France and Italy, 17th -23rd March, 2017

(As usual, I don’t have the time to edit my posts so I apologize in advance for any errors, grammatical or otherwise.)

I finally got a chance to go Europe, or to one country in particular, France. Just like the trip I took last year to Toronto, I was was going to Nice to present at an academic & industry conference. Here is a link to the paper on which my presentation was based. Graduate studies in Kenya and Japan differ in many ways, but that is a post for another day. I just wanted to mention that publications play an important part in your research life as a student here and actually count towards informal graduation requirements.

Anyway, the visa application process was a bitch, as always . Ok, I will admit, the process itself isn’t so bad; except for the fact that Jeremy and I had to both apply in person, which meant a bullet-train trip from Komatsu to Tokyo Station followed by a navigation of the subway during rush hour with a 3 year old, on a cold wintry morning! I really asked myself if it was worth it after Jeremy had an epic meltdown in a convenience store, but we got through it and we got our Schengen visas two weeks later in the passports in the mailbox. It was a way much cheaper and simpler process than the Canadian one, where the agency took my money and refused to give Jeremy a visa anyway after asking for way too much information. At least this time, we got to travel together!

So the day finally arrived when we took a flight from Kansai to Dubai, and then from Dubai directly to Nice. No Paris stopover. A tight schedule meant we didn’t get a chance to visit Paris so that will have to be another time.

Nice is beautiful. Set upon the hillsides on the South of France along the Mediterranean coast, it boasts over 300 days a year. For comparison, in Ishikawa where I live in Japan, we get 160 days, and Nairobi gets about 288 (yes, even less than Nice!). (This is for you who think the whole of Africa is a sweltering jungle).

A view of the Port of Nice from Castle Hill

A view of the Port of Nice from Castle Hill

Here was my itinerary for the 6 days:

Day 1 – Saturday, March 18th

We arrived at noon and basically spent the rest of the day and night at the hotel recovering from the long journey and adjusting to the 7 hour difference. Woke up at 5am the following day hungry and had to wait until 6:30am when the hotel began serving breakfast. However, the concierge was kind enough to offer J a glass of milk and a croissant while we waited.

At the hotel on St. Laurent Du Var

At the hotel on St. Laurent Du Var

Day 2 – Sunday, March 19th: Beach and Park

Walked the along the St. Laurent Du Var beach. Jeremy joined some two kids who were playing along the beach. He is usually friendly and fearless, believing every boy or girl to be his friend. They played happily for about an hour. It was quite confusing for him though because he was trying to speak English to them and when they didn’t understand, he tried Japanese. It didn’t stop them from enjoying themselves though. Play is a universal language and children understand that better than us.

The little boy and the sea. St. Laurent Du Var Beach

The little boy and the sea.
St. Laurent Du Var Beach

After lunch at an Indian restaurant along the beach, we went back to the hotel for a rest, before getting a bus to Parc Phœnix.

Jeremy on a trampoline at Parc Phoenix

Jeremy on a trampoline at Parc Phoenix

Dinner was from the McDonald’s near the hotel, and we were done for the day.

I did manage to pass by  the conference venue to check it out and to register and get my badge. I was due to present on that Tuesday afternoon.

Day 3 – Monday, March 20th: Old Town

The individual rooms where the presentations were to take place were too small for a toddler..  I couldn’t sit at the back and try to get a thing or two from the presenters. So I spent the day on a a guided afternoon tour of Nice that I booked on tripadvisor. With a 3 year old, I couldn’t very well decide to walk or cycle and I hate the stress of driving in an unfamiliar city so the driven tour was really what I needed. I hit all the main places, driving along Promenade des Anglais, Old Town, Castle Hill, and the Roman Ruins and the park next to it. Jeremy slept in the van while I was at Old Town and Castle Hill.. and I was wondering if I should wake him up – a cruel thing to do to a child just so he can see what? It’s all meaningless to him at his age really. My tour guide offered to watch him, and I had to decide whether I could trust him to not um.. disappear with my child while I took in the sights and sounds for 30 minutes at Old Town and again for 20 minutes at the top of Castle Hill. In the end, I went with my gut, after taking a picture of the van’s registration. He was still sleeping peacefully when I got back.

Europe is obsessed with naked statues, no? Statue in the middle of Nice Old Town

Europe is obsessed with naked statues, no?
Statue in the middle of Nice Old Town

Where is everybody going? I always wonder.. At Nice Old Town

Where is everybody going? I always wonder..
At Nice Old Town

The view from Castle Hill

The view from Castle Hill

A view of Nice from Castle Hill

A view of Nice from Castle Hill

The Roman Ruins in Nice, France

The Roman Ruins in Nice, France

Day 4: Tuesday, March 21st: Conference

I had traveled to France with 2 other colleagues from my lab and our supervisor, who joined us a day later. I asked my colleague from Tanzania to stay in my hotel room with Jeremy while I dashed out for about 45 minutes to do my talk and answer questions. That, unfortunately, was the extent of my participation in that conference.

Ready for my presentation!

Ready for my presentation!

To keep Jeremy occupied, I spent that morning at the Cap 3000 shopping mall, mostly doing window shopping.

That night, we were all – 2 colleagues, Jeremy and I- treated to dinner by our supervisor at a fancy French restaurant by the beach. The food was so gooood… finally, a taste of France!

Sitting down for dinner by the seaside

Sitting down for dinner by the seaside. Well, Jeremy is already seated.

Some ordered a beef steak in carrot puree. I bet it was delicious too.

Some ordered a beef steak in carrot puree.
I bet it was delicious too.

I had the swordfish in radish puree as the main. Delicious.

I had the swordfish in radish puree as the main. Delicious.

Day 5: Wednesday, March 22nd: San Remo, Italy

I had a whole day free and decided to take the chance to go to Italy, just to cross the border and check off one more country on my travel list. I also plan to go and explore the rest of Italy someday. My friends chose to visit Monaco  – home the rich – on this day. Almost half of half of Nice Côte d’Azur Airport houses the private jets of the residents of Monaco, and I hear you find private jet dealerships as easily as you find Toyota dealerships in your town.

Anyway, Jeremy and I got on a train to San Remo, south of Italy. It is quite similar to Nice except it had way less people and seemed a little bit less cheerful. I think it was off season for the town; maybe has been for a while. I hear it used to be quite the gambling city. We walked to the beach, pausing to admire Villa Ormond and Gardens. When we got to the beach, Jeremy played in the park for a while with the kids. We then rented bikes and cycled along the beach; there is a really wide cycling lane, had lunch and caught the afternoon train back to Nice.

Enjoying rides in the park at San Remo

Enjoying rides in the park at San Remo

Lunch on the San Remo Promenade

Cycling along the San Remo Promenade

Lunch on the San Remo Promenade

Lunch on the San Remo Promenade

The cycling lane along on the San Remo Promenade

The cycling lane along on the San Remo Promenade

I am sure there is much more to see and do in the summer in San Remo, both day and night.

As you have noticed, I spent most of my trip taking part in activities and going to places where both J and I could enjoy ourselves. It was a good trip and we both had fun on the short break away from our daily routines in Japan.

While watching Jeremy as he played in the park, along came the first friendly (as in we actually spoke) black face I was to encounter. He told me he was a Nigerian and his name, Godspower! He seemed to be in a hurry though and his phone was quite busy, which he answered in rapid Italian. He said he was looking for a job and I wished him well! Aluta continua.

Day 6: Thursday, March 23rd: Return Flight

All too soon, it was time to head to the airport. We shared an Uber to the airport for our 2pm flight from Nice. Had a smooth journey back. Jeremy has already done 3 long haul flights (Kenya to Japan in 2015, then back to Kenya and back for holiday ins 2016) so he is a pro now. He also knows how to charm the air hostesses now that he can speak, and he speaks a lot! The only problem was when he slept while in transit and I had to figure out a way to carry him from the airplane, into the buses to and from the boarding gates, and the long walks between terminals when I couldn’t find a stroller. Otherwise, I am already looking forward to our next travel adventure!

We got to board first because well, Jeremy is a child

We got to board first because well, Jeremy is a child

 

 

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My Hair Journey Since Coming to Japan

(As usual, I don’t have the time to edit my posts so I apologize in advance for any errors, grammatical or otherwise.)

Well, there are no salons that can handle black hair in my part of Japan.

The only thing they do in those salons, I think, is dye, wash and style. Braids? What are those.. treatment, relaxer? Never been heard of. The Japanese have the straightest hair I have ever seen. Digressing a litte. Speaking of which, why the hell do they have Scarlett Johansson doing a shampoo ad in Japan? In a nation of 128 million people, there isn’t a single, long, straight- haired actress who could do it?

When I first arrived in October, 2014, I had freshly retouched hair. It acquired growth and I had a friend retouch it for me at home. I had brought over some Beautiful Beginnings hair relaxer. My hair fell out in droves at that time and again the second time I retouched while in Japan. It doesn’t help that I bleached it blonde in order to dye it.

I am a princess, welcome to my castle ☺

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Bored with the same hairstyle for months, I decided to “express myself”. As a foreign student in Japan, I can wear my hair or dye it in any style and no one would be bothered. If they are, they sure are keeping it to themselves!

So I decided to dye my hair purple. I thought that it would look good and it did! But first, I had to bleach it blonde so that purple would “shika”.

I was blonde for 2 weeks during the hanami season of 2015.

Who says I can't be a bleached blonde 🙂

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Enjoying the spring flowers:

Immersing myself into the full #hanami experience

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I ordered Manic Panic Purple Hair Dye from amazon.co.jp and it arrived on my doorstep 2 days later. I haven’t signed up for Amazon Prime yet.

Is it purple? Lavendar? Violet? Indigo? Who cares, I love the new colour!

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It still looked great even after a few washes. Manic Panic dyes are organic and semi-permanent so they do fade out, eventually.

tateyama

With my friend Akiko-chan at Mount Tateyama in April, 2015. In the background are Shu Shu and Aidah, who photobombed our selfie! Boy, was it cold up there.

Eventually, the purple faded and feeling adventurous, I tried blue 4 months later. It didn’t “shika” so well but I rocked it anyway.

#notAWig #rockstar 😛

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That’s the summer that my friends and I decided to walk to some waterfall on Tedori River all the way from Tsurugi, the local town. We weren’t even sure what the distance was, ended up lost in some village and a kind Japanese family gave us a ride to the waterfall. We later took the bus on the way back.

tedori river waterfall

Enjoying the cooling effect of the Tedori river waterfall on a humid summer day, August, 2015.

That September, I went home to Kenya for a month and got neatly done braids.

Hairstyle change #braids #sleepingUprightTonight

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Fast forward to October, 2015.

I came back to Japan with Jeremy, and tried to make the braids last for some months. They lasted 2 months! One night, after Jeremy had gone to bed, I sat on the sitting room floor and started to take off the braids, one by one. I was so tired because Jeremy was adjusting to life in Japan and it took a physical toll on both of us. I was also taking 2 classes, having officially begun my PhD. This means I had reports and assignments to do, not forgetting weekly PhD meetings to attend where once or twice a month I had to present my progress. I realized I would never finish taking off the braids and still get anything else done.

I got a pair of scissors and taking each braid by turn, cut it off with my hair still intertwined in it. That’s how the “big chop” happened.

I begun to enjoy nurturing my hair and styling it myself.

Mohawk by cornrows. Learning to style my own hair!

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I guess the urge to “express myself” didn’t go away and once more, I bleached my natural hair and dyed it green.

September, 2016. Near Kanazawa Station.

Spotting green hair on September, 2016. Near Kanazawa Station.

 

My Kenyan friends also helped me style it from time to time.

Black and green braids to match the hair. In Tsurugi town, October, 2016.

Black and green braids to match the hair. In Tsurugi town, October, 2016.

The green started to fade, and the hair started to get unruly.

Unable to tame the mane #teamNatural

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The green had faded away completely by the time I went to Kenya in December, 2016 for Christmas holidays. I finally had someone else wash and blow dry my hair, such luxury. The hair is permanently bleached blonde so it is going to take me some time (years) to grow it out (to a length where I can cut comfortably off the blonde).

My hair blow dried and fluttering in the Utawala breeze. Nairobi, Dec, 2016

My hair blow dried and fluttering in the Utawala breeze. Nairobi, Dec, 2016

I of course, got braids done when I was coming back to Japan. Braids are so convenient because you just get up in the morning and just go. There is no need even for a mirror check. I got crotchet braids that are so easy to take out, it didn’t even take me an hour. Well, maybe it did take an hour. Or two. But the point is, I could take them out by myself in finite time. And I can re-use them

I did DIY crotchet braids for my trip to France in March, 2016. Here is how I looked looked. It wasn’t a very tidy job but I think I did a passable job (I used this Youtube tutorial) and not many people in Japan can tell a good black hairdo from a bad one anyway ! They mostly thought it was so cool. かっこいいとよく聞こえた!Only

With Jeremy at the beach near St. Laurent Du Var, Nice. March, 2017.

With Jeremy at the beach near St. Laurent Du Var, Nice. March, 2017.

Eventually, I decided for myself that really, the braids had served their time and undid them. I have just ordered crotchet faux locks (I know, sounds like Greek) from a very enterprising black (I assume) girl in Japan.

In the meantime, I am letting my hair run wild. Wild, I tell you.

Slowly getting there..

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I can’t find a strong enough blow drier so for a length check, I pulled on a strand of hair with my finger in front of a mirror and took a selfie. This is the current length after about a year.

Is this my #truehair length? (To friends who wonder why my hair never grows!)

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Is this a hair journey that I am on? I don’t know. Obviously, my looks are a large part of who I am, of my identity. I really want to have long, thick, hair. But in spite of a whole post dedicated to my hair, I really don’t obsess much about it and I am trying to just let it be. I am glad for the tons of information and support groups online for naturalistas. Thank you, curly sisters!

But my main focus right now is of course, getting that PhD. Countdown, 17 months. Tic toc.

Meanwhile, see below my hair goals. It will probably take me a decade! T-9 years left.

hairgoals

This is a blogger, but I can’t recall her Youtube channel at the moment. Will update when I do.

 

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13th April – A Day in My Busy Life

So it turns out the last post is no longer the last post!

I was inspired the other day and typed out the post below on facebook a few days ago. On 13th April to be exact. I never have time to edit my work so if there are any grammatical or spelling errors, pardon me.

My diary today:

7:05 – 7:40 – Struggle to wake up. Snooze the alarm multiple times. Finally manage to get out of bed when I realize that I’m going be late for my part time job and Jeremy is going to be late for school too.

7:40 – 8:30 – Wash. Brush. Rush. Pack bags. Quick breakfast. Pile dishes in the sink. Convince Jeremy that the car is better because we have already missed the bus.

8:30 – 9:00 – Leave Jeremy to walk himself to class. Rush to work. Turn phone to vibration mode for any emergency calls from the kindergarten.

9:00 -13:00 – Work is done. Starving. But I need to get to the Ishikawa Driving Center before reception closes at 14:00 and that is a 45 minute drive.

13:00 – 13:45 – Eat lunch in the car, making the most of the several traffic light stops along route 8. Enjoy the sunshine, sandwich, onigiri and caramel latte. Pull on the straw until the last drop is out. Realize I forgot to get a spoon from then convenice store for my dessert. Pull out the straw and try to use it on the pudding. It’s not working. Give up and turn up the volume on the CD, singing along to Regina Spekter’s “Better”. Remember Alicia, the protagonist in The Good Wife. Wish I could be like her: beautiful, strong, resilient. Still looking great at 45+. Having a great romance. Glance at dashboard, I can make it with 10 minutes to spare.

13:45 – 14:00 – Reception. Give up old card. Have my photo taken for new one. Go the room where the 2 hour mandatory lecture will be given. Get a seat near the center of the room and finally, take a breath.

14:00 – 14:10 – Check phone for any emergency messages. No important school emails at the moment. Some friends asking on WhatsApp if “I’m thaaat busy.” No time to reply as the retired police officer (I assume) begins his lecture in rapid Japanese.

14:10 – 14: 15:10 – Lecture continues in rapid Japanese. We watch a video on the important things to pay attention to to ensure safe driving. We get a 10 minute break. Bathroom. Get a giant can of Calpis from the vending machines downstairs.

15:20 – 16:10 – He asks us if we want to watch a drama on road safety or a dashboard video collage of accidents. 4 people vote for the crash videos, the rest of us who are about 15 or so choose the drama. It is basically a brief Japanese version of Manchester by the Sea, where a guy who has never ignored a stop sign but the one time he does, he knocks over a biker. His life then collapses.. quits work, is losing his family and a lot of sadness ensues.

16:10 – 16: 20 Our names are called out and I finally get my renewed license, for another 3 years, until 2020. I immediately rush to my car and Instagram it. It accidentally goes to “My Story”. I spend almost 10 minutes trying to delete it so it can just appear in my normal timeline instead. I have never joined Snapchat and I am not about to join the going-live and My-story bandwagon.

DL renewed, now I have a blue stripe, an upgrade from the green one. あともう少しでゴルド免許かな~

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16:20 – 17:20 Realize I am going to be late for Jeremy’s 5pm pick up. Stop at a convenience store to ask for a dessert spoon anyway. Hey, I have to feed myself if I am to take care of my son properly. The dessert has melted a little in the afternoon sun but it still good to go, especially during the traffic stops on the 45 minute. I am now listening to some hip hop and singing along to ♫ “it’s been a looooong time without you my friend, oh I will tell you about it when I see you again.”♫ I think of my friends back in Kenya, I miss them. The afternoon sun is shining. The sakura trees are blossoming. The spotless country is looking even shinier today. As I turn the corner to the kindergarten, Nelly Furtado’s (feat Timbaland) Promiscuous Girl is on. ♫ “I can see you with my t-shirt on, he says. I can see you with nothing on, she replies.” ♫ Now I’m thinking back on the GQ article I read about Nelly’s hiatus and subsequent comeback. She wrote one of the songs near Mombasa –http://www.gq.com/story/nelly-furtado-the-ride. I think about how when I finish this PhD, I will go to Zanzibar and soak in the sun for a month. As I arrive at the nursery, I turn down the volume in the car, I don’t think kids should have to even catch a glimpse of the lyrics to the Promiscuous song. They wouldn’t understand it I know, but it is the principle of the thing.

17:30 – 18: 30 – Jeremy wants to go the community center (児童館) to play with the other kids. I distract him with his latest obsession, the very hungry caterpillar, Japanese version. (はらぺこのアオムシ). Before he realizes it, we are home. Where I am confronted with dishes from the previous night, and a very hungry pair of tummies – me and J. I quickly prepare Japanese beef curry and do the dishes as it simmers.

18:30 – 20: 00 – Dinner. Feel inspired to type out this post. After this, it will be shower & bedtime story for J. Hopefully, he will be asleep by 21:00

21:00 – 23:00 – I will finally have time to check all social media messages I received during the day. Might check and reply to some emails too. Maybe I will write a paragraph for my next paper. I should probably read some chapters of the XML textbook I got from the library. Maybe study a little Japanese. Plan for tomorrow, get everything ready.. Or screw everything and just watch two episodes of The 100, which has a lot of fake science but lots of female lead characters. The writing has gotten better too, I am now in Season 3.

00:00 Hopefully, I will be asleep by then. Dreaming that I have bought a BMW, like that previous dream. Otherwise if I am still struggling with sleep, then I’ll be a zombie tomorrow because my day is likely to start with the alarm going off at 7:05, after which a struggle to get out of bed will surely ensue.

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Last Post on this Blog

This is the last post on this blog.

hands_typing.png

Three important things happened over the last four years that have made it impossible for me to continue blogging, let alone at the steady pace with which I had earlier blogged. It all boils down to time though. I had never realized how much time was spent writing a blogpost, from the point of inspiration, to the composition of the post in my head, to finally writing and fine-tuning the piece until it was funny and interesting and entertaining to whoever was reading it.

The first thing is that I became a mother over 3 years ago. And it changed me, profoundly. It changed my outlook in life (I know ,I know, everyone who has had kids is supposed to says this) and I had to reevaluate what was important to me. Goes without saying family is the most important thing in life. It became a lot harder to share my life and experiences with the public after that. There are many mothers and fathers who continue blogging after their kids are born, and maybe even the kids are the inspiration behind their current writing.

The second thing is starting my PhD. Any spare time that is not occupied by my child is taken over by my worry over the quality and quantity of the work I am doing. Worries over whether it will be worth a PhD, and whether I can complete in time.

Thirdly, I moved to a foreign country. It has taken me 2 years to finally settle down and feel at home in Japan. It is a whole different world, the culture is totally alien to a Kenyan like me. The language was new and I had to start learning it from scratch. Whatever free time I get now, which is not much, I keep trying to improve my grasp of the language – written and spoken.

This is a defining moment in my life as I enter the final year of my 20’s. When I say I am busy, I really mean it. Between single-handedly raising an energetic boy (who is 3 going on 4) in a foreign country while doing my PhD at the same time, I barely have time left to breathe.

I don’t read as much. And reading was a big part of my writing. I read other people’s blogs and got inspired to write mine as well. I read books and was inspired by the adventures in them. I could close my eyes and daydream but I am currently stuck in reality. Luckily, it is an exciting reality.

I will be deleting this blog but I’m keeping the domain, for who knows what next. Fear not, all old posts are archived on this blog. There are 6 years’ worth of posts (2011-2016), from the initial posts about graduating with a first class honours bachelor’s degree, to traveling to Rwanda and meeting President Kagame, to the Bob Collymore lunch where he replaced my stolen Ideos, to the Safaricom Academy in Strathmore university where I did my masters’, to the AFC and Harambee Stars football matches that I attended , to Jeremy’s birth, to the Japanese government scholarship and subsequent maiden international flight, to dealing with visas to countries like Canada and lots of local travel in Japan. It has been quite the ride.

I have been a campus blogger, a tech blogger, a travel blogger, a lifestyle blogger, a football blogger, a book reviewer and everything in between.

But it’s time to say goodbye to this blog.

I may take up blogging again in the future, but I don’t when and in what form.

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From Tokyo to Toronto.. and Back.

First of all, that title is misleading as it implies that I live in Tokyo. I actually live in Nomi City, a small town of 47,000 residents. Which is very far from Tokyo.

Nomi City, Ishikawa, Japan

Nomi City, Ishikawa, Japan

The Canadians I met in Toronto were actually quite friendly; an opposite face to the coldness with which one is treated when applying for a visa to go there. They didn’t like the idea of Jeremy (my 3 year old son) going with me to the conference which I was attending, so I had to leave him behind to fend for himself in our university apartment. He’s a big boy now, after all, how hard is it to look after oneself? We spoke on Skype each night and he proudly told me he never once missed the school bus.

So let’s talk about Toronto. I was in the city from July 17th to July 23rd. Being 13 hours behind Tokyo , the time zone was totally reversed; day was night and night was day. We hardly had enough time to adjust before we were again on a plane hurtling through the sky back to Tokyo.

Sunday 17th – Day 1: The Handsome Beggar and Pigeon Droppings
From Toronto Pearson International Airport, we got into a cab driven by a sullen Indian who told me not to touch his dashboard. I was riding shotgun because the 3 of us – PhD supervisor, fellow lab member and myself – shared a cab to the hotel we were staying at.

The guy I saw looked close to this, I swear.

The guy I saw looked close to this, I swear.

While we sat in traffic as we entered downtown, I spotted this 20-something, shirtless, handsome guy whose upper arms were covered in tattoos walking towards us. Now in rural Japan, there aren’t many of those around. By “those” I mean tall, tanned and walking shirtless kind of men. Okay, I admit it. The thirst is real.

Thirst is real people.

Thirst is real people.

So this guy was walking towards our cab, and I’m just sitting there enjoying the view. And then two cars ahead, he takes off his baseball cap, turns it upside down and starts begging for change. I’m still not over the (culture)shock. Most beggars in Nairobi pretend to have some sort of disability and/or sickness. If you’re young and fit, people will tell you to go get a job. There are literally no beggars in the city I live in although I have seen some homeless people in Tokyo and Osaka who are mostly old, haggard men.

The traffic opened up and the handsome beggar was lost in the rear-view mirror. I didn’t give him any change – I’m sorry but there must be some irony in an African giving a donation to a Canadian; money that I could guess was going to go into drug use. Okay, I shall stop being judgmental here.

We arrived at the hotel on 22 Spadina Avenue; the pigeons fluttering around in the afternoon heat leaving droppings on the street that were augmented by litter – cigarette butts, chewing gum wrappers, that sort of thing. After staying in Japan continuously close to a year, I was “shocked” by the dirty street. Japan is literally spotless. Everywhere. And Nairobi CBD? It’s actually clean. Well, West of Moi Avenue is cleaner than that street. But after two days I stopped noticing.

Don’t even get me started on the McDonalds two blocks from the hotel where we had our dinner. Some drinks had spilled on the floor just near the entrance and remained un-mopped the entire time we were there. The tables were also littered and not a clean table was to be found anywhere. I missed Japan that first night.

Monday 18th – Day 2: Savvy The Tourist and Metropolitan Toronto

We roamed Toronto to see the sights – including Toronto University and Center Island, and the people. There were Africans, Indians, Chinese, Arabs, Koreans, Japanese, Whites, Caribbeans… and they were all probably of Canadian nationality as well. It was nice to just blend in. To be a part of the crowd. To be assumed to belong. No stares, no curious looks from children. No one asking to take a photo of you or if they can touch your hair. Being black in Japan is like being a minor celebrity.

A view of Toronto while on the ferry from Center Island

A view of Toronto while on the ferry from Center Island. Click to see larger size.

Tuesday 19th – Day 3: Niagara Falls

Who goes to Toronto and doesn’t visit Niagara Falls? It was the third day straight that I was on a diet of sandwich/burger/wrap, fries and soda. The trip to Niagra is about 2 hours by bus. The view was totally worth it. We also got onto a boat in order to see the falls up close but all you get is a ton of water sprayed in your face. Being summer, it was fun because you know, the cooling effect!

The calm before the plunge..

A photo posted by Savvy Kenya (@savvykenya) on Jul 20, 2016 at 3:01am PDT

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We also attended an opening session of the conference, listened to the keynote speech after which we went for dinner. There was an open bar. Just lovely.

Wednesday 20 – Day 4: The Human-Computer Interaction International Conference

I attended a few sessions I was interested in, checked out the room where I was to do my presentation come that Friday. Ate a hotdog on the streets and spilled mustard on my shirt. I managed to get some of it out and hoped the rest wasn’t noticeable. In the evening,following google map directions, I went to an organic food store to buy some millet flour and ended up getting on the right train but wrong direction. Finally got back to the hotel, got McDonalds takeout and had dinner on my hotel room bed as I watched TV. Oh, what luxury. Before I went to sleep, I skyped with Jeremy who told me he was getting ready for school. He had just had his breakfast and was now preparing his lunch box. I wished him a good day as he told me to sleep well.

Thursday 21 – Day 5: The CN Tower

What’s a city without a tower or a tall building with an observatory? After the conference, we headed up the CN Tower. It was a long queue to get in, over an hour. But the queue is hidden from sight so you buy the ticket thinking it’s short but once you get in you can’t even see the head of the queue because it snakes into hidden nooks and crannies. The view was breathtaking. I couldn’t do the skywalk; every time I looked down I saw death. With just glass beneath me, it felt like it could give way any moment.

We went to the very top observatory, 446 meters. Dizzying heights. Those towers you see are over 66 floors high. Probably more.

Looking down on some of Toronto's tallest buildings.. #cntower

A photo posted by Savvy Kenya (@savvykenya) on Jul 21, 2016 at 3:39pm PDT

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Friday 22 – Day 6: The D-Day

My presentation was at 10:30am. I was nervous but I think I was mostly understood. I may have rushed towards the end, I only had 15 minutes! I got asked some questions and offered some suggestions, it means someone was listening to me!

To celebrate at lunch, I had fried chicken, fries and beer. Went back to the hotel room, packed and lay down for a nap and woke up at almost 6. Went out for dinner and checked out a few watering holes.

Saturday 23 – Day 7: The Fiasco at the Airport and Back to Tokyo

Well it wasn’t much of a fiasco. I forgot my passport at the checkin counter and was going through security when someone came to me and asked me if I had my passport. The kind lady behind me on the counter said she had noticed I was going to Tokyo so they found me at the gate queuing! How could I forget my passport? I think it’s because I was hungry; I hadn’t had breakfast and the queues were so long at the airport.

I was so glad to be back home. Home is where the heart is and Jeremy is my heart. The first thing he said when I came home was “mummy, you found me!”. “Yes, I’m here now and I will never lose you again”, I answered with tears in my eyes.

Posted in Canada, Japan, Travel | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

A Successful Guide to Visa Application to Rich Countries for the Hopeful African

For the last two months, I have been locked in an intense battle of wills with the Canadian Visa Processing Center officials (click link to see summary on Facebook). Previously, I have only traveled to Uganda and Rwanda, countries that are part of the East Africa Community so visas are not required for Kenyan citizens. When I came to Japan, I was (still am) under the Japanese government scholarship so the visa application process was a breeze.

In July, I have to go present an academic paper I wrote at a conference in Toronto, Canada. Having no family in Japan, I was planning on taking Jeremy along with me and took for granted I would get his visa as well as mine. They granted (grant is the right word for they are small lords with a lot of power to guard tightly the borders against unwanted individuals) me the visa and refused (their term) Jeremy. I fear 3 year old boys could cause crime or steal jobs over there. I tried to reapply so in total I made 4 applications and all 4 were rejected on grounds such as travel history (he is 3 years old and has already lived in 2 continents!), immigration status in Japan (should he have a working visa, he is 3!), purpose of travel (is he going to Canada to engage in work illegally perhaps), personal assets (unfortunately I don’t have a savings account in his name, neither does he have a trust fund), lack of proof of relationship, custody agreement, and birth certificate (finally, valid reasons for which I provided the documentation).. but I finally gave up. They won. Fear not, I found someone to look after him for the 1 week I will be gone, but I have learned a lot from that visa application process that I want to share that wisdom with other hopeful visa applicants.

Enjoy the flowchart. Click on it to open and then click again to make it a little bigger. Best viewed on a laptop, not phone. Apologies for typos, don’t have time to correct them.

For EACH question, provide NO LESS THAN 10 DOCUMENTS as proof, SIGNED, SEALED and AUTHENTICATED by the HIGHEST authority in the land. If any witnesses need to sign the documents, make sure they SIGN IN BLOOD. Then sprinkle the documents with a DRAGON’S TEARS to improve your chances of getting the visa.

By rich country, I mean the G7 – USA, Canada, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan as well as Scandinavian Europe, Switzerland, Russia, China, Singapore or any other country that considers itself rich. And everyone considers themselves richer than Africans.

If at the end of the flowchart your answer is FORGET ABOUT IT, take my advice and invest that money you were going to use in a lottery, trust me your chances of winning the lottery are higher than the chance you’ll get a visa. You will be happier too. If you had prepared any documents, take the documents and all your visa dreams, dig the deepest hole you possibly can – until the Earth’s core is fine – throw the documents and dreams in it, watch them melt away and go live your life happily in your third world country.

A Successful Guide to Visa Application

A Successful Guide to Visa Application

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I’m a Supermum!

Suppose I were to let someone take care of Jeremy for a week, I thought to myself, what instructions would I give the person? What’s my typical day like?

Jeremy usually wakes me up – yes, he’s my alarm – between 6 and 7am. Children and old people tend to be naturally early risers, at least from my experience. Like one time when I was in shagz (the village?) with my grandmother and got up “early” at 7:15am, only to find that she had already milked the cow, made tea, swept the house and even made chapatis. I don’t know if I’ll ever be an early riser but for me, 6-7am is already pretty early if you ask me!

He wakes me up by pulling at my ears, inserting fingers into my nose and poking my eyes, singing in my ears, sitting on my face, jumping on my sleeping form etc.Never has a better alarm been invented. So if you were to take care of Jeremy, you had better wake up earlier than him, or brave this morning assault.

As he is a 3 year old just weaned off diapers (sometimes on, mostly off), it is my duty after coming into (I’m deeply asleep in the early morning) to remind him to go to the toilet, wash his hands and dry them. Sometimes he goes by himself, mostly the excitement of a new day (!) makes him easily forget and he can have a dry mattress but after getting up, he will pause in his jumping up and down with this blank look on his face and you just know it’s coming. That’s when I will rush him to the toilet.. “no no Jeremy, to the toilet, to the toilet!”. I make it sound like it’s a call to war! You have to make these activities exciting so he looks forward to it every time.

In the two hours between 7am when we wake up and 9am when I drop him off at the nursery (daycare center/play school/preschool/baby class/all the above), I have to make him breakfast, feed him, dress him and myself as well. Usually, breakfast is a cup of brown uji (porridge) with a slice of bread and cheese. I don’t know how many of you can make smooth uji without lumps, it took me years of practice to get it right. And even then, sometimes it’s too thick or too thin. I then enrich the uji with some milk. When the temperature of the uji has cooled down enough for him to drink it, I hand it to him. While I make breakfast, he is usually preoccupied with driving his (toy) bus. I have to ensure he pauses long enough to finish his breakfast.

Cooking brown uji

Cooking brown uji

As he takes his breakfast, I prepare his school bag. Into the bag goes:

  • a clean hand-towel
  • his cup bag with a clean cup inside
  • his lunch bag with a dish of rice and spoon inside it. At the nursery they provide them with the meat and vegetable side dishes as well as fruits but rice, oh no way, how dare you suggest that! So I have to make sure to cook rice daily.
  • a change of clothes for the times when he soils the current ones. They always keep a change of clothes, at least one set, at the nursery. If he uses up the change of clothes, then I have to provide a new set the following day
  • his announcement book – not daily, just on the days when they have some message to send to parents
  • his attendance notebook – also includes a diary section where the teachers will tell me anything interesting that happened that day and I will also respond in kind. Things like did he eat, sleep and play well? Will he take the bus on the way back or will I be picking him up, and at what time? All this is in Japanese. My Japanese vocabulary concerning children has greatly improved. The notebook also includes a recording of his monthly weight and bi-monthly height checks. He gained 300gms over the past month.
  • any other items necessary or requested. Like on Mondays, his bag weighs tons because I will be returning a picture book that they lend us for the weekend, or his indoor shoes that needed cleaning over the weekend as well

He has taken breakfast, his bag is prepared, but now comes a challenge: making him wash his face and brush his teeth. Some days are easy, but on others I need to convince him why he shouldn’t leave the house with uji stains on his face. It helps that there are songs about “washing my face, brushing my teeth, etc”. I usually brush my teeth and wash my face at the same time too.

Next is the question of what to wear and what to dress Jeremy in. After I dress, I then have to beg, plead or do whatever it takes to coax him out of his pajamas. If he’s in a great mood – which is the usual case unless he hasn’t slept well – he just lets you change him right away. Otherwise I have to let him know people don’t go to school in pajamas, well, unless they are in college!

By now, I will be in panic mode as I look at the watch that will be saying it’s 8:30am. The distance from our apartment to the parking lot is normally a 2 minute walk and the nursery is just a 5 minute drive from the parking lot, but it will take us about 20 minutes. First, Jeremy has to decide which shoes to wear, and sometimes nothing will do except the yellow shoes. Then he has to carry his bus with him. When I finally drop him at the nursery, I have to wait until he has changed from his outdoor to indoor shoes, given me a hug, and has waved bye as he runs to his classroom.

Then I drive back to campus to start my day. I usually feel like a champion for getting my son to the nursery on time!

Back at the apartment, I will probably hang out the laundry to dry – which I somehow managed to throw into the washing machine sometime after breakfast and before leaving to drop off J. I do his laundry about 3 times a week, mine once, and once for bedding and towels. So pretty much daily. Then I do any dishes that look they won’t last till evening. Take out the garbage, if it can’t wait for the next day. Open the windows to let in the fresh spring air. I don’t make the beds, that’s for super supermums with nannies, and I’m just a supermum. But I sometimes put out the blankets and futons out to air on the balcony. Then I put together my bag – laptop, charger, earphones, phone, phone charger, notebook, diary, wallet, keys, glasses, tissues, tampons, the basics etc – and head to the lab to do some research.

I have a tiny window from 10am to around 4pm to do my research and any other work, workout, have lunch, respond to emails, and check facebook and twitter. Sometimes I will upload a picture of flowers to Instagram. Maybe even update this blog. Thankfully, I have already finished my coursework but boy, wasn’t that hectic, when I had classes and assignments.

It’s 12 noon. I’m writing this at a desk in the lab where I am doing some part-time job. It’s not much, just about 6 hours a week. I am also supposed to be coding my minor research project while revising my official doctoral proposal. I should also be doing some reading as well designing the system for my main research. I just checked my phone for the first time since 9am this morning, and realize I forgot to charge it. I quickly plug it in, I am always on high alert for any phone calls from the nursery, in case I need to respond to something. Like if he’s sick, or if it’s a reminder that the school bus won’t be running today and I need to pick him up.

By 3:45pm I have to be at the bus stop to wait for the school bus. Then supervise the kids as they play outside until around 6pm. If the weather is not good, then we have to play indoors.

Jeremy and his friend play outside after school

Jeremy and his friend play outside after school

Between 4-6pm I have to make dinner while simultaneously supervising play time! Put away the now clean and dry laundry. Do dishes. 6pm is dinner time. Then shower time. Then story time. Or TV time. Bedtime at 8pm. Actual falling asleep time is around 9:30pm. By then, I am supposed to get up to continue research, or study Japanese, or do dishes, or maybe vacuum – oh, wait can’t vacuum at night and risk waking him up. Sometimes I will hear loud voices of some other (single) students laughing just right outside our window – at least that’s what it feels like, and I wanna slap their mouths shut haha.. can’t they see it’s quiet time for me? That blissful time when mothers put their kids to sleep and they can finally sit down to breathe.

Usually, I am too tired to do anything intellectually useful but I don’t want to sleep too early because then I end up sleeping for too long and wake up tired the following day. What twisted irony. So then I end up on the couch just watching a series, I prefer watching classics that I missed back in the day. The X-Files. Sex and the City. But I sometimes watch sitcoms like Mom, Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory.. and dramas like Shameless or The Good Wife. Sometimes I will read a book, I am currently reading Brisingr, the 3rd book in the series Inheritance by Christopher Paolini. I also recently read my first Manga book, called “Weird Storm Boy” 風の磨転郎. It was great actually, looking forward to more.

Cover of Weird Storm Boy

Cover of Weird Storm Boy

On weekends, we’ll go to a park or a children’s event or swimming or the local library or an English class for kids, or somewhere Jeremy can have fun with other kids. On Sundays, we go to church for the same reason, keeping Jeremy meaningfully engaged in play with people his own age. We might stay home and just ride bikes around the campus, as I clean the bathroom, the walls, vacuum and do (grocery) shopping.

So if someone can do all this for me for one week, I will personally give them the supermum cape. And yet, I’m not special neither am I the only one. There are women out there with 2, 3, 4 or even more kids. They take care of their kids and their husbands, they supervise the cooking, cleaning and arrangement of their houses even if they are working or not, they turn up at work looking great and kick ass getting things done. I salute all the women out there with kids, I know the day passed but Happy Mother’s Day, every day.

Everyone is busy, but if at the end of the day you get to spend the rest of your evening sipping on whiskey in your(QUIET) bachelor(ess) pad while you watch TV as this blog puts it, you are not allowed to seek sympathy from me! I can sympathize with Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau though. Sure, I would love a personal assistant or 7, but luckily for me, I can say it here on the blog without an entire country getting outraged.

P.S.

I have recently removed a few words from my dictionary. I know not their definition anymore and will wear a blank look if a topic involving them comes up. They include “dating”, “social life”, “grab a drink”, “go out at night”, “uninterrupted sleep for more than 3 hours”, “sex”, “marriage” etc.

P.S.II
I hope this post didn’t come out too whiny. I actually prefer a busy life and would be extremely bored if I didn’t have important stuff to do. This post was inspired when a recent situation made me wonder whom would I leave Jeremy with were I to travel for a week or two. The answer, only my mother! But she’s all the way in Kenya!

Posted in Motherhood, Relationships | 20 Comments