drone in the music video project”

Until I got pregnant most of my fans didn’t know I had kids let alone was married. My life as dancer/dance judge/mom/principal/author/singer were separated neatly into their own life segments-never the six should meet. Each life segment had its own character that took on a life of its own.

For instance, once my family and I were out at a restaurant where there was live entertainment. The main singer asked me if I wanted to perform. I hesitated and started making excuses as to why I couldn’t. Hubby quickly quirked; “She gets shy sometimes but just push her.” There was a moment of silence where the singer looked at me oddly, a bit confused and then walked away. “She doesn’t know what you’re talking about, ” I said. “She knows Judge Joanne. Judge Joanne is never shy.” And so life continued.

“She knows Judge Joanne. Judge Joanne is never shy.”

Until more recently I discovered that all the unique parts of me could combine into something special if I let it happen naturally. It was around that time that I had started going back to the studio to record. Of course with the baby it was a whole event-baby food, diapers, changes of clothes, toys, blankets etc. all the way to Embakasi. Every so often we’d pause the session so that I could nurse. And so life continued.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-12-01-07-pm

My second son, Zahari is 9. He’s kind of a Science genius. At the moment he’s into studying drones. It was because of his interest that we decided to include a drone in the music video project for “Don’t Disturb My Dance”. On the day of the shoot, he was elated when he saw the guy with the drone show up. “It’s a Phantom 2 DJI! He shouted. He’s not a dancer but his input spanned way before the day of the shoot. The hours of looking for the correct drone, researching drone shots online and how long they could remain in the air during the shoot were his input and research. This intrigued him for hours.

Yeshai, the 10-year-old, has lately taken an interest in dance. One day I saw him dancing during his weekly hip hop class and said, “Your dancing looks boring. If you want to dance, dance but if you’re going to do it halfway then do something else, like accounting (Judge Jo-1 style)”. Some parents may say that I was mean, but it seemed like from that day the lights came on and he started dancing with passion.

“Your dancing looks boring. If you want to dance, dance but if you’re going to do it halfway then do something else…”

So it was no surprise when he wanted to come along for our dance practices in preparation for the music video. He practiced with us and learned may of the choreography parts. You can see him dancing freely on the music video in his school shirt. We had been up since 4:00am. It was now 10:30am and the family had arrived to join me on the set of “Don’t Disturb My Dance.” Once they arrived the baby wanted to nurse. I’ve dubbed myself “the milk lady” since that’s how Rainn looks at me whenever he sees me. So on set, I was moving between performer to to dancer to mom. And once several of our school students arrived I also became Ms. BB (what the students call me). I felt a wave of exhaustion coming over me and I knew that we still had a long day ahead.

dsc_0009

One of my parents told me that when they were trying to locate us in the taxi they told the taxi driver that they were looking for their principal. One of the kids spotted us a few meters down the street dancing to, “I don’t care what they say about me. If you don’t care what they say about you…” I’m told that the taxi driver kept driving saying, “No that can’t be the principal.” And so my life continues.

Before the music video, my kids asked me questions like, “Why can’t you just record the song on your phone and post it onto YouTube? Why does it have to take so long?” Well, they got to see the editing process firsthand and even spoke with the editors about what they were doing in real time.

Is my life nuts sometimes? You have no idea. And pretty awesome too. And I’m happy to make moments like these learning moments for my children. Because learning in real time is always the best time.

 

Check the video out here >