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

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

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.

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