I Was Hacked and Other October Stories

In many ways, October was a trying month for me.

To begin with, there was the drama with Jeremy’s ticket, which I have already blogged about.

The journey to Japan was long and tiring. We first flew from Nairobi to Doha, Qatar, a 5 hour journey that was mostly smooth because Jeremy slept through most of it. In Doha, we had about a 2 hour layover, after which we boarded the plane for a 10 hour journey to Osaka. Jeremy slept for maybe 3-4 hours but the remaining hours were spent going to the toilet – to flush it, apparently it is very exciting for kids to hear the sudden flushing sound in airplane toilets – and back to our seats. We probably visited the toilet at least 15 times before J finally tired of the “game” and after eating a whole packet of crisps – hey don’t judge me, he had refused to eat most of what was served even if it was mostly rice, which he likes. So after eating a whole packet of crisps, he relaxed and even watched a bit of Dora the Explorer. He however, refused to sit down during landing and attempts to make him sit were met with wild screams – I am sure the Japanese people in the plane wondered if I was doing something “bad” to him. We finally landed safely, at 5;30pm in the evening but we had another 3 hour journey to Komatsu from Kansai to go through.

Jeremy watching Dora the Explorer on the way from Doha to Osaka

Jeremy watching Dora the Explorer on the way from Doha to Osaka

I had two suitcases, two carryon bags, and Jeremy to look after, but somehow I made it. Jeremy “helped” by holding onto one suitcase so he thought he was pulling it but that was how I was able to “hold his hand”. We made it to Komatsu at around 10pm and I knew he must be hungry because he was asking me for chocolate. A friend picked us up from the train station and we went to MacDonalds where he refused to eat the burger but ate the fries and drank the milk. We finally got to the campus after 11p,m, our home for the next 3 years, and slept long and hard after a hot bath.

The first week was spent at the local city hall filling hundreds of forms – the Japanese are famous for their bureaucracy -, filling forms at the university, I was officially changing my status from research student to PhD student, settling into the new 1 bed-roomed apartment at the university dorm, shopping for necessities, and taking Jeremy to the preschool (called Hoikuen) where he would spend his daytime as I studied.

It was trying being his “mother” and sole caregiver for the first time since he was born. See, I was living with my parents when he was born so my mother took care of the both of us. In addition, he had a nanny and we always had an array of cousins, aunts and relatives to give him care and attention. Of course he also received attention from my brothers and my dad. So now it was up to me to provide all that attention, and it was difficult for both of us because sometimes I could not discern why he was crying. Sometimes he cries because he wants to go to the toilet instead of just saying it (he is toilet trained), or he is hungry but isn’t sure what he wants to eat (you have to present all options you have then he will choose what he wants or you choose for him), or he needs to sleep. The need for sleep is the hardest because he may not want to sleep although he is tired, so he will be irritable and you have to hold and sooth him and “create conditions suitable for him to sleep”. I have since learned his needs – which are the basic food, toilet, sleep – but he also craves entertainment/stimulation and now most days are smooth sailing.

I had a schedule set, I would drop off J at the Hoikuen by 9am, come back to attend classes and do assignments, pick him up at 3 or 4pm, play with him, give him a bath, dinner and he would be asleep by 8pm after which I would continue with my research. However, it took a while for him to get used to going to preschool and he would want to play outside when it was time for lunch, would push other kids as a form of “play” as he was used to playing with older kids back in Kenya, and the Hoikuen would call me to pick him up early. Usually, 12:30. However, by the third week, he was finally staying until 3pm or even 4pm without fuss, he was following rules, he was eager in the morning to go to school and would leave me at the entrance as I removed my shoes and run to his class to play with “my children” as he calls them in Swahili, “watoto wangu”.

Jeremy and I taking a walk at around the campus one evening. We stopped to rest and take selfies!

Jeremy and I taking a walk at around the campus one evening. We stopped to rest and take selfies!

Everything was starting to “settle down”. Having begun the month in a state of debt, I was planning on how to settle these debts, how to adjust my schedule so I could have more research time (I find myself going to bed at 8pm together with J!) etc. The city hall document requests were almost complete, and I was planning on my next blogpost about reviewing 2-3 books I had read recently. I was checking my emails when I saw an announcement from Stanchart telling me the loan rates were increasing, yet again. Yes, I took a bank loan from Stanchart two years ago at an interest rate of 16.9%, but the rates have now increased to 25.4%, possibly increasing my blood pressure as well. I was mad at the stupid economy that is Kenya right now, and the banks that must make a profit whether it rains or shines. Where they expect us to get more money from in the “prevailing economic conditions” as they said in the email is a mystery to me.

Then I got hacked, and anyone attempting to access my blog was faced with a dire warning: “reported attack page”.

I must admit, this warning scared the shit out of me.

I must admit, this warning scared the shit out of me.

Actually, the attackers had been around my blog for some time now. I found weird PHP scripts in my WordPress folder, such as kill.php, sulky.php, sly.php etc.. and my blog would be inundated with DoS attacks and would be inaccessible for some time. Updating WordPress and plugins and themes, changing passwords wouldn’t work.. until finally the dire warning came and even I could hardly access my blog. So now I was in the midst of figuring out how to start afresh, without infected files but while retaining all my 4 years’ worth of blogging content.

Suspicious php scripts in my previous WordPress folder

Suspicious php scripts in my previous WordPress folder

The clearing of the debts and loans, the cleaning of the blog, my assignments – every week I got new assignments for the two classes I am taking – my major research, my minor research project, where I was going to find time to study Japanese, Jeremy and how he was adapting to the school; these were among the many thoughts going through my head as we sang “The wheels on the bus song” on Wednesday morning last week as I drove Jeremy to school.

We had just got to a 4-way junction next to the university campus with no traffic lights but stop signs for the drivers on the “minor road”. I was on the main road and was going straight, and therefore I am not required to stop. I observed a car on the minor road that had stopped, so I merely slowed down and was almost through the intersection when I saw another white car bearing down on us from the left; I saw that it was not going to slow down or stop so I put my hand on the horn and my foot on the brakes. But it was too late, the next thing I heard was the crunch of metal against metal, and the sound of metal scratching against the road as both our cars went in different directions.

I cannot explain what the my state of mind was at that point but I was calm enough to oddly switch on the hazard lights, put the car in parking and switch off the engine, and then pick up J from his child seat that was strapped to the back seat. He was safe from injury and neither had I been injured. Carrying J, I went to see how the other driver was fairing as he got out from his car that had somehow climbed over the curb and come to a rest a few meters into the grass park. He was also fine.

This was my first accident. It was minor accident, when it comes to injuries. However, the condition of the cars is another story. At the point of initial impact, the front left wheel of my car was bent inward and suspended a little in the air, the axle having been bent into an awkward angle. The other guy’s car also looked terrible, with the glass on the passenger side shattered, and the hood gaping open revealing the piping and engine &co. The cops were called and wrote their report, the insurance company came, the guy admitted he was at fault etc… All this time, Jeremy was growing impatient as he wanted to go to school and luckily another student (she’s also a mother whose child goes to the same Hoikuen) who was passing by offered to take him to hospital for checkup and later to school, and I was left to deal with the formalities.

Now I feel like I am back to zero. Carless and broke as I wait for the insurance company to pay me for the damages even as they offer me the lowest amount possible.

But each day offers a new return to normalcy and mundanity, which is what I wish for. We are now using the school bus on most days and borrowing a car from a friend when needed. The most exciting thing I look forward to is when Jeremy has learned a new Japanese word or mastered the name of a new friend. The most satisfaction I look forward to is sending in my report just before the deadline. And when I manage to get enough time to type out a 2,000 blogpost and upload it to my now newly re-launched, clean blog (how I cleaned up is a story for another blog post). I am grateful for these small things. I also happen to have one of the most understanding professors for my major research which is a bonus.

The other day, some tweeps with pea-sized brains looking for some entertainment unearthed and started retweeting some tweets from 2010 (5 years ago!) when I had a twitter bout with a certain gentleman, then nicknamed “The Corporate Gangster”. I simply had no time to indulge them, I am literally and figuratively at another (superior) place and have more important issues to deal with. Like how calmly to navigate the 4-way junction each time I drive through it.

October was a long month, and all I ask for in November is normalcy, consistency, mundanity. I am simply glad to be alive so I can watch my son grow into the fine young man he’s already showing signs of.

(Edit)P.S.
To complete the October misery, I came to back to Japan only to learn that while I was in Kenyan in the summer, the only Japanese musician (and actor, photographer, radio host, Japan’s -well, formerly- most eligible bachelor etc) whose music I listen to, secretly got married but not to me as I had hoped 🙁

So anyway, you can listen to his playlist below.

Jeremy in Japan

Jeremy almost didn’t come to Japan!

I don’t know how to write this post so let me start from the very beginning.

I was born 27 years ago.. okay no, this is too far back. I graduated from campus 4 years ago and in those 4 years I lived in Rwanda for 3 months, I did my master’s degree, I worked at EY Kenya for 2 years, I bought my first car, I gave birth to my first baby (Jeremy) and I got a scholarship to do my PhD in Japan. That about summarizes all the posts in this blog between 2011-2015. While this paragraph could be mistaken for vanity, sometimes I write to “encourage myself” to hang in there, there is much more to be done.

When I got the scholarship last year, I had two major decisions to make. Quitting my job (it was a private company with no extended study leave unlike the government jobs) and leaving behind my young son who was then one a half years old. The former decision wasn’t so hard, while the work was good and promising, I wanted to travel and could always find another job when I got back. Leaving my son was hard, but I knew he would be well taken care of by my parents. His father and I are not together so he – the father – wasn’t a factor in the decision. Had I been married, perhaps the decision to leave would have been harder.

When I made the decision to come to Japan, I decided I would settle down then bring Jeremy to stay with me. I know many people who leave their kids to be brought up by their parents but I wasn’t going to take the easier road. Seeing Jeremy clinging to my mum at the airport, a bored expression on his face because he wanted to sleep, was a sad sight because poor J didn’t know he wouldn’t see his mum again for a year. The moment I landed in Japan, I put a countdown timer on the blog, it wound down to 0 on October 1st 2015, the day of the flight.

To prepare for J’s coming, I made all the visa formalities while in Japan. Because he’s my dependant getting his visa wasn’t so hard. I applied to move from the university dorm’s single rooms to the family room, I applied to the daycare center/kindergarten where J would spend his day etc.. and then I booked two return tickets from Japan to Kenya. Why return tickets? Well, the return tickets were cheaper so I thought I was being clever by booking two return tickets for Jeremy and I, to and from Japan. He wouldn’t fly with me from Japan but after my September summer vacation in Kenya, we would fly back together.

Return ticket

Return ticket

Buying a return ticket (originating in Japan) for J was a big mistake!

It turns out you can’t fly only the “return” journey on a “return ticket”; you can get away with just flying the “to” journey but not the “from” only. Which is not in the terms and conditions; I read them. And what’s this about return tickets being cheaper than one-way tickets?!

Anyway I didn’t know about this until 30th September, the day before the return journey from Nairobi to Japan. I got an email about my return journey itinerary but it only showed my name and not J’s. It was around 9pm, and I started to panic. I made a call to the Qatar offices in Nairobi and got a recorded message that their offices are open from 8:30 am to 5pm. The flight was the following day at 5pm. I hardly slept that night waiting for 8am when I would make the call.

It’s 6am on the day of the flight. I have already gone over the worst case scenario, where I would have to buy a new ticket and if there wasn’t a seat available on the same flight I would have to delay my journey until we could travel together. At 8am sharp, I called the Qatar line and got the recorded message again. I realized I was 30 minutes early and waited to call again at 8:30, only to yet again get the recording and this time it added that they were closed for the day! After consulting with my mum, I decided to try the ticket/checkin desk at the airport and so after a quick breakfast, I was at the airport at 10am, trying to find a way.

The desks were open and luckily the first guy I approached turned to be a supervisor or something, and he told me..
“oh those return tickets? No, you can’t fly out of sequence on a return ticket. Just forget about it.” Well, he didn’t put it that abruptly but that was the summary. He checked the details again and told me yes, there was space available and a one-way ticket for a minor to Japan would cost about 800 USD, or 88,000KES or 97,000Yen. I gave him my Japanese credit card to swipe. “Card cannot be not read” error. I tried to purchase the ticket online because then I could use the card, but you can’t do online booking for a minor alone, and most flights closed their online booking 3 days in advance. I even made calls to the online booking sites and they confirmed that they too, cannot book for a minor alone.

It was now past 11, and I called home and told them to give J a bath and to dress him, I was “almost sorting out the issue”. I refused to give in to the urge to sit down and cry.

The state of my finances is not great, being a student generally means no savings and sometimes lots of debt (e.g. in form of credit cards). My Kenyan credit card limit wasn’t enough to swipe, but I could withdraw a maximum of 25K. I now had a 75K deficit. It was then approaching 11:30am. 6 hours to take off.

Thank God for M-Pesa, and friends. I called my friends and within 30 minutes I had raised the deficit. By this time I had walked around the airport at least 3 times, making phone calls, withdrawing cash from MPesa agents and from ATMS, and had been in and out of the check-in terminal so many times that the security guys just nodded to me asking me, “bado?”

With the cash in hand, I went to the guy who told me to go wait for them in their offices behind the counters as they were readying to send off a plane. I went round the counters to the office and met this lady at the door; she was like, “yes?”

“I need to buy a ticket.” said I, wallet bulging with cash.

She narrowed her eyes, pursed her lips and said in the most patronizing tone ever, “We don’t sell tickets here.”

“What? But.. but.. where do you sell them?” I wasn’t even in a mood to negotiate, I just wanted a solution.

“Our town office.” She had this expression on her face that just begged to be smacked. I did not give in to the urge. Just then, the guy I had been dealing with appeared and said, “she’s with me.” That settled it, I was left to wait while they went to “wave goodbye to the plane.”

At around 1pm, he finally came back, he typed details here and there as I waited with bated breath. “Tuko na time, don’t worry”. As I handed over the cash, turns out it was 10K short. I had the rest in Mpesa but I had withdrawn less 10K. He told me don’t worry, just bring the cash during check in, which opens at 2:30pm. He handed me the freshly printed ticket and I rushed to the car and drove home just within speed limits. It was then almost 1:30pm and the last thing I needed was to be stopped by a [hungry] cop for over speeding. Luckily, we live about 20 minutes’ drive from the airport. A quick lunch, shower and change of clothes, last minute prayer from mum’s friend and I was finally driving back to the airport. We arrived at 3:30, checked in, said bye to family, sambazad all remaining bundles/airtime and finally boarded the plane.

Jeremy slept immediately we took off from Nairobi. He slept peacefully most of the trip from Nairobi to Doha. From Doha to Osaka was a totally different story, but what does it matter anyway? Jeremy is in Japan.

P.S. There is a possibility that I can ask the Qatar guys in Japan to let J reuse the now hanging ticket, perhaps by adding some fee. I just haven’t the energy to face any airline or their agent at the moment.