Join the Total Eco Challenge

It is always one thing to be vaguely concerned about the environment, it is another to actively take part in environmental sustenance activities. One obvious way to do this is to plant (the right kind of) trees in your area. You don’t have to do this alone, you can be part of the Total Eco Challenge, and at the end of every year, they actually award individuals and organizations at annual gala dinner who have contributed significantly in increasing Kenya’s forest cover.

The TOTAL Ecochallenge program was started in 2002 with the aim of inspiring and helping all Kenyans to plant trees in every possible place. The target was 100 million trees per year, every year, for ever. Today, the program has more than 5,000 projects that have seen the planting of over 800 million trees since its inception.

Total Eco Challenge
Total Eco Challenge

On the Eco-Challenge Website, you can find information regarding what kind of trees to plant where, places where seedlings are available, and you can also join the Eco-Challenge as an individual or organization.

To ensure the success of the program, Total Kenya  has employed the services of an in house TOTAL EcoChallenge Advisor, commonly known as FORESTER, who is a trained expert in issues relating to plant species, habitat safety, ecological structure among others. The advisor is readily available for consultations reagarding tree agricutlure and can be contacted through the below contacts:

So go ahead and do your part in making this world a better place! If you have always wanted to plant trees, here is a starting place!

Bouncy Monkey and GoJimmyGo Android Games

Whenever I meet kids, one thing we can always bond over is the applications on my phone/tablet. Show them an interesting game and you have made instant friends. On the other hand if you have nothing going on in your phone, then what else will you talk about with kids who only speak Japanese? It is definitely easier to talk with adults than with kids when your grasp of a language is basic.

I came across these two apps developed by my former classmates during my master’s degree in Strathmore University.

Bouncy Monkey

I started by playing Bouncy Monkey. It is a nice enjoyable game with easy instructions, tap to jump and tap continuously to use the parachute*. It’s easy to play so it quickly becomes addictive, as you try to beat the high score. I managed to unlock about 4 levels the first time I played it. And of course when you clear a level, you get a screenfull of bananas! You are a bouncy monkey after all! Extra features include the ability to choose the colour scheme you want. There are in-app ads but well, since it is a free game you have to live with it! It’s easy to ignore them though.

Tap and hold to jump and start playing the game right away

Bouncy Monkey Screen1
Bouncy Monkey Screen 1

When you finish a level, there is celebration! It’s bananas!

Clearing a level in Bouncy Monkey
Clearing a level in Bouncy Monkey

I continued playing trying to increase my high score! This is how many levels I have now unlocked.

Unlocked levels in bouncy monkey
Unlocked levels in bouncy monkey

Suitable for all ages, get the app here! Let me know what you think.

GoJimmyGo!

In this game, a little boy called Jimmy is not only running from a dog, but he also has to navigate obstacles ahead. It is like Temple Run for kids, the concept is the same at the very least. I am still trying to unlock the first level though!

The dog just won't stop chasing Jimmy!
The dog just won’t stop chasing Jimmy!

Still stuck on level 1. I want to unlock the 9 levels and then see what lies beyond!

GoJimmyGo
GoJimmyGo Level 1 :(

Get the game from Play Store here.

At least I will be once again, a cool aunt to the kids I meet with these games :)

Kusadikika by Shaaban Robert: Book Review

I am about to pull a first on this blog: Swahili. It will be weird to review a Swahili book in English. This will not be easy so I must first gather my wits, turn back my mind to some 10 years before when I last studied Swahili, open a Google translate tab, and take a sip of wine. Right, then, let’s start. Do not despair if you can’t read Swahili, I will do an English translation below the Swahili one, so you can skip to there.

My copy of Shaaban Robert's Kusadikika that I got from Amazon.
My copy of Shaaban Robert’s Kusadikika that I got from Amazon.

Kusadikika: Kimeandikwa na Shaaban Robert

Mwanzo kitabu hiki kukisoma ilikuwa darasa la sita au la saba. Nilikipata nyumbani, labda kulikwa na mwanafunzi wa shule ya upili aliyekisoma na akakiwacha kwetu. Nakumbuka kilikuwa kizuri mno mpaka hata sijawahi kukisahau muda huu wote. Kuna vitabu vitatu vya Kiswahili ambavyo nimevipenda mno: cha kwanza ni kiki hiki Kusadikika, cha pili ni riwaya ya Siku Njema (Ken Walibora) na cha tatu ni Kisima cha Giningi (je, wakumbuka Inspekta Musa?) ambacho kimeandikwa na Muhammed Said Abdulla. Katika vitabu hivi vitatu, ni Kisima cha Giningi tu kilichotafsiriwa kwenye Kiingereza. Ila, vitabu hivi ni nadra sana kuvipata kwenye internet, ni kusadikika tu ndicho nilipata na nikakinunua papo hapo kutoka Amazon, kikaletwa huku kwangu Japan kwa siku nne ama tano.

Kusadikika ni nchi ambayo inapatikana hewani. Katika nchi hii, wananchi wanadhulumiwa na viongozi wao, wanyonge hawana haki na mawazo ya maendeleo yametupiliwa mbali kwa mila na desturi zisizo na manufaa. Nchi hii ya Kusadikika, kwa vile iku juu hewani, imepakana chini na Ardhi; juu yake ni Mbingu, and kando yake kuna pepo za Kaskazini, Mashariki, Kusini na Magharibi. Basi kukaja kutokea katika nchi hii mtu mmoja aliyeitwa Karama, akataka kuanzisha Uanasheria katika nchi hiyo ambayo mahakama zake hazikuwa na haki. Lakini waziri wa nchi hii, aliyekuwa mwenya haiba (charm) kubwa na uhodari mwingi hadi akaitwa Majivuno, hakufurahishwa kamwe na jambo hili. Akaamua kumfungulia mashtaka mahakamani kwani alitaka mambo yaendelea kama yalivyokuwa kwa maana yaliwafaidi sana watawala na matajiri.

Yaliyofuata yanasimuliwa kwenye riwaya hii hivi: kwa mara ya kwanza kwenye nchi hiyo, mfungwa alipatiwa nafasi ya kujitetea, awalaeze wananchi na watawala vile vile maana ya uanasheria. Alichukua siku sita ili kueleza lengo lake, na kila baada ya siku, umati uliomsikiliza ulizidi kuimarika hadi ukajaa kortini. Aliwakumbusha visa vya wajumbe waliotumwa Mbinguni, Ardhini, Kaskazini, Mashariki, Kusini na Magharibi. Wajumbe hawa walileta habari mbali mbali kutoka maeneo hayo, lakini habari walizozileta  zilikuwa za kustaajabisha sana kuhusu nchi hizi zingine. Habari hizi zilieleza vile nchi hizo zilivyoendeleza maisha ya watu wake, yakazidi kunawiri ilhali maisha ya Kusadikika bado yaligadhabisha.

Baada ya kusimulia hadithi hizi za Wajumbe wale, Karama alingoja hukumu yake. Je, hadithi hizi zilihusu nini haswa? Na Karama alifungwa au aliachiliwa? Ukitaka kujua haya yote, basi kisome kitabu hiki. Link ya Amazon ndiyo hii hapa :), ama kitafute kwenye duka la vitabu lililo karibu nawe.

Kitabu hiki kiliandikwa na Shaaban Robert katika enzi za Ukoloni; na kinaeleza nchi za Afrika zilivyokuwa hazina haki, sheria au hata utu. Shaaban Robert kwa ubunifu wake wa riwaya na mashairi ya Kiswahili analinganishwa na William Shakespeare. Sijapata kuyasoma maandishi yake mengine ila kitabu hiki, kwa hivyo enyi mnaosoma hii blog mnaweza kunipa kama zawadi siku ya kuzaliwa ikiwadia :-) . Anwani yangu nitawapa, na siku yenyewe ni Aprili 23. Au hata siku yoyote tu, zawadi nitaipokea.

English Review

The first time I read this book, I was in class six or seven. I think someone who was using it as a setbook in secondary school leftit behind. I have never forgotten it since; such was the impact. There are 3 Swahili books that I can call my favorite: this one, Siku Njema by Ken Walibora and Kisima Cha Giningi by Muhammed Said Abdulla (remember Inspector Musa?). These books are hard to find on the internet, but I was able to find Kusadikika and ordered it from Amazon. It arrived in 3-4 days. Of these three, only Kisima cha Giningi has been translated into English (at least as far as I know)

Kusadikika is a fictitious country that exists somewhere in the sky. In this country, injustices are perpetrated against all notions of justice, law and humanity. This country is bordered below by Earth, above by Heaven, and around it are countries of the North, East, South and West. One man wants to bring justice into this country by introducing law studies, his name is Karama. Of course, the leaders who benefit most from this status quo are not happy about this, and the (prime) minister of the country, a charming and competent man called Majivuno, brings charges of treason against Karama in the very same unjust courts.

What happens next is what is explained in the following pages: for the first time in the history of Kusadikika, the accused is given a chance to defend himself.It took him about six days to do so, and each new day the crowd that listened to him grew bigger and bigger, filling the courtyard. He began his tale by telling them about some 6 messengers who had been sent ages before by Kusadikika to Earth, Heaven, North, East, South and West. These messengers had gone and come back with unbelievable tales of how other countries were learning from their mistakes and starting on the path of development, improving the lives of their citizens. However, the leaders didn’t like what they heard and life in Kusadikika continued in the same vein.

After the 6 days of defense, Karama awaits judgement. Will he be convicted or acquitted? And what exactly was going on in the other countries? To find out, get a copy of this book from Amazon or your nearest bookshop ;)

This book was written during the colonial period and it allegorizes the injustice against the law and humanity that the countries suffered under colonial rule. It is claimed that Shaaban Robert is to the Swahili language what Shakespeare was to English. I have however, not read any other book of his apart from this one. Presents are highly welcome, I will share my address. My birthday is coming up in April :)

P.S. Typos are highly regretted, it is almost 2 am and I just did 3 blogposts tonight!

The Kenyan Blog Awards 2015

For the last 3 years, the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) has brought you the annual Kenyan bloggers’s awards. For me, they are always a chance to discover new interesting blogs I can follow (as if my reading list is not full enough already!). Anyway, do you have a blog you think is worthy of an award? The nomination phase is now open and you can nominate your favorite blog.

Mr. and Mrs. Ben Kiruthi who won last year's best photography blog category.
Mr. and Mrs. Ben Kiruthi who won last year’s best photography blog category.

The 2015 BAKE Kenyan Blog Awards will have 18 categories. This comes after the addition of one category, a “Best Education Blog” category. This category will reward blogs about education matters and those run by educational institutions.

The inaugural BAKE Blog Awards was held in 2012 and it had 14 categories; best technology, photography, creative writing, business, food, agriculture, fashion, politics, sports, general and corporate blogs as well as giving out awards for the “tweeps” of the year. 300 blogs were submitted and 10,000 people voted. The gala event to award the winners was held on 5th May 2012 at the Nairobi Serena.

The second edition of the awards which were held in 2013 and had 15 categories. The ‘Lifestyle/Entertainment’, ‘Blog of the Year’ & ‘Travel Blog’ were added as categories and the two Twitter categories i.e. Best Individual Tweep & Best Corporate Tweep. Over 500 blogs were submitted and 50,000 people voted. The gala event to awards the winners was on 4th May 2013 at Southern Sun Mayfair Nairobi.

In 2014 the awards were held at Intercontinental Hotel Nairobi and it had 17 categories. 2 new categories “Best County Blog’ and ‘Best Health Blog” were added. Over 800 blogs were submitted and more than 50,000 voted in the 2014 awards. The 2014 awards produced a tie on the Best Sports Blog category which was a first for the awards.

The timeline for the awards will be as follows:

  • 1. Submission phase – January 9th 2015 to February 18th 2015
  • 2. Judging phase – February 19th 2015 to February 28th 2015
  • 3. Online voting – March 2nd 2015 to April 30th 2015.
  • 4. Winners Gala Event – May 2nd

This year, the awards will have 18 categories with the addition of ‘Best Education Blog’.

  1. Best Technology Blog
  2. Best Photography Blog
  3. Best Creative Writing Blog
  4. Best Business Blog
  5. Best Food Blog
  6. Best Environmental/Agricultural Blog
  7. Best Fashion/Beauty/Hair/Style Blog
  8. Best Politics Blog
  9. Best New Blog
  10. Best Corporate Blog
  11. Best Topical Blog
  12. Best Sports Blog
  13. Best Entertainment/Lifestyle Blog
  14. Best Education Blog
  15. Best Travel Blog
  16. Best Health Blog
  17. Best County Blog
  18. Kenyan Blog of the Year

To submit blogs into the competition, bloggers and fans of bloggers should visit blogawards.co.ke/submit.

 

The rainbow bridge in Odaiba

Tokyo

Over the winter holiday, I went to Tokyo to see the New York of Japan (for some reason I kept calling it New York).

One thing for me defines Tokyo. It is not the skyscrapers,  not crowds of people with a number of foreign faces bobbing through… it’s the trains. Tokyo has an expansive railway that is the lifeline of the place. Coming from Nairobi where there is only one railway line, serving only a few routes, I was really impressed by the railway network in Tokyo.

The Nairobi Commuter Train Route.
The Nairobi Commuter Train Route. Image from www.jambonairobi.co.ke

The subway was up to 7 floors down.. on each floor below the ground, there was a different line running. I was actually excited to be riding the subway, riding a tube under the ground was like being in the future :) Bear in mind that the map below is just the subway, the (normal) railway line, JR East, is not included.

The Tokyo Train Map.
The Tokyo Metro Map. Image from http://www.wa-pedia.com/

The Journey to and From

Japan’s total area may be less than Kenya’s, but it is a series of islands stretched wide and long. So moving from one part of Japan to another takes quite some time actually, it will take a number of days (driving or train) to move from Hokkaido in the North to Okinawa in the South. It takes about 4 hours by train from Kanazawa City to Tokyo, but 2 hours by the Shinkansen (bullet train) which one can take from April this year. Trains are not so cheap, it costs about 10,000 Yen (Ksh 8,000) one way! However, there was an offer by JR Railway where 5 people buy a ticket for about 10,000 Yen but only using local trains. We went to Tokyo in a group of 10 people, used only local trains (stopping at every small station along the way),  and transferring a total of 6 times. We took 11 hours to Tokyo, having watched Japan’s beautiful countryside in winter. Coming back, I took a night bus for about 8 hours and slept through most of the journey back.

Japan countryside in winter
Japan countryside in winter. Much of the countryside was covered in a beautiful layer of white.
At one of the transfer stations along the way
At one of the transfer stations along the way

Sometimes we caught a glimpse of the sea.

A glimpse of the Japan sea
A glimpse of the Japan sea

In Nagano,  a renowned ski area, the snow was window-high and if it continued then it would soon be over 2 meters high. Perfect for skiing and snowboarding. I hope I can go skiing or snowboarding end of this month or early the next.

Look at the height of the snow!
Look at the height of the snow!

Chiba

Chiba is a neighbouring prefecture of Tokyo. I met a number of Kenyans living there, including my friend Anthony with whom I got the MEXT Scholarship. He taught me how to ride a bike (it has been embarrassing to admit that I don’t know how to ride a bike, but now that is behind me!).

The Edogawa river in Matsudo, Chiba
The Edogawa River in Matsudo, Chiba

We traveled on the 23rd and on Christmas, had dinner in at Australian restaurant in Chiba. the portion sizes were huge. We told ourselves, “ganbarimashoo”,  the Japanese expression for let’s do our best!

Christmas dinner was a feast at an Australian restaurant in Chiba
Christmas dinner was a feast at an Australian restaurant in Chiba

Odaiba

This place is famous for various sights such as its giant robot (my camera doesn’t take good photos at night so I couldn’t capture this well), the rainbow bridge, a replica of the statue of liberty, a beautiful walk near the sea and various illuminations during the festivals, among other sights and sounds.

Illumination at Odaiba
Illumination at Odaiba
The statue of liberty at Odaiba
The Statue of Liberty at Odaiba

The Rainbow Bridge is beautiful.

The rainbow bridge in Odaiba
The rainbow bridge in Odaiba

Tsukuba Kenyan party

On another day, I joined Kenyans having a party at Tsukuba at the JICA center there. Tsukuba is a city in Ibaraki prefecture next to Tokyo. The road there was beautiful in winter, I am sure it will look great in spring when the cherry blossoms are blooming on the trees lining the road below. There was ugali, sukuma wiki and chicken stew, there was pilau, chapati and beef  (just writing this is making me salivate). We also attempted some nyama choma (barbecue), braving the cold outside. A good time was had by all!

The road to Tsukuba
The road to Tsukuba

Shinjuku

This area in Tokyo is defined by its skyscrapers. Exiting West from the Shinjuku Station is like being in the West side of Moi Avenue in Nairobi. Exit East and you walk into a multitude of people, and it is here that I first saw a homeless man living in a tunnel! He surrounded himself with cardboard boxes and warm blankets, and he appeared to be staring at some poster in his hand.

During the earthquake in 2011, these skyscrapers were swaying from side to side ( you can even hear the sounds they make as they sway, watch this video if you are strong enough), a testament to Japan’s engineering ingenuity. If they were inflexible, they would crumble from the pressure of the quake!

Shinjuku Illumination
Shinjuku Illumination
Skyscrapers in Shinjuku
Skyscrapers in Shinjuku

Fascinated by the building below:

Shinjuku skyline
Shinjuku skyline

Tokyo Sky Tree

This is the second highest structure in the world (after the Burj Khalifa in the United Arab Emirates), standing at 634m high (picture 600 meters on the ground.. seen it? Okay, then make that vertical and you can picture what you are looking at). However, as a standalone tower, it is the highest in the world. I wanted to get up there, and take in the areal view of Tokyo. However on the day I went, there was a multitude of people, and we were told to come back 3 hours later, to start queuing! We gave up.  I will be in Japan for the next 3 years at least, so I will save some places for next time.

My friend managed to go up however, and you can check out her breathtaking pictures of Tokyo’s skyline here.

On a related note, if the Japanese got a very thin, long wire and added it to the top of the Sky Tree, it could go back to being the highest structure in the world, no? When will Kenya make a remarkable contribution to the world’s skyline? Now that we discovered oil, isn’t it high time?

The Tokyo Sky Tree jutting into the Sky, highest tower in the world.
The Tokyo Sky Tree jutting into the Sky, highest tower in the world.

Roppongi

Of course no trip to Tokyo is complete without a visit to its entertainment district! Somewhat dodgy, a little dangerous I hear, but otherwise fun. However, we went on a Tuesday evening and were told the dance clubs are closed until Thursdays onwards. There were lot of sports bars though.. Irish, British.. the British pub we went to was run by this guy who is half Japanese, half Ghanaian.  On that day, there didn’t seem to be much happening so after one drink and a round of darts, we left. Trains in Tokyo don’t run all night, they stop at midnight. So if you want to party you must be ready to stay till morning, or take a (fairly expensive) cab home. Anyway, place earmarked for next time :)

At the end of the 8 days, I was actually glad to get on the bus and go back to my fairly quiet city of Kanazawa. I had missed it.

And that dear readers, is my winter holiday report. Now rate it below.

 

The Ishikawa Zoo

(There are times as a blogger (writer) when you will be sitting at your computer, fingers poised over the keys, cursor blinking, and a hot cup of coffee/tea or cold beer/wine just within reach, but the words just won’t come. The mood is right, the time is right but the words are stuck in your mind. Sometimes you give up altogether, and switch to other mundane stuff, like watching videos of The Real Househelps of Kawangware on Youtube. And then you ask yourself, whom am I writing for? Then I finally realized that I am not writing for you readers (sorry!) but for myself and now my mind is finally free, I can write more easily. On that note then, back to blogging.)

There is a class I am taking, there are actually two classes I am taking that are not compulsory (but they somewhat are). One of them is a free-conversation class, just a class for Japanese students to meet international students and vice-versa. We do fun activities like Christmas parties and presentations about each other’s countries. In the last week of classes last year, we had a visit to the Ishikawa Zoo which is about 30 minutes from here.

The visit to the zoo was interesting and depressing all at the same time. I think this is my first visit to a zoo, does the Nairobi Orphanage counts as one? I was impressed by its diversity. Despite its small size (relative to our wildlife parks), there was a wide range of animals (the number was not much, but the variety was big), from birds to tropical reptiles, to fish to bigger animals like the giraffe and even an elephant! However, while the smaller animals  and the aquatic ones seemed to thrive, the bigger animals and the primates seemed lonely and and their sadness was tangible and infectious.

It was a beautiful winter day at the zoo and we walked around in groups of about 5 people each admiring the animals (plants, maybe not so much).

Ishikawa Zoo
Ishikawa Zoo

There was a lion lying in the weak winter sun trying to bask in vain. Now that is not something you see everyday, an African lion in snow. You get the feeling that it isn’t right, it should be roaming the extensive Savannah plains of Africa, running freely in pursuit of its meal or lazing with the pride under a tree licking its jaws and giving a satisfied roar. Instead, it lay there just beyond the glass and when it saw us, turned and gave us its back! But before that it gave a thundering roar that would have been scary were it not for the glass between us. But maybe it’s a lion that grew up in an orphanage or in a zoo and does not know what life in the wild looks like, and might not survive there, I comforted myself. But does it feel the call of the wild, a thought persisted? Judging from its roar, it probably did.

Lion at the Ishikawa Zoo

Lion at the Ishikawa Zoo

The lion giving us its back

The lion giving us its back

We had gone to the lair of the big cats first, so we saw a lioness in a tiny room where we could peer at her up close, but no good stills of her were possible as she paced restlessly up and down. The tiger in the next stall also paced up and down as if in synergy or is it resonance. By contrast, the leopard in the next stall sat still in a depressed stance, barely blinking as we gaped and took photos.

The lioness paced up and down her cage
The lioness paced up and down her cage, she couldn’t be still

The tiger(or tigress) in the next room paced too

The tiger(or tigress) in the next room paced too
Clearly photography is not my strong suit but then the best place for photographing animals is in the wild

The next subject was more still. Too still if you ask me.

The sad leopard
The sad leopard

Wait, not all the animals at the zoo were sad! The snow leopard was cheery, running around its habitat and sometimes ambling silently over our heads. We had to stare at him through the glassy ceiling as he (or she) also sought some sun.

The snow leopard at the Ishikawa zoo
The snow leopard was more cheerful, thankfully!

After that, the mood grew lighter as we saw numerous other small animals playing, eating or just sleeping.

Cute and sleeping
Cute and sleeping

We then stepped into what was a recreated tropical rainforest environment, complete with the heat and humidity. The vegetation, fish and animals are all thriving in the artificial micro-climate.

The python looks really comfortable up on that tree
The python looks really comfortable up on that tree

And resting below is the giant Iguana lizard, I didn’t know it’s name and had to ask on twitter. Thanks for the answer, 

What are you looking at?
What are you looking at, it seems to be asking. I guess the vegeterian meal wasn’t so satisfying?

There were penguins being cute, and rodents called Capybara that are the largest rodent in the world. These love being in hot baths and they had and even had a running jacuzzi (ofuron/onsen), very convenient in winter, don’t you think?

Kapibara at the zoo
Kapibara at the zoo. That’s what their name reads in Katakana. (Capybara)
Penguins at the Kanazawa zoo
Penguins at the Kanazawa zoo

Lots of birds, but you know.. caged birds. Amazingly, they have also at the zoo a giraffe and an Asian elephant. However they were too huge for the tiny rooms they were housed and being behind metal bars.. I am not even going to share their photos. Instead, look below at this fantastic image from Mutua Matheka’s blog of an elephant in Ambosel! After that, continue visiting the website to download new wallpapers every Monday or even using the Android App.

Elephant in Amboseli

Elephant in Amboseli

The seals were really fun to watch. They did flips in water and swam with grace. We watched one being fed fish and it seems as if it was also being taught something (not sure what) as it was patiently fed one fish after another. Initially, I assumed they were sea lions and had to Google to see the difference, learning a lot in the process.

A seal swimming
A seal swimming

Feeding of the seal:

A seal being fed at the Ishikawa zoo
A seal being fed at the Ishikawa zoo

Can you believe all that lasted just an hour? There was no time to linger at the zoo, it was a touch and go (or glance and go) moment, and it was a lovely experience, sad animals notwithstanding!

When was the last time you went on a class tour?

Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship 2015 Europe, the Middle East and Africa

Dr. Anita Borg (1949-2003) devoted her adult life to revolutionizing the way we think about technology by dismantling barriers that keep women and minorities from entering computing and technology fields. In honor of her vision, Google is announced the Google EMEA Anita Borg Memorial scholarship, which awards a group of female students a € 7,000 scholarship for the 2015-2016 academic year. All recipients will also be invited to attend a networking retreat.

Anita Borg
Anita Borg

Deadline to apply: February 2, 2015

To be eligible to apply, applicants must:

2014 Highlights

Happy New Year 2015 to all my blog readers, thank you so much for reading and a special one to those who comment from time to time. A blog is nothing without its readers, thank you!

2015 Happy New Year
2015 Happy New Year

I have a lot of things I intend to achieve in the year 2015 and onward, they are not really resolutions but goals. A year ago, I did a 30 things to do before 30 list, but it remains private for now :-) I will publish it once I hit 30 and I can take a look back and see what I have achieved so far.

But in our quest for bigger, faster, better things, we sometimes forget to reflect on the past and just be content that we are alive and still have the chance to achieve more. Reflection should not mean complacence and accepting the status quo, but rather should spur you on further if you can see how far you have come and just what you are capable of.

Here are some highlights of 2014 for me:

Jeremy Turned 1 on March 30th

Being a mother has of course, made me a better person. Jeremy is a healthy and energetic young boy and there is nothing more I could ask for. Sooner than later, he shall be joining me here in Japan. I cannot wait for that day!

I turned 26 on April 23rd

Well, all I had to do is continue breathing, and eating, and the years will roll by, but for me a birthday is important even if I don’t like to make a big deal on the actual day. I am grateful for every chance to be alive, every extra day.

Jeremy and I 3 months ago
Jeremy and I 3 months ago

Master’s degree in July

Finally, after almost 3 years I got my master’s degree from Strathmore University. Thanks to the Safaricom Academy for the sponsorship.

Meeting Wole Soyinka at the Storymoja 2014 Festival 

I still haven’t done a post on my blog, but I met The Man, and he signed my two books! Ake, The Years of Childhood and You Must Set Forth at Dawn. He was an honoured guest at the Storymoja Festival and he gave a lecture in memory of Wangari Maathai. That link is my summary of his lengthy speech.

And on the second day, I also attended another of his sessions and I got to ask him some questions, can you believe it guys? I got a chance to ask Wole Soyinka questions. This man makes me feel like my English level is rudimentary, at best.

It seemed Dr. Auma Obama was his right hand person (even if she is seated to his left in the below picture), so I guess I got to meet her too. She’s an author, activist, philanthropist and also Obama’s half sister. Read her interview in Time Magazine.

Wole Soyinka with Dr. Auma Obama at Storymoja Festival
Wole Soyinka with Dr. Auma Obama at Storymoja Festival

Flying to Japan

I waited for almost a year after getting the scholarship to get on the plane to Japan. It was not an easy decision to make, I had to resign from my previous job as an IT auditor with a big 4 firm, I had to leave my son behind for some months because logistics couldn’t allow him to come with me immediately, and I had to research in a field I am interested in, but which has little in relation to my previous work experience.

In the end, I am glad I came. Japan is amazing. Sure, there are some things I don’t like about it (shh.. I didn’t just say that), but there are many things I love about this country. I look forward to the next 3 and a half years or so, and I am enjoying my experience so far. So much to see, so much to do.

I just came back this morning from Tokyo, where I spent about 8 days. Took the subway for the first time. The train network in Tokyo is dizzying, it feels like you’re living in the future :-) Before that, I had been living and continue to live in a relatively quiet city of Kanazawa. You almost forget you are living in a country best known back home for its technological advances.

Anyway, the sights and sounds from Tokyo will be another blogpost.

There were very many moments that stood out for me in 2014, but I cannot highlight them all. I read a lot of books, at least 13 from my book reviews. I also read quite a number of lengthy articles (or essays) on the web, from varied fields. Reading for the pleasure of reading. For instance, Aeon magazine is one source of essays I spend weekends reading. I also watched a number of TED Talks (and yes they are all kind of motivational at the end -yay, we can do it!-, but I like to hear about amazing stuff people are doing). I learned to solve the Rubik’s cube, crossing off an item on my 30’s bucket list.

Here’s a toast to 2015, let’s do it!

 

 

 

Got a Petrol Engine? Try the Total Quartz Engine Oil

I still don’t know much about cars, in spite of owning one for over a year now. There are a few things you must know though, like what important liquids it needs: engine oil, ATF, fuel and wiper fluid. You should check them every day, but I never did. Sometimes I’d go for a week or two, and all I did was top up my fuel weekly (I’d fill my tank). Which is why when my engine oil was leaking, I never noticed and had to push my car off the road when it stalled. Embarrassing? No. I look at it like an adventure.

This is why I want an electric car. No fluids, period. No hood full of  sputtering liquids and complicated wiring. But that is a wish for another day.

In a quest to find the perfect engine oil (which is important for lubrication of the moving engine parts as well as keeping it clean). You can get oil which you change after every 10,000Kms or every 20,000Kms. If you cover long distances daily, then you should choose the 20,000 Kms one.

Regularly servicing your car will improve your engine efficiency so you burn less fuel per kilometer. Before, I was quite indiscriminate on where I serviced the car, but after that embarrassing episode, I serviced it at a reliable mechanic’s and also got Total Quartz Engine Oil. There’s a smoother feel afterwards, but I don’t know about fuel consumption, I didn’t measure it.

So today I am checking out what others say about this engine oil, is it any different from what they used previously? All the reviews on Amazon are good, 4 or 5 stars (17 out of 22 reviewers gave it 5 stars). Here’s another review from a motorhead. The engine is an integral part of your car, and every day, scientists are trying to create the best products for it. If you want more out of your car, you have to take good care of it!

So have you tried the Total Quartz Engine Oil? If you have, please share your experience!

 

 

Okonomiyaki – My Favorite Japanese Dish

Every time I do a post on Japan, I will find a way to talk about food! Yep, I love food. The eating part, the cooking not so much. I have tried many Japanese dishes, although I am yet to try the seafood delicacies that are served on special occasions like New Years  Eve/Day (Christmas is not that big of deal in Japan, but it is somewhat celebrated). They include delicacies like Octopus and crab. Someday I shall try them.

Japanese food for New Years's Day
Japanese food for New Years’s Day

For now, my favorite dish is okonomiyaki. In Japanese, that is お好み焼き. And there is this restaurant where I have been to twice, they let you make your own. Fear not, it takes about 10 minutes to cook once they bring you the ingredients. It is a dish that’s pan-cake/pizza-like. It has various meats and veges inside, and then it’s cooked on a special pan.

The end result is then decorated by a soy-like sauce, fish-dressing (can’t remember the name), sometimes mayonnaise and it should look like this:

Okonomiyaki.. delicious
Okonomiyaki.. delicious

The restaurant we went to is just 2 minutes walk from where I stay. It’s called 古川, which means Old River. They give you a menu and you get to choose what ingredients you want in your okonomiyaki.

Ingredients for okonomiyaki
Ingredients for okonomiyaki
Friends mixing up the ingredients before the cooking begins
Friends mixing up the ingredients before the cooking begins
Pour everything onto the hot plate, already oiled, and watch it cook
Pour everything onto the hot plate, already oiled, and watch it cook
Flip it over and decorate
Flip it over and decorate

The end result? Does it look like anything in the first picture? Hmm.. close enough.

Was it delicious? Totally. おいしいですよ!

The end result
The end result

Washed down with a beer, it’s the perfect Friday night meal with friends!