I am in the Kanazawa University library typing this. There is something familiar about all libraries.. the silent shuffle of feet, the queitness broken by the turning of pages of paper, the rows upon rows of beautifully arranged books, the students at the tables all trying to absorb the knowledge. It is a long way from home, and yet it is home for me. I think back to Tuesday afternoon, when I began the actual journey.
My father wouldn’t let me be late; by 1pm he was revving the car and hooting for us to get out of house. I arrived at the airport at 1:30 for a flight that was departing at 4:40pm. My luggage passed through the safety scan, I had been afraid they wouldn’t let my lotions and hair stuff through(relaxer, treatment – there are no salons for black hair in Japan, I was told). I thought I might have carried stuff over the luggage limit for Emirates Economy class, but fortunately this too was a breeze. My luggage was checked in, and I would get it at the airport in Japan. I wasn’t going to have access to checked-in luggage at Dubai, the stopover.
I said goodbye to my family. My dad, mum, brother and my son, and my friends Veeh & Njeri had come to see me off. I managed not to cry. But later, on the flight to Osaka from Dubai, I let them fall and I pretended I was watching The Fault in Our Stars. Anyway, the flight to Dubai was not long, but it wore me out. It was 5 hours to Dubai. The Captain was American, “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… this is your captain blah blah” The hostesses were fair and graceful. The meals were okay but the cramped space in Economy makes you understand why people with money opt for Business class or First Class. I could not catch any sleep and my neighbour was chatty. He was giving me advice about taking care of my hand luggage. Don’t let it leave your sight. He was going to Dubai to manage some warehouses. I wished him the best. He gave me some pens as a gift. (I have become a pen collector.) His wife works at a pen company.
Dubai. Nothing is done in half; no expense is spared. From the air, it gives off an aura of organization. Rows and rows of lights, illuminating shiny highways and complicated road designs. From where we landed at the airport, we took a shuttle for almost 30 minutes to arrive at the terminal. Dubai is grand. No, wait, Dubai is grandiose. Towering terminals. There are 3 terminals, A, B & C, and you take a train between the terminals. The terminals are on 3 floors, and you can ride the elevator or escalators. We had about 4 hours to spend at the airport. After marking our gate for the next flight, we went round checking out the terminal.
There were so many shops, mostly selling designer perfume. I was sprayed liberally by a salesman; Givenchy I believe. Smelled heavenly but I couldn’t afford it at the time. The few dollars I had with me were for surviving the first month in Japan. Givenchy will have to wait. But it was definitely cheaper there than if you had to buy it in a shop in Nairobi. I bought some water, and a Starbucks coffee. Not as tasty as Java’s latte.
So I was hanging out with two Zambian dudes who spoke Kiswahili; they were also headed to Osaka with us, they’re in the vehicle importation business. There was another guy who was Kenyan, but lives in Washington DC, and he was also connecting via Dubai. And 3 of us scholars, heading to Osaka. We left the importers with our hand luggage (except for passports & money, duh) and escorted the Washington Guy to his terminal. That was when we took the train to terminal A and back. And thus, the 4 hours at the airport passed away.
Finally, we boarded a Boeing 777 Emirates plane to Osaka. That was one grandiose plane. I had never flown international before, so the jambojet, KQ & Jetlink small planes had left me with a bad impression of take off, landing, changing direction and turbulence. In a huge plane, you don’t feel any of this stuff, at least not on the same level as on a smaller plane. It was 9 hours from Dubai to Osaka. I slept half of the time, watched 2 movies (About a Boy starring Hugh Grant), ate two full meals and enjoyed the flight somewhat. We landed in Osaka at around 6pm local time, finally touchdown in Japan! (Cue for this song)
From Kanazawa airport, it took a while to clear from immigration. Fortunately we are Japanese government scholars, so not many questions were asked. They printed for us residence cards at the airport, we went and claimed our luggage, and went our separate ways. After changing my money into the local currency, yen, I asked for the JR Train ticketing office. It was around 8:10pm when I finally got a ticket to Kanazawa, changing trains at a place called Maibara. The train was departing at 8:16pm so it was a mad dash there. The Japanese are very friendly people, so far everyone I had met on the way had been very helpful.The train ride was very comfortable, and I dozed on and off. The signs were in Japanese as well as English, and the train announced every oncoming stop. Maibara was like the last stop, and it was just me and two Japanese girls who were also going to Kanazawa.
The countryside fly past us, with not much to see in the dark. At every station, we’d meet other trains and you would see students in uniform getting on or off, working class people boarding the train, weary shoulders drooping, and the people got fewer and fewer as it got later and later. We arrived at Kanazawa at 12:39am! I tried to get a taxi to Kanazawa Castle Inn, where I was to spend the night. I was willing to pay as much as it took, but no one would take me, they just pointed the direction. Turns out, it was just 3 minutes away from Kanazawa Station and no one was going to take advantage of me. If it were in a Kenya, I am sure someone would have drove me round in circles and charged me like 2,000 Kenyan shillings for it!
At the hotel, I finally got free wifi (which I couldn’t get at Dubai or Kansai) and let my family know I had arrived safely. After a warm soak in the tub, I asked for an adapter (they use narrow sockets) from the hotel reception using gestures & pointing. The man at the desk just opened a drawer full of adapters and I picked one that fit, with a promise to return (in gestures). At the airport, most Japanese speak fairly good English. However, Kanazawa is a bit farther in, so there are fewer speakers with less fluency. (Except at the universities, lots of people speak English here). I charged my phone and fell asleep.
On Thursday morning, I took a taxi to Morinosato Kaikan (Kanazawa International House) where I was going to spend 6 months. It’s a 20 minutes scenic walk to the university. There was the opening ceremony to attend after that, and later orientation and an introduction lesson to Japanese on Friday. There will be many other tales to tell.
In the meantime, I am getting used to the local food. Sushi. Sashimi. Miso soup. Rice (hehe, yeah also needs getting used to, trust me) And others I can’t pronounce well.
Yesterday evening, being a Friday, we went to a local restaurant with a Japanese student who’s very nice and is helping us around. Below is what we had.. beer, sake, pizza, sushi, sashimi, dessert, and many other local dishes. By us, I mean myself with other foreign students. There are many other foreign students around. They come from Malaysia, Georgia, Solomon Islands, Argentina, Tanzania, Indonesia, Pakistan, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia .. over 25 countries. There are only 3 of us who are black, as far as I can tell. Myself, another lady from Solomon Islands (she speaks with such a lovely accent) and the guy from Tanzania. But I don’t feel it, I think because I am in a university and you know, a campus is the same everywhere. Cool people!
Although I miss home, and my son more than anything, I know I made the right decision. The next countdown on the blog is to the day my son will come to join me in Japan!