Switching lunch tables may have saved Bendita Malakia’s life.
An American lawyer working for the World Bank in Kenya, Malakia was eating lunch in Nairobi’s Westgate mall Saturday afternoon when heavily armed militants stormed the shopping center, engulfing patrons in a hail of gunfire. In an interview with NBC News, Malakia describes how she managed to survive the attack and how she escaped after spending five hours huddled in a shop’s back room.
Malakia told NBC that the lunch started off typically enough. She met a colleague, and the pair decided to move from one table to a different table. Then the assault began.
“We’re chatting, and then all of a sudden there’s this explosion,” Malakia told NBC News after returning to the U.S. on Tuesday. “The gentleman who had taken my [old] seat must have gotten shot immediately because he was basically on the floor, on the ground, like dead right next to the chair that I was sitting in.”
As the attack continued, Malakia said she sought refuge in the employee break room of a home goods store in the mall, according to NBC. As she and around a dozen others hid, they could hear gunfire and screaming coming from the floor above them. Amid the chaos, she used someone else’s phone to send a text message to her dad.
“It was terrifying, we all had a very real sense that we were going to die,” Malakia said.