The Life Update Post You’ve Been Waiting For

It is May 2022. We are lucky to be alive in the pandemic. But, where to begin this life update?

Life update

First of all, if you had met me in late 2019, you would have that known I was looking for a way out of Japan because my son got bullied at a Japanese public elementary school. (Yes, my bosses at work are/were aware of my desire to leave Japan – not the company. I do like several aspects of my current job. Remind me to blog about that one day.) The memories of those dark days still evoke a visceral reaction in me. I don’t know if we have fully healed from that experience. It still causes me pain when I have to recall and talk about what happened. Then 2020 rolled around along with the pandemic and everything changed. My efforts and plans to leave Japan were put on hold and Jeremy ‘got stuck’ in Kenya under the care of my parents. Before you know it – 2 years of masks, travel bans, quarantine mandates, school closings and openings – have rolled on by.

In 2020, I decided to get pregnant with my second baby and would you believe it? He’s already one year old. One year and one month old. What about his dad, you ask? He’s very much present in the periphery of our lives. It was my decision not to get married. Not very conventional, I suppose. But for a very long time, I have known that I was never going to live the conventional life. Marriage does not particularly appeal to me. So here I am. 34 years old. Single parent. Mother to two lovely boys from two different fathers. Some may call me reckless. Brave. Stupid. Strong. “How do you do it?”. “Why did you do it?”. The answers don’t matter. What matters is my dedication to raising my boys. They’re at the center of every decision I make, big or small.

This is one of my favourite photos of the boys, taken in September 2021. J was 8 and Kai was 5 months old at the time.

I took one year of maternity leave – actually 14 months in total. I spent 8 of those months in Kenya with my family, trying to regroup and plan for life ahead. I was almost 100% sure I wasn’t coming back to Japan. I have already spent 7 years here; this is my 8th year. I have taken from and given enough to Japan. I feel like it’s time I sailed to new shores.

If you had met me last year when I gave away my beds, my television, my home appliances, my clothes (to recycling); you would have thought hm, Savvy is definitely saying sayonara to Japan. But fate seems to have other plans. When 2022 came about and none of my plans was falling into place, I found myself booking a flight back to Tokyo in early February.

Kai and I endured almost two weeks on the road – 5 days in transit purgatory with Ethiopian Airlines and 6 days of hotel quarantine once we landed – to get back to Tokyo. J’s residency had expired and he couldn’t come with us, even though he had packed his suitcase and said he wasn’t getting left behind. The first thing I did after the quarantine period was to apply for his certificate of eligibility so he could join us. Was it a wise idea to bring him back to Japan? I don’t know but what I do know is that it’s better for our little family unit to stay together. Wherever we go, we go together.

Of course, J can never go back to a Japanese public elementary school. Besides, he has forgotten all his Japanese. The teachers there are overworked – many routinely do over 80 hours of overtime per month – and therefore not very motivated to deal with any kind of bullying, among other reasons. Luckily, I found a small Christian international school for him called Calvary Chapel International Christian School. It is a very affordable school in Fuchu that I found out about it from a Facebook group of “mothers in West Tokyo”. This is not a sponsored link or an endorsement of the school. Anyway, it worked out quite well because I was able to get a new apartment cycling distance to the school, although he will be taking the bus for now.

The new apartment that I moved into in April is also 2 minutes away from Kai’s daycare, which is just the best thing about it. I fought hard to get into this apartment. The owner was reluctant to rent to a foreigner, even though my excellent credentials spoke for me. And by excellent credentials, I mean the fact that I work for Hitachi, one of Japan’s top class companies, according to everyone. He needed assurances by way of a Japanese co-guarantor even though I was already paying a guarantor company a percentage of the rent to do the guaranteeing. I wanted to give up on it – but it is near both J and K’s schools; it is walking/cycling distance to the station; it is on the ground floor; it has free internet, Gyoumu Super, 7-11 and a drug store are 5 minutes away; the apartment had just been “reformed” and is brand new inside and out, etc. In the end, I realized I needed the apartment more than the owner needed a renter and asked Kai’s dad to lend us his Japanese hanko. He comes by often to see us.

(Here, I pause to check on the sleeping kids after Kai just cried out. I’ve nursed him back to sleep. Is there any sight sweeter than that of sleeping children?)

I really have had a very busy couple of months since landing in Japan. I was busy looking for an apartment, then doing the actual moving from my friend’s apartment where we were staying for a while – the upstairs neighbour complained to the real estate agents about a crying child (WTF! Another story for another day), doing all the moving procedures – gas, water, electricity, internet contracts, change of address procedures, preparing for Kai’s daycare – which he joined in April, preparing for J’s school and his flight back to Japan, etc. I’m exhausted just listing it all out. I am so glad I was able to extend my maternity leave by a month. I was supposed to go back to work in April but I pushed it to May. I may even be able to get some pay for April because there weren’t any available spaces in the daycares before he turned one, which he did on March 25th. All these, while not sleeping enough. Kai still wakes up several times at night to breastfeed and mostly goes right back to sleep. For once I would love to have 5-6hrs of uninterrupted sleep. Just once. I’m living for the day he starts sleeping through the night.

Moving Day

In the past couple of months, we’ve celebrated Kai’s birthday, J’s birthday and my birthday. I was even coerced into hosting a birthday party – this is a story for another day. I really am too nice, don’t let my online persona fool you.

What is make-up?

Let’s not forget I managed to meet the LEGEND, the GOAT himself, the world’s greatest marathoner, Eliud Kipchoge, when he came to run the Tokyo Marathon for the first time. Presenting the evidence.

Hey, I even managed to go for a couple of runs before life caught up with me. I’ll be back as soon as I find a schedule that works for me. I start work again on 6th May – of course, I forgot all my passwords – and my hands will be even fuller.

I think that we are all caught up now. I don’t know what the rest of the year holds in store for me but I am looking forward to it.

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan, Motherhood | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Why I May Never Fly Ethiopian Airlines Again

(In these days of TikTok and Instagram reels and transient tweets, are there people who still read blogs? The original social media? Remember forums and chat groups? Ah, the golden days of the internet.)

I spent the latter half of 2021 on maternity leave in Kenya. By the end of January 2022, it was clear to me that I needed to return to Japan because my plans of leaving Japan forever had not materialized. Damn the pandemic. My maternity leave, which had started a month before Kai was born, will end on his 1st birthday (March 25th). So I am due back to work on April 1st. At the same time, he will be starting daycare. In order to prepare for this, I needed to be back in Tokyo by February. I have to participate in the daycare orientation, do a health checkup of the baby, and this and that. Taking into account the 6 days of hotel quarantine required at the time, plus 8 days at home, we would be free to move about by mid-Feb.

It was with this in mind that I began looking for flights from Nairobi to Tokyo. There aren’t many travellers along this route, so there have never been any direct flights. The best airlines to fly with are Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad. At the time of booking, Dubai had suspended flights from Nairobi because of fake negative covid certificates. Emirates was therefore out. Etihad had no flights available at all; I don’t know when they stopped this route. Qatar Airways had a 34hr flight and cost Ksh. 170,000 (approx US$1,500) one way. Ethiopian Airlines had a 16hr flight and cost Ksh 90,000 one way (approx US $800). I immediately booked a flight for 1st February and began shopping and mentally packing. (I have to mentally pack before I do the actual packing!)

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A few days before my flight, I got an email that our (Kai and I) flight had been rescheduled to the 5th. I figured that they probably didn’t have enough passengers from Addis Ababa to Tokyo so they were consolidating flights. It makes sense in these pandemic times and I got a few extra days to spend with Jeremy and my parents in Nairobi. On the 5th, we got to the airport in time with as little luggage as possible. The luggage was two medium suitcases with my clothes, documents and some food items (ugali flour included, of course), one small suitcase with Kai’s clothes, and a baby stroller. For hand luggage, I had only one bag which had 24hrs’ worth of diapers, wipes, a change of clothes for Kai, his bottle and some food including two packets of instant cereal (Cerelac), a couple of small packets of milk, my laptop and our travel documents.

How did a 16-hour journey turn into a 5-day nightmare?

Trouble started when we had taxied out to the take-off runway at 6pm. The pause at the beginning of the runway before the rumble of engines gets louder and the plane accelerates turned into several minutes of waiting. We waited for 20 minutes or longer just sitting there on the tarmac until the captain announced that something technical was wrong, we had to go back to the terminal for them to check it out. That took two hours of us just sitting in the plane drinking water and juice, but luckily Kai was asleep.

However, those two hours were our connecting time. We arrived in Addis Ababa at 11pm, half an hour after the flight to Tokyo had taken off. They hadn’t waited for us.

It was chaotic at the airport as a lot of people had missed their connecting flights. A group of Arabs flying to Oman I think it was, were aggressively yelling at Ethiopian staff demanding to go home that very night. A Nairobi man was throwing F-bombs around. I was feeling superiorly calm at the time with a “this things happen” attitude and “could you please calm down” vibes. Hah! I was to lose it myself a few days later!

I walked to the desk and asked to cut the line, on account of a sleeping baby in my arms, and luckily everyone understood and let me through. The staff explained to me that they would put us up in a hotel that night and they were trying to reroute us through Dubai that Monday, which was the earliest time out. That meant spending Saturday night and all of Sunday in a hotel at the airline’s expense. The Nairobi man said he didn’t want to spend a night in no f**king hotel and said this delay was costing him a lot of money but in the end, we all rode in the same van to the said hotel.

The view from our room at Ambassador Hotel in Bole, Addis Ababa

The hotel room was okay and spacious enough for Kai to walk around. The TV was this old school low-resolution flat screen so we never watched it.

The following day was a Sunday, and we had been told that there were no flights that day to our destination. Even though I had requested for my checked-in luggage to be sent to the hotel, they never did so. I had to handwash our clothes in the bathroom sink but luckily the weather was sunny and the air very dry, so the clothes dried very fast. In the afternoon, we took a taxi to go buy diapers and some baby food from the supermarket and decided to do a short tour of the city while we were at it.

At the Lion of Judah Statue in Addis Ababa City, Ethiopia

Back at the hotel, I had the front desk call the airline and the guy I spoke with told me that yes, my ticket was confirmed. That morning when I had called, the lady had told me that she was still waiting to hear from Emirates, apparently, the flight might have been full. However, when I went online to book, I could see they were still selling tickets on that Monday 7th flight to Dubai , followed by a connecting flight to Narita Airport in Tokyo. So I was very glad that the man told me that our flight was confirmed.

Day 3: Monday 7th

We had breakfast, packed our one bag and took the 9am hotel van to the airport. We went to the ticket desk hoping to get our boarding passes. We were then to take covid tests because ours had already ‘expired’, having been done on the 4th in Nairibi. However, at the ticketing desk, all hell broke loose because they sent me to the supervisor, who asked me, “who told you to come to the airport?”

I was shocked.

“Excuse me! You guys told me I’m getting on the Emirates flight this afternoon.”

“But madam, your ticket is not confirmed.”

“What do you mean IT IS NOT CONFIRMED?”

“It shows right here that it is not confirmed. Emirates hasn’t confirmed this ticket.”

“BUT THE GUY I CALLED SAYS IT IS CONFIRMED.” I was starting to panic. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t getting on that flight. I’d already mentally checked out of Ethiopia.

“Which guy? What’s his name?”

How was I supposed to remember the name? It hadn’t even registered. It was the guy who had been answered the phone on Sunday afternoon. I was so angry. Why had the guy misinformed me? Was I supposed to just go back to the hotel and wait for whenever the mighty Emirates felt they could confirm the Ethiopian request?

I tweeted angrily that I will never fly Ethiopian again.

I showed them the online booking I had made on Emirates, but hadn’t paid, and asked if they could pay for it but they said no, they couldn’t. I considered paying for the flight and just forgetting Ethiopian Airlines, but it was already 11am and we wouldn’t have been able to do COVID tests and get the results in time for that flight.

Finally, feeling so defeated, I sat down like they told me and listened to them ask me if they could reroute me through Europe, as long as I had any transit visas. I don’t. They said they were looking for airlines all around the world where they could reroute me, as their next flight to Narita would be the following Saturday. They told me to wait around while they checked.

I went to the restaurant at the airport and had lunch there, while the waitress played with Kai. I found Ethiopians very friendly (yeah even the Ethiopian Airlines staff – even though the itself airline is nasty). They wanted to hold and play with Kai and I was just thinking um.. COVID anyone? But I also needed the break from constantly watching him. So I had lunch while the waitress chased Kai around; and the lady at the next table remarked, “It’s hard taking care of a baby, isn’t it?”. Yeah, you don’t know that half of it, I thought and nodded. But that’s a blog post for another day.

After lunch, I was back at the ticketing desk and they told me that they had found a flight to Narita via Bangkok. However, I needed to have my covid vaccine certificate, travel insurance worth US $50,000, and a negative covid cert in order to travel. Luckily, I’m vaccinated and could download the certificate from the portal. I also purchased travel insurance online for about $14. I’m not sure how legit that insurer was, but I was counting on making it through transit in one piece. Thai Airways confirmed me on the flight from Bangkok to Tokyo, finally! However, the flight would be at midnight on Tuesday (actually, early Wednesday morning).

We had to go back to the hotel for another night and day. My mother video called and lamented about Kai’s flat stomach. He’s losing weight, she said. He hadn’t eaten ugali in days. How can you survive without ugali? I assured her that his baby tummy was still there, it’s just the angle. It’s the angle mum.

Day 4: Tuesday 8th

We had the entire day free as we were to leave the hotel at 9pm. That morning, we went to do our COVID tests that the airline paid for. They sent us to the testing center, where they send their staff. After lunch, we decided to do another tour of the city. We visited the National Museum of Ethiopia. I never thought I could have fun at the museum but it was so interesting just seeing the history of early man, the skeletons of our possible ancestors, the tools they may have used, and a lot of the Ethiopian history on display. I felt pulled back in time. If I get the chance I’m definitely going back. Our taxi driver and guide carried Kai throughout so I could enjoy peering at the artefacts in peace. We saw Lucy. She is a very big deal!

Thus the day went by quickly and we were finally back at the airport for our flight. I asked about our luggage and was told we would find it in Narita. We met a very nice mother-daughter pair travelling back to Australia, and they helped me carry my bags in the airport, into the bus and up the stairs into the plane – my hand luggage had increased to two pieces.

That night, Kai slept on the seats (the plane was mostly empty) while I stayed up, keeping watch lest he fell. He’s now rolling over a lot in his sleep and airplane seats are nothing if not narrow.

Day 5: Wednesday 9th. Bangkok Airport.

We arrived at around noon Bangkok time, and had 8 hours until our next flight! That airport is huge. We walked around and got our bearings. We had breakfast. We checked the information desk. Kai took a nap. We had lunch at the Japanese restaurant where another kind Australian paid for our meal as he was leaving. I live-tweeted everything. We went to the Oman lounge where we paid about $65 for 3 hours. Took a shower. Ate some food. Thought Kai would sleep but no, he played the entire 3hrs. The Oman Air lounge was really great: great food, the best of fruits and desserts, bottomless drinks, kind hosts, nice atmosphere. We left at 10pm to go get our boarding passes at the gate. We had to walk for 20 minutes to get to our gate.

Drinks at the Oman Lounge. Too bad I’m not drinking at the moment, what with the breastfeeding and all.

At the gate, the Thai Airways staff checked our luggage tags and told us they will find the bags. I didn’t think much of it. We boarded and went straight to sleep, me half-sleeping upright with one hand feeling for Kai in case he turned over and fell.

When we woke up, the sun was grazing the horizon on the sea of clouds. It was beautiful. The magic of flight.

For me, this is probably the best part of flying.

Day 6, Thursday 10th: Narita Airport, but where is our luggage?

5 days later than the original planned date, we finally landed at Narita on a rainy morning. It is weird times now with the airport looking like a scene from a pandemic movie. Many parts of the airport were shut off. We were received by a Thai Airways (or was it Narita Airport) staff, who got me a baby stroller with space for hand luaggage. I filled out all the forms. We did the covid tests. I downloaded and installed the required quarantine apps. While we waited for the results, the staff informed me that NONE of my checked-in luggage had arrived. They had no idea where it was and they were in the process of tracing it. They would send it to me at the quarantine hotel or to my home address as soon as they found it.

I took it in stride. This was a typical end to this journey. I tweeted again that I will never fly Ethiopian Airlines.

In the end, they found that the luggage had been rerouted through Dubai. So Emirates took our luggage but not us?

One suitcase arrived dented and with a pair of wheels missing. I have been trying to contact Ethiopian Airlines for a replacement to no avail. I’ve called their line at Narita Airport several times but it goes unanswered.

Somehow, we managed to spend 6 days at a small hotel room in Tokyo. I shall blog about that later.

Finally, almost two weeks after we left home, we checked into our tiny apartment in Tokyo.

Will I ever fly Ethiopian again? If you are keen you will have noticed that the title of this blog post has the word “may” in it. That’s because I have accumulated enough mileage from my previous trips with Ethiopian Airlines to warrant a free flight someday. I’m probably sadist enough to one day fly with them again, but never I’m traveling with a baby.

Update:

I called the baggage handling contact again, knowing that there should be a flight arriving today (Sunday). The man I spoke to was rather rude, I thought, but that is besides the point. He said that they don’t pay for any damage to the outside of the suitcase. As long as the contents of the suitcase arrived intact, there was nothing they could do for me.

Posted in Blog, Japan, Travel | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Getting a Japanese Passport for Your Child (Foreign Unmarried Mother)

Did you know that it’s very easy for your child to become stateless?

It used to be that if a non-Japanese woman gave birth in Japan, if they were not married to a Japanese person at the time, their child could not receive Japanese citizenship. 

If that woman were Kenyan (before 2003) or a citizen of some other country that also discriminates(d) against women, where women could not/cannot bestow citizenship upon their children, then the child effectively became stateless.

Fortunately, that has changed. In Japan, children born to unwed foreign mothers can get citizenship upon birth, provided the Japanese father acknowledges paternity before the baby is born.

As of 2003, Kenya reformed the law to allow women to confer nationality to their children on the same basis as men.

Hurray! From statelessness to dual citizenship!

The Japanese passport is one of the most powerful passports in the world.

Acquiring Japanese nationality

However, if you are unaware of the paperwork involved in acquiring nationality for your child, your child could still end up stateless. The number of children who are stateless in Japan is actually increasing.

Furthermore, everything is at the discretion of the father. Whether he acknowledges the baby or not is up to him. The mother’s word is ‘useless’. The constitution doesn’t even mention DNA testing or any other means of compelling a father to acknowledge paternity.

So if you plan to get a baby with a Japanese man, but can’t or won’t get married, be sure to discuss this acknowledgement issue.

When I was pregnant, I Googled about and researched on how to actually do this “acknowledgement”. Do we just write it on a piece of paper? Where do we hand in the said piece of paper? Is it a word of mouth thing? Do we need a lawyer?

This post is here to answer such questions, even though this is for a niche audience. (The proportion of children born out of wedlock in Japan is still very low, 2.2% in 2011. By comparison, in the United States, about 41% of children were born out of wedlock in 2011. The figure is around 70% in Iceland. Yes, only about 30% of children were born in wedlock in Iceland in 2017. But I digress.)

Local City Hall

The acknowledgement is done by filing a one-pager θƒŽε…θͺηŸ₯ 届 “Meiji Ninchi Todoke” at the local city hall where you’ve registered your pregnancy. (I think it can be done at any other city halls, just inquire there). If you are not in Japan, inquire at the Japanese embassy in your country of residence.

The θƒŽε…θͺηŸ₯ 届 is a simple form to fill: the father and mother both write their names, dates of birth, addresses, occupation, and koseki, where applicable. The staff at my local city hall were very helpful. I know I gave them a headache every time I showed up, as they had to pull up the manual or reference book (literally) to find the relevant information for my unique case.

In addition to the form, the father has to show a photo ID that has his current address, such as a valid DL. The mother (you) has to provide a valid passport and a singlehood certificate (η‹¬θΊ«θ¨Όζ˜Žζ›Έ). A what? You ask. If one is Japanese, one can easily obtain a certificate confirming that their singlehood/unpartnered status.

This is where it got interesting.

As a Kenyan, we have no such document. The nearest such document is a “certificate of no impediment to marriage”, which one applies for when they intend to get married. You have to avail all the relevant documents to the registrar of marriages at the department of justice. But we had no intentions of getting married.

The city hall staff mulled over the issue, consulted our embassy, researched their manuals and called me with a solution.

A sworn affidavit would be acceptable.

The affidavit had to be obtained by swearing in front of a lawyer registered as a notary public in Kenya. Luckily, I was going to Kenya last year November, so I was able to obtain the affidavit swearing that “I am single and having never been married or entered into a relationship that can be presumed to be a marriage”.

I handed the affidavit and accompanying documents, and their translations (Google Translate was acceptable, they said) to my local city hall and that was it! Now all we had to do was to wait for the baby to be born safely.

If you are not single or officially divorced for more than 300 days, your child will be presumed to belong to your husband or ex-husband (See page 2 of this article). It doesn’t matter what the DNA says.

Birth Notification at City Hall Within 14 Days

I’m grateful that my baby was born safely, and once out of the hospital, I had about 5 days left to file the birth notification at city hall.

When you fill in the ε‡Ίη”Ÿε±Š (shussei todoke) that you will be given by the hospital, there is a space where you write that this is the child who was “acknowledged”. Again, the city hall staff were very helpful, even writing for me the exact words so that all I needed to do was to just copy what was written for me.

I could choose a first name for my child and any surname I wanted. Japanese nationals have no middle names, so for the surname, we registered a combination of his father’s surname and mine. It makes for very awkward optics: a katakana/Kanji surname with no spaces, but I believed it was necessary so that I could always prove relation since my surname was part of my child’s. If he grows up and decides to live in Japan, he can legally change his name in Japan to drop my katakana surname. I know it will make thing so much easier for him.

Finally, my baby was a registered Japanese national.

In such cases as my baby’s, they create a new family register for the baby alone. Poor thing is in a family register all by himself. However, there is a note in his father’s koseki register acknowledging him. (This also means that the child is entitled to equal inheritance rights as any other children of the father.)

Getting a Japanese Passport

Once your child has a koseki (family register), then getting a passport is very easy. All you need is:

  • An official copy of your child’s koseki (family register) from your ward or city office. Ask for the koseki tohon ζˆΈη±θ¬„ζœ¬
  • Your residence card
  • National Health Insurance Card. I have company insurance, rather than the national insurance card. So for a second ID, they just used my Japanese driver’s license. My child’s insurance card wasn’t out yet, but luckily it wasn’t a necessary requirement at his age. He was 2 months at the time of application.
  • A passport-sized (45x35mm) photo of your child. The best way to get a photo is place your child on a white sheet in your home and take pictures while standing above the child. Eyes must be open in the photo. The chin line must be visible. I had to retake the photos because my baby’s chin was obscured by what he was wearing. Newborns have no neck, as you will notice! Then I went to a nearby Family Mart to print them out.
  • Proof of the spelling of your child’s name in English on a birth certificate, child’s insurance card or foreign passport. I did not have this, as we didn’t have any other passport at the time of application. Remember how you can’t have middle names in the koseki? Well, for the Romaji names of the passport, you can have a middle name. I chose to have the father’s surname as the middle name, and my surname to be the last name. So that my child’s passport and mine would have the same last names, again making it easier to prove we are related. Less questions asked when traveling
  • Your child. The child must be present when you apply. However, not necessary when picking up the passport.

If you live in Tokyo, there are passport offices in Shinjuku, Yurakucho, Ikebukuro and Tachikawa. As we live in West Tokyo, we figured Tachikawa would be better as it was easily accessible via the Chuo Line and would have fewer people. When we got there, there were only about 2 or 3 other people. I guess with Covid-19, very few people are applying for or renewing passports.

I told them I needed the passport rather urgently, as I needed to travel soon. (To get help from my family in Kenya; looking after a newborn is no joke.)

One week later, we went and picked the Japanese passport, and that is what we used to travel to Kenya.

Please Note:

  • If you are wondering why we got a blue instead of a red passport, check out this interesting link on the various types of Japanese passports.
  • If you are interested in how the koseki and family registration works in Japan, check out this link.
  • It is very important that the paternity acknowledgement is done before birth. If it is done after birth, the process of obtaining citizenship becomes long and complicated. I haven’t researched on that but there is information on the internet. Check out this link to get started.

Next, I’ll blog about getting a Kenyan passport for your child born abroad. Don’t miss it, be sure to subscribe for updates.

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan, Motherhood | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

How Did You Manage? Crossing Continents With a 2-Month-Old.

(This post should have been up two months ago. I’ve been trying to make sure this draft sees the light of day and here we are, finally.)

In the bathroom at Dubai International Airport, where I transited on my way from Tokyo to Nairobi.

“Madam, how are you going to manage?” Inquired the Indian lady at the preflight desk at Dubai International Airport.

I was standing before the desk holding my sleeping 2-month-old baby in a sling-carrier in my arms while attempting to push a small luggage cart piled high with my hand luggage. The said luggage consisted of 2 full backpacks, a baby-sized ‘sleeping bag’, my jacket and a baby blanket. I could feel the eyes of the other passengers on me, wondering the same thing. How was I going to navigate to my seat with all that luggage and a baby?

“And it’s so heavy,” she grumbled as she helped me move my luggage to the seating area behind the counter, the area just before boarding. “I’m helping you now but I don’t know how you will manage.”

The bag she was talking about was only 7Kg, the hand luggage limit. I wondered when Emirates staff had become so brusque. In fact, I noticed fallen standards at the Dubai Airport; staff were rude, and it wasn’t so clean. The terminal was crowded and noisy; they had probably moved all the transit flights into one area. I remember eventually having to tell off some Asian guy playing loud hip hop on his portable speaker to turn it down so my baby could catch some sleep. Why the hell do people do that? Nobody wants to listen to your noise. Use headphones.

Back to the Emirates staff, I chose to say nothing. In fact, there was nothing to say. In my defence, I had packed up an entire apartment into 2 medium-sized suitcases and the said hand luggage. My luggage literally couldn’t have been any less.

Well, I managed just fine, thanks to the help of a fellow passenger. When it was time to board the plane, I looked around for someone I could ask for help and settled on a tall man whom I guessed wouldn’t complain about the said 7Kg bag. The Senegalese man was kind enough to walk me all the way to my seat and where he handed my bags to the cabin attendant, who then stowed them away in the overhead cabins.

It was also thanks to the help of another tall man, a Russian at that time, that I was able to go through the security check upon landing at Dubai Airport for my transit flight to Nairobi. I hate that we have to go through security checks during transit. I remember a time when there weren’t such checks.

I could finally breathe a sigh of relief when we arrived at JKIA in Nairobi. I told the airport staff I had a baby and plenty of hand luggage, and they told me not to worry, they’d call someone to take care of me. Shortly after, one of the airport staff came and took all my hand luggage (without complaining) and led me through all the checks (covid, immigration, customs), cutting to the front of the queue each time. He even waited until all my checked-in baggage had come through the carousel, loaded it on a cart and wheeled it outside to where my brother was waiting to take me home. I left him a generous tip.

The flight itself wasn’t that bad. K wasn’t that fussy, but he never completely settled. He could only sleep in my arms and he’d scream whenever I put him down in the bassinet provided. So it was with aching arms that I arrived in Nairobi.

Do you mean to put me down in a bassinet? Never.

And that’s how I managed.

Survival Tips for Traveling With an Infant

  • Carry minimal hand luggage, just the baby’s things really. One light backpack should do it. I didn’t do this and it was hectic.
  • Exclusively breastfeed πŸ™‚ This helped me as I didn’t have to worry about mixing formula and cleaning bottles. An option if you’re not breastfeeding is to carry premixed formula and then ask for hot water to warm the bottles.
  • Lightweight baby carrier, such a sling, is very helpful. You need your hands free a lot of the time.
  • I saw some people get on board with these really compact baby strollers that can be folded to fit in the overhead cabins. Might need that if the baby is a little older.
  • Shortest flight is best, regardless of the cost. Qatar and Ethiopian Airways had cheaper but much longer flights. When traveling with a baby, the shortest flight is the best.
  • The Emirates flight attendants were really kind. If you need to go to the bathroom, or to stretch your legs for just a second, feel free to ping the attendants to hold your baby for you.
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My Pregnancy and Birth Story in Japan

My second born son, Kai, was born in March this year. The pregnancy journey in Japan was an interesting one. Being in Japan means a lot of things are done a certain way but overall I had a positive experience. I am currently on maternity leave in Kenya, finally reunited with Jeremy.

36 weeks pregnant at Koishikawa Botanical Gardens. I did this fantastic photoshoot with Janine of @ippei.janine on IG.

I did a very detailed interview with Kay over at Tiny Tot in Tokyo, so check it out if you would like to know more.

Below is an excerpt from that interview:

That morning, in my cozy β€œhotel room”, I woke up and wore compression stockings and a blue surgical gown. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything from the night before but I had an IV line already. At 11:30 I walked into the theater room which had been prepared already. I was told to lie on my side on the surgical bed and thus began a 10 minutes-or-so nightmare to find the right spot in my back to inject the anesthesia. I have a short torso so I was very β€œfull” during my pregnancy, I literally could not curve my spine no matter how hard I tried to make the letter C or to imagine a shrimp. I’d also gained some weight, naturally, so my spine wasn’t standing out. The older doctor tried 3 times and failed; each time he poked my back I prayed that this was it. I was sweating and the tension in the room was rising. Finally, the younger doctor, who’d been encouraging me to make the letter C and to imagine a shrimp, tried it. He said I have a narrow spine but he was able to successfully inject the anesthesia. Everyone in the room breathed a huge sigh of relief. Everything had literally stopped and suddenly there was so much movement.

Immediately after the injection, I started feeling a tingling sensation from my waist downwards. I’d expected to β€œgo numb” immediately and I was numb to pain but not to some sensations, which took time to go. I could still wiggle my toes while the nurses put my legs into protective gear because it was going to get messy. Someone drew down the privacy screen so I couldn’t see what was happening below my chest but not before I saw a nurse inserting a catheter. I didn’t feel a thing, thankfully. I didn’t like the lack of control over my lower body: the first time I have ever experienced such a weird sensation. But there was no time to mull over such things. My left index finger was placed in a pulsometer, the IV Line had 2 other types of fluids added, ECG sensors were attached to my chest, a blood pressure cuff was cuffed around my right arm, and an oxygen mask placed over my mouth.

The surgery commenced. I felt terrified imagining I was going to feel the pain as they cut along the very same incision scar from 8 years before, even though the doctor assured me the anesthesia was adequate. That was when the nurse on my right, who was to receive the baby, took my hand. The room went quiet, all the bustle having died down. But soon, the sounds picked up again. The snipping and snapping, the clanging of tools back onto metal trays, the medical chatter between the doctors, the suction machine bubbling. When I looked up at the green ceiling, a red spot was reflected. A few minutes into the surgery, one of the doctors started to push down on my stomach, literally pushing the baby out. The nurse on my left was telling me push, push, like there was anything I could do in my immobile situation. Then I could feel the tugging. They make a 10cm or less incision through which they pull out the baby. I thought I wasn’t supposed to feel a thing! They pulled out the baby and the nurse on my right brought him to my face so I could look at him and touch his foot. He was so beautiful and so full of life, and he started crying then. Congratulations for a baby boy, everyone said. Genki, genki, they said.

I’ll be blogging more soon. Stay tuned!

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan, Motherhood | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Proles, We’re Going to Need More Wine! (A Quick Review of Books Read in 2021 so Far)

This year, I picked up my reading habit from where it had lain for ages, gathering dust. I know that reading is helping me cope with the isolation that comes with living in a pandemic, and for sure it helped get me through some tough work days in January and February.

Here is a brief review of the books I have read so far:

  1. The Cure by Rachel Genn β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
The Cure by Rachel Genn

I gave this book 4 stars for its poetic writing style, I quite enjoyed it. This is a book you read at bedtime. “Escaping heartbreak, a raw and humble Eugene Mahon leaves small town Ireland for London. His horizons expand as he meets and befriends men from all over the world on the Shoreditch building site where he works.”

However, there is something missing in this book. I don’t know if it’s because the characters felt immature and the setting is unrelatable to me. As someone else said on goodreads, “the storyline is too slight to sustain a novel of nearly 300 pages, and many of the detailed descriptions of everything feel a bit like padding”.

Don’t ask me what The Cure is. I’m still mulling over that one. If you insist, I would say it’s the truth. The truth is the cure.

2. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

I purposed to read more women and more black authors this year and it just so happens that these two books (The Cure and The Lovely Bones) that my friend lent me are written by women.

The Lovely Bones was a solid 5 stars for me. I enjoyed the narrative style. The book is narrated by a dead girl in heaven who was murdered when she was 14 years old. It’s not about heaven or what happens in the afterlife, but about how the characters left behind deal and learn to live with the loss. The ending is a little meh but I think I read this book in a couple of days, it’s an easy read. I hadn’t heard of the hype around this book so I picked it up with no expectations. I don’t think it should be read as literary fiction; this is more of a pop culture book. I think a lot of the people disappointed in it expected critical literature.

3. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata β˜…

I wish there was a 0 star rating because that’s what I would award this book. It’s neither quirky, nor funny, neither witty nor interesting. It’s the worst book I’ve read this year but luckily, it is short.

It follows a character who has worked in the convenience store all her life, makes a half-hearted attempt to move up in life career-wise and socially, and gives up and goes back to the convenience store. I don’t know why international media is gushing about it, honestly. Maybe it’s because it’s based in Japan, then it must be quirky? I think that because I am living in Japan, I don’t have the rose-tinted glasses that the Western media views Japan with.

My review on goodreads:

It was never funny, nor quirky, nor exhilarating. It’s rather sad and depressing, and worst of all, boring

4. 1984 by George Orwell β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

1984- George Orwell

Forgive me for not having read George Orwell before. 1984 is a novel about a dystopian future “of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality.” There are certain parallels of that world with the current world. For example, we have devices watching and recording our every move – our smartphones.

It’s not an easy ready but it is a haunting one. Makes you really think about the political and social structures we have today. It’s quite grim so be ready for that. It’s where the term “proles” comes from. “The proles made up almost 85% of the population in Oceania; they receive little education, work at manual labor, live in poverty (although in having privacy and anonymity, qualitatively better off than Outer Party members), and usually die by the age of sixty.” Sounds like a description of the masses in Kenya.

It wasn’t required reading during my time in school, but I see why it is in many parts of the world.

5. Tropical Fish: Tales From Entebbe by Doreen Baingana β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe by Doreen Baingana

The book gets 5 stars from me for the narrative style. It is in form of short stories told by 3 sisters. I wish it was longer and told from one person’s perspective, that way there would be more depth and connectivity to the book. I could relate to the characters in the book as it’s mostly based in neighbouring Uganda. There are a lot of similarities. An easy and enjoyable read.

6. We are Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

We are Going to Need More Wine: Gabrielle Union

In this no-holds-barred memoir, Gabrielle Union talks open about her life and background, and her life’s journey into Hollywood. It’s “a powerful collection of essays about gender, sexuality, race, beauty, Hollywood, and what it means to be a modern woman.” I really enjoyed it. 4 stars.

7. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett β˜…β˜…β˜…

The Vanishing Half: Brit Bennett

“The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical.. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past.”

Interesting premise, right? This book explores race and gender in the US. The storytelling is great, but the jumping between timelines and characters frustrated me, hence the 3 stars. You read a chapter, it ends in a cliffhanger but the next chapter is a scene from a faraway character in a faraway time and place. In this sense, it’s kind of like soap operas that rely on cliffhanger scenes but fail to deliver by switching to other scenes. The book then starts to introduce new characters with tons of background info that I don’t care for.

It would make a great TV show though. Correction, it will. “HBO and Brit Bennett made a 7 figure deal for the adaptation of the book into limited series!”

8. This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

This Mournable Body (Nervous Conditions #3) by Tsitsi Dangarembga

This book is not an easy read. It’s a sad and depressing read, told in second person so you can’t escape feeling what the character is feeling. You cannot disengage, and that’s what makes it powerful. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020.

This is my review on goodreads:

This is a very complex novel, to be unpacked in a literature class. I suspect I barely scratched the surface when it comes to understanding it. While the book is titled “This Mournable Body”, the main character is actually never physically harmed, she’s more psychologically tortured. It’s all the women around her who endure so much violence. It’s like she absorbs their pain when she’s not the cause of it. Right up to the very end, we never know if the main character got her redemption.

I just discovered that it is a the third book in a trilogy. I think it would be a more enriching experience to read the first two books before this one, but it’s too late for me. Still, I will go hunting for the first two books.

So there you have it, my review of the 8 books I have read so far. Which one do you think you’re likely to pick up based on my reviews?

What books would you recommend for me?

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Of Mortgages, Pregnancies and Video Games

On the last Saturday of February, I started my maternity leave. On that particular day, a friend and colleague invited me to her home for a housewarming. We completed our PhDs in the same school, although we were in different labs. We got recruited into the same company and joined at the same time. A couple of months ago, she informed me she had bought a house.

I was like, what? How? You mean you can afford to buy a house at this age?

Then I realized, oops. I am in my 30’s. I am at that age. That age of getting married, getting mortgages, making babies. In that order perhaps. Especially in that order if you are in Japan.

I had just never considered I could ever afford a house in Japan, but it turns out that the amount I pay in rent for a 2LDK in Tokyo’s suburbs is the same amount my colleague is paying for a 3LDK, standalone house in Tokyo’s more suburban suburbs. I just have to commit to a repayment period of 34 years (shudders). I can’t make that kind of commitment to Japan. Plus, the value of a house starts depreciating the moment you put your signature on the purchase form. So selling your mortgage later becomes quite difficult.

It turns out you can get easily get a mortgage even if you are a foreigner if you work for a big company like ours that’s still known for lifetime employment. Most of our bosses have worked for the company for 30 years or more. You don’t even need a permanent residency visa if you can pay a large percentage (20%?) of the mortgage value as a down payment. Not forgetting that you can get some tax discount because of having a housing loan, which you can’t do as a tenant, even with the property tax that you have to pay annually.

Anyway, I was quite impressed by her house. It feels like such a grownup thing to do, buying a house.

A 3LDK House in Tokyo
A an example of a 3LDK House in Tokyo

I met another colleague, who had also been invited, at the station and together we went to her house. She lives with her boyfriend. There was another couple already there, setting up some kind of game on the TV. She had invited us for lunch and yakiniku and associated vegetables were prepped on the dining table. She gave us a tour of her home and we admired how lovely it was.

Coming down the stairs, the gaming couple also informed us they were pregnant. You couldn’t even tell that she was 6 months pregnant, she’s so small. I started chatting with her as her husband continued setting up the Nintendo. We were comparing notes on morning sickness and kicks, and how whenever you want someone else to feel or observe the kicks, the baby will somehow sense it and become still. The moment the other person averts their attention, pong! comes the kick.

“Luckily, I didn’t have any morning sickness, but I have a lot of orimono“, she continued in Japanese.

Orimono?” I questioned as she gestured ‘down there’ and looking it up in the dictionary on my phone, I was like ugh, can we switch to more pleasant aspects of pregnancy. I don’t want to talk about your vaginal discharge.

I have this photo of printout of an ultrasound of my baby’s face on my phone. One eye is open and it’s almost like a black and white photograph. I showed it to her and to everyone else to admire the miracle of ultrasound; the ability to reconstruct a face from just sound.

One guy (not the dad-to-be) wasn’t impressed, I think he just couldn’t see the face. He said it doesn’t look like a human. Like, couldn’t he see it? It was so clear to me. In fact, he said, γ€Œγͺγ‚“γ‹ζ°—ζŒγ‘ζ‚ͺγ„γ€‚δΊΊι–“γ˜γ‚ƒγͺγ„γΏγŸγ„γ€‚γ€Disturbing, doesn’t look human at all. Were we looking at the same photo?

Excuse me, mister? I fumed inside. Your job is to admire my ultrasound pic even though it horrifies you hahahah. Keep your feelings inside. I vowed not to show anyone the photo anymore, but I am tempted to share it here just to prove that it does, in fact, look like a baby.

I have given in to the temptation. Let’s play “spot the face”. Can you see it? (Just pretend if you can’t).

Can you spot the face?

Anyway, after that, we had a pleasant lunch while conversing in Chinese, Japanese and English. The dining room was flooded with light from the ceiling to floor windows on the South side of the house and it was a lovely Saturday afternoon.

The pregnant couple’s male half told us how he got 100/100 points on the permanent residency application. He’s got a PhD and is also a colleague at the company. He’s got publications in international journals and had passed JLPT N1, plus the work experience and income needed to get all the points. Amazing.

I could apply for PR myself, I do qualify, but eh.. still making that commitment to Japan….

After lunch, we played video games on the Nintendo gaming set. As you can tell from how I am describing it, I don’t play any video games. But these were simple games, just shaking the controller up and down, or swiping it to slice fruits or such. We went on a quest and managed to complete one journey, and that felt so great! I can only imagine how addictive it can get. We also played a card game, suitable for ages 6+. We were all 30+, thank you very much, but we enjoyed it a lot.

Before we knew it, it was past 5pm and it was time to get going. The pregnant couple dropped us off at the station.

A lovely time had been had by all.

Posted in Blog, Life in Japan | Tagged , | 2 Comments

2021: A Bullet Journal Kind of Year

Image from https://collegeinfogeek.com/bullet-journal/

I got inspired to start a bullet journal after watching my friend Bern’s video on youtube. If you want to know all about it, just watch the video, it will be worth the 10 minutes.

I don’t know why I have never taken up bullet journaling before, it’s ‘write’ up my alley. Get it? I love making to-do lists, goal lists, bucket lists, and all kinds of notes. I scribble down on several notebooks all day. I’m really enjoying the process of working with pen and paper, and of course, there is the colouring. I like the idea of having everything in one notebook. I’m not actually using it on a daily basis, but more of a monthly basis. The main tasks on my monthly to-do lists in the journal help me to focus on what’s important. It’s from these that I make my weekly/daily to-do lists.

I wanted to share some of my goals this year but I’ve realized they are rather personal. Let’s just say I have life goals, career goals, financial goals, health and fun, and creativity. The health and fun category includes such delightful goals like exercising and sleeping well. The life goals include goals that will transform my life. I guess I can only blog about them after the fact.

Reading goals bullet journal
How I’ve set up my reading goals in the bullet journal. I know I have no talent when it comes to artwork but I am so satisfied with my drawings. These are the 4 books I read in Jan and I hope to do a review post soon.

One of my goals is to read 20 books. Last year, the number of books I read was an atrocious 6 books.

I hope to write more this year. To grow my vlog. To spend more time with my family. I can’t explain how much I’ve missed Jeremy. I’m looking forward to welcoming the new baby some time in March. To enjoying my maternity leave in Kenya, reunited with Jeremy.

I look forward to getting the covid vaccine. To the reduction of covid infections to manageable levels. I’m so tired of covid.

What are your goals this year? And what do you think of the bullet journal?

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Taking Stock of 2020

The days are long but the years (months) are short, so they say. Can you believe January 2021 is over? This post was supposed to have been published in late December but unfortunately, I have been having a writer’s block. Anyway, better late than never.

I write down my goals each year and 2021 is no different. This, of course, necessitated a reflection of the year 2020 and what a clusterf*ck of a year that was, huh? Not that 2021 will be any better but at least we are more prepared. Aren’t we?

Anyway, here is how 2020 went down for me.

Achievements in 2020

  • In September, I did the IELTS English Proficiency test and passed. Well, this really isn’t an achievement to brag about. I hate these English proficiency tests that we Africans are always subjected to but as an educated Kenyan, it would have been super embarrassing to get a low score.
  • I made the decision to expand my family and made a baby, who is due March 2020.
  • I traveled quite a bit (see further below)

Things I did not achieve

  • One of my biggest goals of 2020 was to reunite with Jeremy, my 7 year old son currently living with my parents in Kenya. Unfortunately, COVID-19 threw a wrench into my plans and we’ve had to endure a longer separation than I had hoped. This remains my top goal this year.
  • Two publications: I had a goal of publishing my work. Sadly, my first paper got rejected and then coronavirus happened and I would say my productivity dipped a bit. But I don’t want to talk about my work on this blog. With my maternity leave starting in March, it seems like I won’t be publishing anything in 2021 as well. In research, it’s a game of publish or perish. (I hate the game, just saying.) I did submit a patent though, so all is not lost.
  • I did not even get started on my goal of studying Japanese and sitting for the JLPT N1 as I lost all the enthusiasm I had for the language somewhere along the way. Life is like that sometimes.
  • French? was a question on the list of goals for 2020, for which I have no answer.
  • I did not read or write as much as I would have liked. I hope to improve that this year.

Places I traveled to in 2020

Looking back to last year, despite COVID-19, I did manage to get around quite a bit.

  1. 5 Days in Okinawa in July:

This trip happened after the initial lockdown in Japan was lifted. Suddenly, it seemed like everything was back to normal and in fact, the Japanese government was encouraging us to Go-To Travel. Other than the continuous use of masks in public, there was little else to indicate a pandemic was ongoing.

Initially, we had hoped to go to Okinawa during the Golden Week but that happened to be during the state of emergency. After six years of living in Japan, this happened to be my first (and perhaps only) chance to go to Okinawa.

This being our (my housemate and I) first time in Okinawa, we had to pay our visit to Naha, the main island, where we set up base. Our itinerary on the day after arrival included exploring the area around the American Village, North of Naha. It was easy to access it by bus. We walked around the near empty shops and in the afternoon, swam at the beach there.

On our morning there, we took a boat to Zamami Island where we stayed for one night at a friendly hostel. (Tip: do not take the fast boat (Queen Zamami), riding the waves wasn’t fun. Take the Ferry Zamami, a slower and more leisurely ride.) We had planned a hike to the Observatory Deck on top of the hill but it rained all afternoon. The rain finally stopped near twilight and we walked to Ama beach to see the turtles that frequent the beach. Unfortunately, they didn’t come that evening because of the rains and the water wasn’t too clear. We swam anyway.

On the fourth day in Okinawa, we finally had clear skies and we enjoyed the morning away at Furuzamami beach. We took the slow boat back to Naha in the late afternoon.

Day 5 in Okinawa was also a clear day. We had booked a snorkeling trip to the Blue Cave via Airbnb’s experiences. Swimming with the fishes was fun but I was grossed out touching them when we tried feeding them.

After the snorkeling, which barely lasted an hour, we went to a nearby beach to while away the afternoon and to catch the sunset as it was our last evening there.

2. Shizuoka in October

For a while, there were no more outings after coming back from Okinawa. The number of covid-19 cases was rising as more and more people heeded the Go-To-Travel campaign call. We were also becoming more conscious of our actions in spreading the event and were staying at home as much as possible. I personally, have been working from home since March 2020. Inevitably, cabin fever struck. By October, we could bear it no longer. We decided to avoid public transport, rent a car and enjoy a weekend away in a ryokan. At the ryokan, we had no interaction with other guests at all. (Unfortunately, we did have some interaction with the staff during checkin/checkout and when they served our meals.)

The drive to and from Nishiizu in Shizuoka was so nice, with lovely views of Mt. Fuji on the way. The views from the ryokan by the sea side were the best I’ve had from an onsen. We caught the sunset in the evening as we enjoyed the onsen, and enjoyed the sunlit ocean during the morning bath. 10/10 recommend. One thing I’ll definitely miss about Japan are the onsens.

This image is taken from their website

3. Kenya in November

As mentioned in a previous blog post, the trip felt absolutely necessary for my mental health.

4. Takayama End of Year

The end of the year changed from sunsets to snowscapes. We again hired a car and drove to a ryokan to spend the last night of 2020 enjoying the onsen in snow. On the way back, we passed by Matsumoto Castle in Nagano.

Have a productive 2021! What do you hope to achieve this year? 2021 goals is going to be the theme of my next post. See you then.

Posted in Blog, Japan, Life in Japan, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

To Kenya and Back: Traveling in a Pandemic

It’s not travel as usual these days. The airlines have their requirements, the destination countries have theirs. The lower demand hasn’t led to lower ticket prices either. Flights are fewer and may be cancelled or rescheduled, which would invalidate any old COVID tests you’d already done. My flight to Kenya even had a 12 hour layover at Doha! I wouldn’t recommend traveling unless you absolutely had to.

In my case, I felt like I was drowning in Japan and desperately needed to come up for air by seeing my family. It had to be in November because I knew that in December, the COVID infection rates would skyrocket with the cold weather in the North and new travel restrictions may be put in place. In addition, more people would be traveling during the holidays meaning a higher chance of being infected in transit. I couldn’t plan my travel for after the holidays either: in Jan/Feb I would be 7 or is it 8 months pregnant and really shouldn’t be flying!

Before booking my flight to Kenya, I had to make sure I could return to Japan. At the start of the pandemic, Japan had closed its borders to everyone except Japanese citizens. Even permanent residents had no permission to return to their “permanent residences” if they had left the country after that announcement.

But finally, in September, Japan loosened the entry restrictions and residents could travel freely out and back into the country, subject to some conditions such as a negative COVID test result.

To be clear, the test should be negative or you may not be allowed to enter Japan. Or Kenya, for that matter.

Before Leaving for Kenya

Initially, I had asked my company if it was possible to “work from home from Kenya” but was told that due to tax reasons and such, working from home can only be done within Japan. So I had to take all my remaining leave days to maximize my time in Kenya. The sad reality is that I cannot afford to take unpaid leave. Yet. Especially not with another child on the way (so excited, I can’t wait. Does pregnancy need to take this long?)

To enter Kenya, I needed:

  • a COVID certificate showing I had taken a test 72 hours before (departure from Japan or landing in Kenya, I don’t know). Anyway, here are places where you can get a COVID-19 test in Tokyo. You can also Google, there are more and more places now, including at Narita Airport. You can do the test on the day of travel. Warning, the average price is around JPY 40,000. Some people are really making money in this pandemic.
  • to fill a health surveillance form by the Kenyan Ministry of Health that asks for your contact details, etc. After filling the form, I got a QR code that I had to show at the airport in Nairobi before proceeding to immigration.

In Kenya for three weeks

The three weeks went by in the blink of an eye. My mum, ever loving, ever giving, was up waiting for me when the taxi dropped me home at 1am. I finally hugged and held my son, after nearly 10 months of not seeing him. He has grown up so much. He told me, as we were brushing our teeth one morning, “I had really missed you.” 😭😭😭😭

He has picked up Swahili (or the version of Swahili that Kenyans speak) and Kisii, having stayed in Kisii for almost 6 months during Kenya’s lockdown. His fluency in English is now at “native” (I hate this term) level: he can read the newspaper (not sure he understands it all though). Still, he refuses to speak English, preferring Ekegusii and any attempts at good morning will not be answered until you ask, bwakire.

Then you get a cheery bwakire buya.

He is forgetting Japanese. γ—γ‚‡γ†γŒγͺい。It can’t be helped. The words are still there but with no chance to use them, they are receding. His favorite show used to be PokΓ©mon on Amazon Prime (.co.jp). We used to watch it in Japanese but now he watches the show in English on Netflix. He was explaining to me that Pikachu can “evolve” into Raichu and it was kind of cute when the word that came to him was ι€²εŒ–γ€‚

“Mum, it can.. it can.. shinka into Raichu.” Japanese used to be his primary language.

He is completely obsessed with football, and Barcelona is his favorite team. My mum told me he once said he wishes he was Messi’s son.

Most of all, he is happy, outspoken, friendly and back to his old self. I would never consider a return to Japan for him, unless for a visit.

There was so much to do. My grandmother passed away last year November, so we traveled to Kisii for a small memorial. I had errands to do, like replacing my expired ATM card. I’m completely satisfied with my bank Stanchart (not a sponsored mention). I also had to get some legal documents sorted.

Me, my son and my niece in Kisii.

I met my niece, Sam’s daughter, for the first time. Our youngest brother’s son was also born a week before I left. I was so happy to have met him as well. At one time, my brothers and their families, me and my son, and my parents were all living under one roof. Talk about a full house.

I met many cousins I hadn’t seen in a while, although I didn’t meet all of them. I met most of my friends from campus (undergrad days), we’ve been friends for over a decade now.

The newest member of the family, my nephew. May you live long and prosper, R!

Nairobi is dusty, with all the construction going on. The traffic on Mombasa Road was a nightmare. Kisii was nice and green, but when it rained we could go nowhere with the muddy roads.

And then, before I knew it, it was time to leave.

Before Leaving for Japan

Japan demands a covid test with a negative result done within 72 hrs before the departure date. Plenty of hospitals in Nairobi offer tests, including Gertrude’s and Nairobi Hospital.

My brother drove me to the airport, with my other brother, mum and Jeremy coming along. I arrived in good time to check in, “balance” the weight of my luggage and even have a cup of coffee before take off.

But then, the Qatar Airways agents started with their nonsense. They claimed we (me and another passenger who was also going to Tokyo) needed explicit permission to enter Japan, even though the rules for reentry had clearly changed. She claimed that since August, they had been handling entry into Japan, and I told that since then, so much had changed. She refused to read the latest on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. She had to take our passports with the landing permission slips, our residence cards, covid certs, etc and send them to the embassy in Japan for confirmation.

We almost missed that flight. We were checking in past 4:20PM for a flight taking off at 5:10PM. My luggage was overweight and I had to leave behind all the precious chapati, ugali and uji packets of flour. No time to “balance my luggage” by selecting what to leave behind. Qatar Airways’ 30Kg allowance is quite low.

We were the last passengers to board.

At Narita Airport

The rest of the flight was uneventful. The transit at Doha in Qatar was a couple of hours or so. We arrived at Narita and the first thing we did was a COVID test (saliva). We had to wait an hour or so for the result and could then proceed to immigration if it was negative. I don’t know what they did to those whose result turned out positive. We had to fill forms with our contact details and where we would stay for the following 14 days. I opted to use the Line app to communicate my health status for the next 14 days. It was either Line or they would call you on your phone/school’s/employer’s phone to follow up on you. We could not take public transport. You had to arrange for someone to pick you up.

In Japan

I got home on Saturday night, barely rested on Sunday and was back to work on Monday. The three weeks full of activity in Kenya, plus the jet lag, meant I struggled to focus on work this past week. Today, a week later, I feel recovered. My energy levels are back up. I do feel like going to Kenya was akin to taking a much needed deep breath. However, I’m back in the water, treading it, and so I’m just taking it one day at a time.

P.S. I am starting a YouTube channel/podcast soon. Should have the first episode out this coming week.

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