Last Post on this Blog

This is the last post on this blog.

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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 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

Taking Stock at 28

It’s the eve of my 28th birthday.

For some unknown reason, when I was younger, I always pictured myself at this age on the balcony of my apartment overlooking the ocean in California, a glass of wine in hand contemplating my successful career. Think Gabrielle Union’s character in any movie she stars in.

Instead, I find myself on the balcony of my apartment in a university dormitory in Japan. Okay, I am not at the balcony at this very moment but I plan to go there to take in the fresh spring air after I hit publish on this post. It’s 8:40pm and I’m listening to my son singing himself to sleep. He turned 3 years old about 3 weeks ago. He’s incredibly smart and I’m not just saying that because I am his mother. He is also incredibly handsome, incredibly talented, incredibly kind and loving, and can raise incredible hell when he wants his way. When I am done with this post, I shall probably have some time to think about Prince who died today at the tender age of 57. If you don’t think 57 is young, he could have had 3 more decades, like The Queen who just turned 90.

A recent photo of Jeremy and I

A recent photo of Jeremy and I

So what have I been up to since I last blogged almost 2 months ago? Or since my last taking stock post a year ago?

Making : Plans for a picnic with friends from campus by the riverside tomorrow. Because of seasonal changes in Japan, good weather (warm and outdoor friendly) doesn’t last that long so it’s kind of a big deal when winter clears, spring comes and we can finally have outdoor activities like barbecues, picnics, whatever..

Cooking : Githeri. No, it doesn’t taste the same as I am using sweet baby corn rather than our usual Kenyan white maize. The taste might not be the same but it’s still delicious.

Voila! Presenting the results of my #githeriInJapan experiment!

Savvy Kenyaさん(@savvykenya)が投稿した写真 – 2016 4月 8 12:45午前 PDT

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Drinking :
A glass of the cheapest wine (2014 Vintage, LOL) I could buy at Costco. It’s terrible. I couldn’t even afford the 2nd cheapest wine!

Reading:
The second book in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, Eldest. It’s a tale of a boy, a dragon, magic, elves, dwarfs, shades, oguls.. you know, fantasy. Don’t ask me where I get the time to read, between taking care of Jeremy, keeping my apartment habitable, doing my PhD and other part-time work in the university.

Wanting:
What do I want? Of course I want many things, like a car whose brakes don’t make a hissing sound when I step on them. But these days I am happy with just what I have and with just who I am.

Looking: At the picture below and how it represents my crisis point at this moment. Why am I even doing a PhD when all I’m doing is reducing my chances of employment? My career choices just got narrowed down to academia and industry research.

Why am I doing PhD?

Why am I doing PhD?

Playing: this song. Translated lyrics are here.

Wasting:
My time in the evenings watching Sex and the City. The show was banned in our home back then because of the sex scenes. I can’t really relate with the characters but I’m enjoying it nonetheless.

Sewing: sewing? Sure, I do have a sewing kit but I’m waiting for the loose button on Jeremy’s shirt to first fall off before I fortify it.

Wishing: there was a magic word to put children to sleep at bedtime. If you think you can just let kids play around until they are too tired and fall asleep, you’re wrong. The longer they stay awake, the more wired up they get, the harder it is for them to fall asleep and the worse the quality of sleep they’ll get. Then they’ll suffer bad moods the following day.

Enjoying: Tortilla chips + ketchup. It’s a Friday night, and it’s the eve of my 28th birthday. I can do/eat whatever I want.

Waiting: eagerly for July. If all goes well, Jeremy and I should make our first international conference appearance in Toronto, Canada.

Liking: the 45 minutes of exercise that I manage to squeeze into my schedule from time to time. I’ve however reduced from 5 times a week to barely once a week; but I am trying to up it up to at least 3 times a week.

Wondering: what’s the role of God in the 21st century? To those who believe in a God or gods, how/why?

Loving: the “moments” I have with J. Like we’d be singing in the shower (nursery rhymes, what else) and I forget the lyrics but then he reminds me. “Say goodbye, mummy, say goodbye!”. Or when reminds me to wear my jacket when we’re leaving the house. Or tells me to make sure I turn left so we can go home when I pick him up. Or when he follows me to the toilet like how dare I make a visit to the toilet and not invite him?

Hoping:
To get shortlisted in some kind of competition I am participating in so I can get a free trip to Tokyo. A trip away is always a good break.

Marvelling:
At just how far Jeremy and I have come. I think we sometimes need to take a break from our daily routine just to look back and just see how much we have achieved. When you have big goals, like I do, you can sometimes feel like you’ve done nothing so far. But even staying alive thus far, is something worth appreciating yourself for. *sips wine. dips a chip in sauce. fuck the calories.*

Needing: a plan to include studying Japanese into my schedule. I refuse to be one of those people who spend decades in Japan and yet can’t speak the language. So far, I have to wake up at 5:30am in order to study for an hour before starting my day. I am still amassing the willpower.

Smelling: his scarf. He forgot it here the other day. This is probably insane behaviour.

Wearing: Clothes with little thought to fashion. I always thought I would be better at this fashion thing when I got older or when I got money but I would rather spend any spare cash I get on books. When I’m famous I’m gonna need a full-time fashion staff.

Following: in the footsteps of many who have gone before us. We may think we are unique but we really aren’t. Not so much anyway.

Noticing: That finally, I’m 1Kg away from my ideal weight according to the BMI calculation. But it’s really an outdated method of calculation that doesn’t take into consideration African curves 😉

Knowing: that life is fleeting. It’s hard to accept that there will be a time when I will not be here anymore. That the people I know, the people in my life, won’t always be here forever.

Thinking: that I’ve spent far too much time writing this post. Cheap(est) bottle of wine is nearly empty!

Feeling: awesome. I’m 1 hour or so away from 28 and I feel awesome.

Bookmarking: sammydress.com. I like to look at the clothes even when I’m not buying.

Opening: my mind up to new, un-imagined possibilities.

Giggling: I don’t think I giggle. LOLing (Laughing out loud), yes. Giggling, no.

Happy birthday to me. It seems like it was just the other day that I was an 8 year old little girl. Time flies. RIP to all my friends who never made it to 28.

Posted in Blog, Japan, Motherhood | 18 Comments

Culture Shock #96: Valentine’s Day & White Day

I am going to be doing some posts about my experience as a Kenyan in Japan. I’ll count down from 100 but in no particular order. Of course I expected Japan to be different so when people asked me if I experienced culture shock, I’d say no. But opon further reflection, there are so many things that have me asking, Japan, what the hell! That would never happen in Kenya! (and vice versa!). If that isn’t culture shock, then I don’t know what is. As an English-speaking nation and a former British colony, we are heavily influenced by the West (Europe and the USA) so there is little in our media/entertainment from Far East Asia .. for instance, not many Kenyans know much about The Far East and many confuse Japan for China or vice versa. So this has been literally, an eye-opening experience. Click on the hashtag for all the posts so far.

Valentine’s Day in Japan is just like Valentine’s Day in Kenya: a non-official, largely commercialized day for celebrating love. But there is one key difference! In Japan, it is the women who give men chocolates (and any other gifts)! So come this Sunday, the Kenyan woman in a relationship with a worthy man will wait to be treated like a queen. She will expect flowers, preferably red roses, chocolates, several other gifts -or at least one expensive gift, and then dinner at a romantic restaurant. For the luckier ladies, they will be whisked away by helicopters or by other vehicular means to romantic locations such coastal or lakeside resorts or even exotic safaris. For instance, the Villa Rosa Kempiski in Nairobi has a 5 Million Kenyan Shillings (about $5,000USD) Valentine’s Offer that includes roses, champagne, helicopter rides, and the presidential suite etc.

The Villa Rosa Kempiski in Nairobi, Image from http://www.nabiswa.com/

The Villa Rosa Kempiski in Nairobi, Image from http://www.nabiswa.com/

Now, I am not sure how Kenyan couples split their Valentine’s Day bills, but I can bet the man foots the bill on this particular day. He is also encouraged to come up with creative gifts (in addition to the chocolates and flowers) and ideas for the “surprise” dinner at favorable restaurants. When Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday, at least the man can get away with the bare minimum but since this year it falls on a weekend, men in relationships have to put in more effort to impress or prove their love or whatever reason couples celebrate Valentine’s.

The Japanese woman on the other hand, can’t afford to sit back and relax. She has to present chocolates to the man in her life, preferably prepared by themselves “as many of them think it is not true love if they just buy the ready made chocolate at shops”. That is not to say commercially prepared and packaged chocolates don’t have a market, they do! Read more about it here. Apparently, this practice may have started as a way for women, who are traditionally shy(are they?) to express their feelings. I shall now inform you that yours truly has also joined the bandwagon and bought some chocolates to ahem, express feelings with!

japan-valentines

Lots of commercials and guides showing women who to make chocolates for this special day. Image from tastymiso.com

If you are a Kenyan man thinking of immediately applying for a visa and permanent residence in Japan, know that there is also White Day. On this day, the men reciprocate the gifts they received to the women they received gifts from on Valentine’s Day. It comes exactly a month after, on March 14th. Oh, there is no special day for the man to receive gifts in Kenya, I think White Day only exists in Japan. Where is the justice in this?

P.S. While this post is not about the need to celebrate Valentine’s Day, allow me to say that there is nothing wrong with celebrating romantic love. There are always those couples newly in love, or forever in love, who don’t mind a special day to celebrate their love. That this can be done every other day of the year is besides the point. Of course, it has increasingly become commercialized, just like Christmas (and maybe soon Easter as well as other holidays), but it’s not going to go away any time soon.

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone! What plans do you have with your loved ones?

Posted in Japan | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Culture Shock #97: The Onsen Experience

I am going to be doing some posts about my experience as a Kenyan in Japan. I’ll count down from 100 but in no particular order. Of course I expected Japan to be different so when people asked me if I experienced culture shock, I’d say no. But opon further reflection, there are so many things that have me asking, Japan, what the hell! That would never happen in Kenya! (and vice versa!). If that isn’t culture shock, then I don’t know what is. As an English-speaking nation and a former British colony, we are heavily influenced by the West (Europe and the USA) so there is little in our media/entertainment from Far East Asia .. not many Kenyans know much about The Far East and many confuse Japan for China or vice versa. So this has been literally, an eye-opening experience. Click on the hashtag for all the posts so far.

So your boyfriend has a better handbag than you, yet he walks around with his wallet sticking out of his back pocket. Meanwhile, you are glad you have double eye-lids and have recently been utilizing a small-face corset so your face may have now shrunk to acceptable standards. But just in case it hasn’t, you have been wearing a surgical mask daily even if you’re not in danger of catching a fatal disease. But you’re not yet fully integrated into the Japanese culture until you are comfortable going to have a shower in a public bathhouse, after which you get into a giant bathtub, fully naked, with other strangers.

Okay, so there are onsens and then there are public bathhouses. (This is my understanding/categorization). Onsens are/were (natural)hotsprings, set in a backdrop of beautiful scenery. Sometimes they’d be in the mountains overlooking a beautiful valley, or the scenic view of snow etc. The main bath would be outside as you soak in the view and relax in hot water which is luxurious especially in winter.

To soak in the above inviting onsen, anyone can overcome any shyness or reservations they have about public bathing.

Then there are bathhouses. I didn’t understand why anyone would leave their bathtub at home to go bathe and soak in public. Most people do this on a daily basis or on several days a week.

Men bathing at an onsen. Image from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/464926361502378098/

Men bathing at an onsen. Image from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/464926361502378098/

Before getting into the bath, you must first wash yourself. The shower area has these plastic stools where you are supposed to sit so as to properly scrub yourself. After which you can enter the pool of sometimes scalding water, which you get used to after a few minutes.

Apparently, “‘Sento’ or public baths have long been part of the Japanese culture and dates back to the time when not all houses have their own bathrooms and some want to experience the soothing feeling hot springs water gives.” But actually, even if you have your own bathtub, it is just not possible to maintain the temperature as well as the bathhouses do, and of course you have plenty of room to stretch and relax at the bathhouse instead of a cramped bathtub.

No, there are no onsens or bathhouses in Kenya. That would seem a strange idea indeed.

I thought it made sense to go to bathhouses in winter and I have been going at least once a week with J. It is very relaxing afterwards and you sleep like a baby. So J and I like to go after dinner.

However, Japanese people go to onsens/bathhouses even in summer, when temperatures are in their late 30s! They say they feel very refreshed afterwards, but I am yet to muster the courage to enter a scalding hot bath in the summer heat!

Most onsens (I think over 95%) have separate sections for men and women. There are some mixed gender onsens but I am yet to go to such (although I hear they be mostly full of men hoping to catch a glimpse of any women joining them). Girls and boys under 8 years old are allowed to go either way! So it is not strange to see 7 year old boys, who of course understand the physical difference between the genders, bathing and soaking with their mothers in the women’s side. Young girls of up to 8 may go with their grandfathers to the men’s side. It’s a little bit unnerving at first because in most Kenyan communities, gazing upon the nakedness of your mother/motherly women is probably a curse-inviting offense. But really, there should be no shame in or any need to hide the human body. I think it is okay now that J is almost 3 and still young, but I am not sure I can still take him with me after he’s turned 5 and over. We’ll see.

In the meantime, we are loving the bathhouses and can be seen there at least once a week. It’s one of the things I am sure we will miss about Japan if and when we return. Never mind there is no winter in Kenya.

Posted in Japan, Travel | Tagged | 6 Comments