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. しょうがない。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 Pokémon 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 進化。

“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.

This entry was posted in Blog, Life in Japan, Travel and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to To Kenya and Back: Traveling in a Pandemic

  1. Maureen Kidiga says:

    Nice! Looking forward to the channel. Take care Ma. Jeremy!

    Like

  2. Wanjoro says:

    Wow! You’re son is grown! And it’s great you got to spend time with family and enjoy a relaxed atmosphere. All the best with work and preparing for your coming guest.

    Like

  3. Norbert says:

    Great that you managed to visit your family, I am contemplating this myself for January, but it is a lot of pain, especially after returning. Stay strong!

    Like

  4. Moraa says:

    Glad you spent time with your family. And Jeremy is definitely growing into a fine young man.I am so excited for your podcast.

    Like

  5. Pingback: Taking Stock of 2020 | Savvy Kenya in Japan

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