Knee Surgery Waiver (USAF)

I’ve noticed many searches leading to my blog for Knee surgery waivers. This mainly comes from those who are looking into joining the Uniformed Services i.e. Army, Marines, Airforce, Navy, Coast Guard.

I had knee surgery in Kenya in 2010 and I didn’t think one day that decision would help me in the process of joining the US Air Force.

I was cycling when I felt something give way in my knee. I didn’t think much about it. I thought it was a pulled ligament that would heal. I tried cycling a few days later and my knee locked up. Walking became a problem.

I went to the ER to have it looked and the doctor I saw thought it might be something more serious. He called an Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Kagoda Byakika for a second opinion.

I saw him and he requested MRIs. After examining them he told I had torn my right knee Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). I had two options, undergo physical therapy for life with a possibility of early arthritis or undergo surgery to repair the ligament. Luckily I had medical insurance courtesy of my job then.

I chose surgery. Checked myself into Nairobi Hospital a week later, the surgery went well. I chose the epidural so I was half awake to see and hear Dr. Byakika and his team working on my clamped knee. He even allowed me to see inside my knee to see the damage on a screen as he worked with a small camera through a hole in the knee.

I was in hospital for a few days as I started my long physiotherapy journey which would come into play years later. That went on for months until I was able to regain full use of my knee. I went back to cycling and that was that.

I got a chance to emigrate to the US in 2014 and started the process of joining the US Air Force as soon as I got here.

Then came the big hindrance, if I’d ever had surgery I needed all the paper work to submit all the paperwork to show I regained full motion on my knee.

It wasn’t easy getting all the paperwork in Kenya but I did it and submitted it to my recruiter down in Houston. He submitted the waiver to the Surgeon General of the Air Force and it was approved.

The rest as they say is history. If I could do it as a newcomer to this country you can too.

I’m glad I did the ACL surgery as I don’t do too bad on my Physical Test (PT) even as an old 35 yr+ cat. My 1.5 mile run time is decent enough. 2 Sub 10s and a 10:20 in BMT has been my slowest. It’s doable. It takes time, is a pain and takes a minute to go through but be patient. If this foreign guy did it so can you.

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Useful Resources for Kenyans in Diaspora

I’ve been here since July 2014 and it’s been a roller coaster of sorts. Having moved thousands of miles from Kenya it hasn’t been hard to move often. So far I’ve lived in Houston, Texas for a year before joining the military and after joining I was in San Antonio and Wichita Falls in Texas for training before being posted to Goldsboro, North Carolina. I was there for a year before my wife joined me. After 6 months we moved to Alaska where we have 3 more years left before we move again.

The one thing that I have maintained is some connection to Kenya. I still use my Kenyan Safaricom SIM card 4 years on. I use my M-Pesa when I need to send money home. It hasn’t been hard. I have a 2nd phone with the Kenyan line. I don’t use it for voice calls as it’s expensive. You are charged to receive calls too. In case you are wondering how I load airtime on my line, I use another app to transfer money to my line then..voila

There is a calling service called Reltel which gives you 86 minutes of mobile calls to Kenya for $10. You can also make calls to other countries for cheap. I use it to call the people who are not tech savvy enough to have whatsapp on their phones.

Whatsapp is the universal diaspora chatting and calling app 😊😊. Most of my my American colleagues have never heard of the app. I don’t think there is an immigrant from Africa out here who doesn’t use whatsapp.

The other important app I use is Wave. You can send money to East and their exchange rates are not too bad. I use it to send money to Safaricom M-Pesa.

A year in Alaska

We’ve been in Alaska for a year now and to be honest it hasn’t been that bad. I’m glad we made the move up here. We experienced our first winter and that was interesting to say the least.

First we had to get studded tires for our cars which are allowed from mid October to May. They make a difference with traction especially on days when the roads are slick.

Military life has been easy too. Monday to Friday 7-4 is not exactly a difficult back breaking gig. I have 3 more years before I’m done. They should go by fast.

My wife has been working on base for the past year or so now and there is availability of jobs too compared to North Carolina where we were stationed before. The little guy is growing fast and he’s quite a handful dealing with. He goes to daycare and being with other age mates has helped in his development so far. He’s at a stage where ‘No has become his favorite word. Anything and everything you tell him is met with a No..interesting times as we hope he outgrows this stage soon. Did I say daycare is not cheap in America. It’s not. He goes to daycare on base here, the rates are subsidized according to one’s rank. The rates downtown are through the roof.

There are a tonne of things to do in Alaska. We have hiked, we have driven the through nearly all of Alaska’s roads. There is so much wildlife up here. We’ve seen Moose, Bears, Caribou and many other little creatures. Wildlife has right of way here on base, you don’t mess with them, give way and they’ll be on their way.

I tried fishing too with a friend of mine on a river a couple of hours from Anchorage. I didn’t catch anything but it was fun.

My brother and his wife came visiting from Kenya during Summer. We took them around the state and they had a good time. The most shocking thing for them was the sun being up at nearly midnight during the height of the the season. We took them on a cruise out in the Gulf of Alaska and to 2 other port cities ; Valdez and Whittier and they had a blast.

I’ve taken up a planespotting photography hobby since I’ve been up here. Anchorage is a big stopover for cargo airliners coming from Asia on their way to what we call ‘Lower 48’ or Continental United States. As an aviation enthusiast it’s been fun seeing all these jumbo jets up close. I hope one day I’ll be piloting one of them.

It’s officially Fall now and the colors outdoors have been amazingly beautiful. We’ve driven around and introduced the young guy to the outdoors and he loves it.

As we prepare for another winter, we are losing light fast. We’ll see how it treats us.

Below are some pictures of Alaska.

Seoul, South Korea

I’m stationed in Alaska and we are part of the Pacific Air Forces, meaning our area of operations extends across the Pacific. South Korea is a big part of our life here.

We were back in South Korea a couple of months ago, but it wasn’t without drama. We missed a connection in San Francisco and had to spend the night at the airport. The next day we got rebooked through Los Angeles and onto Seoul. Unfortunately our bags didn’t make it.

We made it to our final destination without the bags and for some of us without uniforms. We worked for a couple of days in our civilian attire. The bags made it 2 days later..pheeew.

We did what we were supposed to do and in about 10 days we were done. I had taken 2 days of leave to sightsee the capital Seoul before heading back to Anchorage.

Seoul has a population of about 10 million people. It has a very good public transportation system too. I had booked a hotel in the middle of downtown close to the train station. I found a luggage storage facility at the airport as taxis are very expensive and I didn’t want to be lugging around 3 bags of gear.

I used the Incheon to Seoul train. It’s a distance of 27km and they even have a direct non-stop one. I missed that and used the regular one making frequent stops along the way.

Seoul is hilly, I figured that out fast after checking in to my hotel then setting off to explore the Namsan Seoul Tower. One of the ways to have a birds eye view of Seoul.

The pictures above are of the “rural” Korea, the views of Seoul landing back at domestic Gimpo Airport and the Seoul Tower.

The following day I took a regular train tho the Lotte World Tower which is even higher than the Seoul Tower. It has fantastic views of the city. The next stop was the Gwangjang market, famous for street food. It’s easy to move around using trains or buses. I found the market and the food was as interesting as it gets. I wasn’t as adventurous as I had flights to take the following day and having a running tummy wasn’t something I wanted. I went with pork, some vegetable pancakes and fruit salad. They had all kinds of seafood, soups and meats. They even had seafood omelettes. The food section is inside a market with stalls selling clothes, food and all kinds of second hand stuff.

After the market tour I took a bus and toured the city including the Itaewon part of town popular with the military, university students and Americans. There a is a nearby Korean War Memorial nearby show casing all the military gear used by Americans and the Koreans. A walk around other parts of the city was tiring as it’s quite hilly around Seoul. It’s a great vibrant city full of life. It reminded me of Nairobi but more technologically advanced with very good infrastructure.

I spent the last night experimenting with night photography of the Seoul skyline. It was trial and error but I got some nice shots.

The next day I took a train back to Incheon airport and headed out for the long flight back home via San Francisco and Seattle.

I’ll be back to Seoul sometime. I didn’t barely scratch the surface of what the city has to offer.

Arizona

Last month I got a last minute temporary training assignment to Florida and decided on a whim to take a few days of leave en enroute. It was worth it but in hindsight I should have brought the family along.

The training trip to Florida went well. Slept in tents with air conditioning. Sometimes the Air Force gets the butt of the jokes in military circles for such luxuries. Air condition in a tent in the bunduz. The Army wishes they were us. I was not complaining though. The Meals-Ready-to-Eat or MRE’s were not too bad but most of my colleagues hate them. It usually consists of a pre -prepared meal that only requires heating to eat. There is a powdered drink, snack and some dessert of sorts. You warm it with a heating pad activated by adding water.

We played in the field and got some time on the equipment that we would use of we were to deploy.

After Florida I flew to Houston for a day to see my ‘family’ there. As you know I call Houston my American home. It’s where it all started. One of my friends was diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. So it was good to see him and hang out with him and his family. The warm weather was a welcome break from the coldish spring in Alaska. I also got to restock on some Kenyan food as there are Indian and Pakistani stores that sell ndengu aka green grams and tea. They also stock chapati flour. Another Kenyan delicacy.

My next stop was Phoenix, Arizona.I got a rental car at the airport and spent a night there then headed north towards Flagstaff. Flagstaff is a high altitude area in Arizona popular with elite runners. It’s more like Iten in Kenya. I stopped in Sedona and hiked in the Red Rock State Park. It’s a beautiful park with red rock formations. The nearby Sedona has the same rock formations and had a popular Catholic Chapel of the Cross built on the side of the red rock. It’s an architectural masterpiece.

I spent a night in Flagstaff which was my base for two nights. I had made reservations for the Page Canyon about 2 hours north. It’s one of the most photographed canyons in the world. It was formed by flooding erosion over the years and it’s now about 90 feet into the ground at its deepest point. It has steep ladders going down into the canyon. Once you are inside, you get to see God’s creative hand at its best. When the sunlight hits the canyon the colors are magical. It is on Navajo tribal land who benefit by charging a fee for guides. It was totally worth the hike and takes about an hour and a half to complete.

There is the Horseshoe Bend nearby which is an overlook of the Colorado River. It resembles a horseshoe. It’s viewed from a steep cliff 1000ft (300m) above the river. It’s a 1.5 mile hike to the overlook from the road. They have float raft tours down below where you navigate the river or from the Air in small planes. The hike was well worth it.

From there I headed to the Grand Canyon which is about an hour away from Page which is home to the canyon and overlook. The Grand Canyon is too big to explore in a day so I checked in, hiked for a little bit then then headed back to my base in Flagstaff before dark and came back the following day. There is so much to do there from biking, to hiking to helicopter tours to camping. I was able to explore and it’s a marvel of nature that has taken millions of years to form. The trick is to get there early which I did on the second day. Hike, explore the less popular viewpoints before human crowds become overwhelming and parking space becomes scarce. I loved it and even got to see some weird looking mountain elk.

From there I had a 5 hour drive south back to Phoenix. It’s a beautiful drive from the high mountain areas of Flagstaff to the desert down in Phoenix. Traffic is horrible there, reminding me of my Nairobi days.

I had made an appointment South of Phoenix in the Sonora desert to go and see the plane graveyard diem there. There is an airport in the middle of the desert called Pinal Airpark Marana where commercial planes land and for some making their last flights, for some the owners store them there due to the ideal dry desert climate which mitigates corrosion of the aircraft. It’s owned by the Pinal county and the airport economic development director takes people on tours if you coordinate with him in advance. It was formerly an Army Airfield during WWII where they trained pilots and later on a CIA off site for covert operations.

I drove down to the desert the following day and for an aviation enthusiast like me it was heaven. They all the Delta airline’s retired jumbo jets and so many other types of aircrafts being stripped of parts, others in storage awaiting new owners and some eye down there for maintenance. The is a big facility on site. I loved it seeing all the planes up close on the tour of the facility.

My fight back to Alaska was delayed as I drove back to the airport in Phoenix to drop off the rental car. Luckily I was rebooked through Los Angeles then onto Seattle and finally on the final leg to Anchorage arriving back in the wee hours of the morning. LA was great as I had a longer transit time so I was able to check out more interesting airlines from around the world like Aeroflot from Russia and Air New Zealand which of never seen before.

Travel is addictive as I always say and once the bug bites you, you are hooked forever.

Below are pictures from that trip starting in chronological order from Florida to LA.

Japan & South Korea

I got to visit South Korea and Japan and I have to say I have a new favorite country and city..Tokyo, Japan is my favorite city to visit for now.

I can confidently say both countries live in the future. They are so far ahead technologically and socially and it was a marvel to see.

Unlike some countries I’ve been to. They didn’t bother with you or even stare as a foreigner. They were immersed into their phones and gadgets on the trains and subways. It felt good to just go about your business without worrying too much even though I kinda stood out.

At the airport at Incheon, Korea you can rent a pocket Wi-Fi instead of getting a local SIM card. It costs about 5 bucks a day and I had booked one online before I got there. I just stopped by their airport stand, showed them the confirmation email. They hooked me up with the mouse-sized device, turned it on, set it up and I had instant Wi-Fi. It was fast and reliable whenever I went. It comes with a USB charger too. I loved it. I just dropped it off on my way out of the country and that was it. They even deliver it to your hotel if you land at crazy hours of the night and they are closed. Living in technological future and customer care.

One thing I noticed around South Korea was every available space is used for greenhouse farming. That was interesting. They farm by hand and also use machinery around and in the green houses. They utilize small parcels of land to grow wheat, fruits and vegetables. Very innovative.

The food was also very interesting. They had make-your-own-barbeque where they gave you raw beef or pork and you barbecued it on gas grills on the tables. Then they served more than 5 types of vegetables to accompany the meats.

Their common alcoholic drink is a very potent spirit served in a small soda bottle called Soju. It’s mainly made from rice or other starches and it’s alcohol content can vary from 16-50% alcohol content. I saw many Koreans having the drink with meals and shared the drink in shot glasses. I tried it and can attest to it’s potency.

The subway system is very advanced with local and intercity lines. The same with their road network with a lot of tunnels in mountainous areas.

They offer hot beverages vending machines. They had hot coffee & chocolate. I loved it.

Did I tell you they serve beer at KFC in Korea. Go in and order just beer, mko chicken. Yes, that was one of my highlights there.

I downloaded an app which I used to communicate with Koreans, you just wrote or spoke in English and it interpreted and translated making ordering for food and asking for directions that much easier.

It’s a 2 hour flight from Seoul to Tokyo. In Japan, it was another futuristic nation. I got to the airport at night. Cabs are ridiculously expensive in Japan. They mainly use trains and subways. Since I had luggage that I needn’t need in Tokyo. I found out you could lock your stuff in lockers at the airport for a fee. You got a receipt with a password for unlocking.

I used google maps for directions and they had attendants at all train stations to help with how to pay and where the platforms were. They had about 8 different train operators. Some shared tracks and for others you had to exit a station, cross a street and go into a different station. It was quite a challenge at first but I got the gang of it after a while.

It was easy to navigate and I had a great time in Tokyo. It is my favorite city thus far. They have train attendants to push people into the train cars for the doors to close during rush hour..it was funny to watchπŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

I took an organized trip to Mt. Fuji, 2 hours southwest of Tokyo. It was a beautiful drive through the forests and tunnels through the mountains.

Drove past the Maglev train test site tracks in Yamanashi prefecture. The train has hit speeds of upto 374mph (603kph) during tests. The train doesn’t use tracks but a set of magnets and kinda floats with no friction. It’s launch is planned for 2027. That futuristic Japanese stuff I was telling you about πŸ€”πŸ€”

It was a clear day and we were able to clearly see the top of Mt. Fuji, drove up to the Fifth station viewpoint, had Mt. Fuji shaped cakes and checked out the souvenirs on offer. Then had lunch at Lake Kawaguchi at the bottom of the mountain. Drove to Lake Ashi and took a cruise to the Hakone Komagatoke ropeway. We had a beautiful view of the nearby Odawara city overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Japan is an island and the nearest neighbors are Russia and Korea.

We ended the day long roadtrip with a ride on the Shinkansen bullet train back to Tokyo. With speeds upto 320kph the 2 hour drive took 40 minutes.

For some Kenyans who ‘shrub’ or have a tribal accent they would blend in so well as Japanese really mix up their ‘l’s and ‘r’s..🀣🀣🀣

There is so much to do in Tokyo, I barely scratched the surface but I was able to check out a few things. A cat themed cafe.. yes, a cafe full of cats where you just chill, have coffee or food as you pet cats.. random..i know. They also have Owl, Rabbits, Dogs, Snakes, Parrot themed restaurants. Interesting stuff.

For some of the fast food restaurants you pay into a machine outside the restaurant, got your receipt and change and only went in to grab your food.. no cashiers.

At one of the busiest intersections in the world at Shibuya there are over 1,000 people crossing at a time during peak hours at this intersection.

Japanese dress up in suits and their laptop bags, very official looking and they have some unwritten rules. When going up escalators they stand on the left side, those walking up or down use the right side. It’s interesting to watch especially during rush hour.

You don’t tip in Japan, if you try they get offended and will chase you down to give back your tip. Very interesting. Some off them also wear mouth masks which come in interesting designs. It was explained they are worn by many due to allergies brought about by certain tree pollen especially during summer. Masks are also worn to prevent spreading diseases due to the close personal space especially on public transport.

I did a bit of shopping at the famous budget friendly Japanese mega store Uni-Qlo. With 5 floors it was quite the shopping experience.

On my way out at the Narita airport, they had one of the biggest shopping areas of regular stuff I had seen. None of that duty free perfume and chocolate you see at most airports. It was more of a big market with local Japanese merchandise and Japanese tech stuff from outdoor gear to cameras. To crown it all they had an upstairs aircraft viewing deck. As a planespotterand aviation enthusiast there was no better place to be taking pictures of landing and departing aircraft. I nearly missed my boarding time snapping away.

I loved loved Japan and will be back to explore soon. It’s only 8 hours away from Alaska.

Komsa-Hamnida , Arigato… thank you in Korean and Japanese.

Life in Alaska

We’ve been here in Alaska for 4 months now and it’s snowing.. surprise surprise. It’s Alaska duh. It’s better than I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong. It’s cold but I’m never outdoors for so long. A few times I’ve been outside for too long and it’s painful on the extremities i.e. fingers and toes. One interesting fact about Anchorage is that it’s almost always warmer than most of the Midwest and Northern states. It’s currently 27F/-3C here while it’s -5F/-20C in Fargo, North Dakota..See πŸ€—πŸ€—..It’s said it’s going to be one of the warmest winters in history. Global warming at work.

Winter can be depressing at times due to the short days and darkness. At the height of winter the sun rises at 10am and it’s dark at 3.30pm. We start gaining 5 minutes of light everyday after Dec 21 until Spring in March or April. Some places up north are in total darkness for upto 60 days. That would be depressing. Suicides go up too during this time. There is a mood disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder aka SAD that is characterized by depression during this time. We take Vitamin D3 daily to help with effects of not getting the sun. There are also special lights you can buy called happy lights that produce a special UV light that triggers Vitamin D production in the skin. Who knew?

Alaska is different. You learn to live with what you get here. If not, Amazon Prime becomes your good friend and you can get nearly everything shipped up here. Well, almost everything. Some sellers won’t ship to Alaska. So it sucks sometimes. We have the Walmart, Target and a few brands I’d never heard of before I got here like Carr’s and Fred Meyers. Some people prefer to shop for toiletries and basic commodities in bulk from Amazon. Who knew? So random.

We live in Anchorage which is the largest city in the state. It’s bigger than my last city in North Carolina. It has 300,000 people. Not too big but it has everything we need, well nearly everything.

Crime in this city is out of control. It’s bad. It’s out of control. Car theft, burglary, breaking into cars. What drives all the crime up here is drugs. Weed is legal here, drugs are readily available. There are so many homeless people on the streets. It’s crazy. So we avoid downtown areas as much as we can. It’s up there in most dangerous cities in America. In the top 10 or 20. Who knew that?

Alaska is beautiful, half an hour outside of Anchorage and you could be in the wilderness. Bears and moose are a common occurrence here in Anchorage and even on base. Wildlife briefings are a thing and we got one when we got here. We’ve seen moose outside our house. It was surreal, they are cute but can be dangerous if you get too close to their calves.

Alaska is 2 and a half times the size Texas and the road network is very small. Most places in the state are accessed by air. It’s a pilots paradise out here. We’ve driven to different towns and most are rural by any standards. Fishing and hunting is big but very controlled. The native Alaskans live off their land and outs frustrating that you can’t get places that sell fish or game meat. It’s for personal use only.

Guns are readily available, I’m not in a hurry to get one though. People need the guns and rifles to hunt and scare wildlife if need be. Although of late people need them more to protect themselves from the two legged creatures called humans than the four legged wild ones. It’s wild wild west in this town.

Winter tires is a thing here. Starting from October we are allowed to change from regular tires to winter tires which have more grip in the snow and occasional ice. We went with studded tires, they have metal studs on which helps when the roads are icy. Before May comes around we are required by law to revert to regular tires or you are fined by the cops. It’s an extra expense which we didn’t have to think of in North Carolina or Houston.

There is a Kenyan community of runners who are part of the University of Alaska Anchorage Athletics team. We’ve had the pleasure of hosting of hosting them for Thanksgiving and they are a bunch of cool guys. It’s always a good thing when you can can sit down, have a meal, drink and just communicate in Swahili and reminisce far away from home. It’s always good knowing there is community near you far away from home. Kenyans are everywhere, best believe it.

Winter is not something that you just get used to overnight especially for us Africans. It’s painful being outside in -20C without the right cold weather gear. It hasn’t gotten that bad since we’ve been here though. The coldest its been was 0F/-18C.I’ve tried tubing in the snow recently and it’s fun but it doesn’t come naturally to be outdoors in those temperatures. I’ll try ice skating next and see how it goes.

I’d never fished before but the other day I ice fished and caught 2 pieces of fish. It was a great experience. You have this tent on a frozen lake. They drill a hole in the thick ice, in this case it was 11 inches of ice them throw a line into the water beneath and try catch some fish. It was great.

Hunting is also big here. Most of my colleagues hunt. And every so often some get to kill bears. Moose, Caribou hunting is normal. The rules are very strict though. All hunting can only be for personal consumption. So you won’t find game meat for sale here, same with fishing.

There is a large population of native Americans here, same with people from the islands (Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii, Polynesia), Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese and even Russians. Russia sold Alaska to the US in 1867 for $7.2 million at a crazy rate of 2 cents per acre. Crazy huh? Another interesting thing is that at the western most point in Alaska you can see Russia (on a clear day) two and a half miles across the small Diomede island and you can see ‘tomorrow’s on Big Diomede island which is on the Russian side. The international date line is right there between the US and Russia on the Bering Sea. There are no direct flights from here but if you connect through Nome there are flights from there. So technically we slightly over 2 hours away from Russia. During winter the sea is frozen and you can technically walk over to Russia, although I hear it’s forbidden and highly frowned upon by the two neighbors. Little Diomede is also known as yesterday island and big Diomede is tomorrow island. πŸ€”πŸ€”

We’ll be here for the next 4 years so there is time to explore and see more of beautiful Alaska. It’s a great outdoor state with tonnes of stuff to do.

Below are some pictures since we’ve been here.