Hurricane Matthew

We got hit by the hurricane and lived to tell the story. I was without power for 5 days. The city got flooded and some people have lost their homes which are still submerged. Businesses are counting losses. 

I survived on bread, milk and cereals until I got power back. It had been predicted that Florida, Georgia and South Carolina would get hit by the hurricane. Unfortunately North Carolina got the brunt of it all. 60 mph winds took out trees and with it power lines. 

Interstate highways were closed for days, local roads were closed and some are just reopening. It’s going to be a long road to recovery for a lot of people. 

Losing power back in Kenya courtesy of Kenya Power & Lighting Company was a common occurrence whenever it rained. Mostly you’d lose power for a couple of hours but sometimes it’d be for days. Candles, a headlamp and a good attitude did it for me. Luckily the water heater insulation is good enough here and it kept the water hot for a few days before I got power back. 

Hundreds of high water rescues were conducted in the local area and some people unfortunately lost their lives. 

Luckily for the base, most aircraft had been repositioned further inland. Some families on base housing had to be evacuated to the gym for a night. 

A river that runs by the base crested at 29.7 feet, flooding part of the base buildings in that area. Damage to some buildings won’t be known until the water subsides enough for their structural stability to be determined.

It’ll take a while to recover for sure but I’m grateful that I’m safe above everything else. Here are a few pictures of the devastation in the area.

Photos courtesy : sjafb, news Argus cops, Connie Wise Richards

Third Class Medical

I finally got my medical and student pilot certificate today from the Lieutenant Colonel on base who is a certified Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). It’s valid for 5 years. The dream continues.

I went to the local flying school a couple of months ago and got all the information I needed towards starting my Private Pilot License (PPL) certification. You see even with the GI Bill which is the military veteran benefit that attracted me to the Air Force, I still need to have a PPL in order for VA (Veteran Affairs) to pay for my flight training.

The nice lady at the airport informed me a doctor on base does aviation exams at no cost. I called up the hospital and they just took me around in circles and finally told me the aviation doctor only does renewals for those renewing medical certificates. 

School was starting around the same time so I got busy with classes and school work and relegated the medical to the back burner.

Until last week when it hit me that I needed to get going with that PPL. I called the flying school and spoke to the main boss. Surprise, surprise..I was misled by the hospital..they do 3rd class medicals on base after all..what the..she even have me the name of the only Colonel on base who does them for military pilots here. I was in luck.

Third Class is for pilot students, second class for commercial pilots carrying under 19 passengers and first class is for airline transport pilot license.

I called the flight medicine department early this week and voila..got a quick appointment. I only had to do my Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) medical pre application, get a confirmation number and do a urinalysis before then. I downed a liter of water and headed to the hospital lab immediately. I gave a urine sample and was on my way.

I reported early for my medical. Waited for a bit and was sent for a hearing test. I’ve done a couple before but this one felt extra long..luckily I passed with flying colors..you missed the joke? 😝😝..Aah.

Next I did the visual test..reading those tiny letters and numbers while head butting this microscope looking thing. Done. Next was a color test. It was kinda challenging that one..the faded letters in blue, green and purple on faded background did not help. I passed though.

The doctor did a physical..the-breathe-in-breath-out routine, joint reflex, eye exam, questions and finally getting all the info to FAA online.

He gave me the low down. The certificate must be on my person anytime I’m flying or else..

He gave me two original copies. If I  lose them I have to apply to FAA in Oklahoma City for a replacement which takes a while..and finally no copies allowed. Only originals with a wet signature. 

Wished me luck in my flying career and I was on my way..the journey of a thousand miles has started with the first step or maybe the second step. I’m enrolled in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University already.

Next get the PPL show in the air..buckle up for the long journey ahead.

Your dreams are valid..keep keeping your body, mind and soul on them.✈✈✈

In other news, I drove to a national park hours away on the long labor day weekend a couple of weeks back. Here are a few pictures from that roadtrip.

North East US

The wait is nearly over..key word ‘nearly’. The cogs are moving slowly to the beat of government red tape. A week at a time. The process to get the missus here is getting somewhere. We are waiting for an interview date at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi. It’s gone much faster than we’d been told. 4 weeks instead of 6. Not bad.

The case is complete now. They’ve reviewed all the paperwork we sent them and they are satisfied to let us proceed to the next ‘hurry up and wait’ process.

We are waiting for interview scheduling at the embassy level to open up. In the meantime I’m grateful that the missus has a visitors B1/B2 visa to visit. She was visiting for a couple of weeks. It was the first time she was visiting my East coast pad. Summer is coming to an end but she got a taste of temperatures exceeding 90 degrees fahrenheit (32C) with 100% humidity. It wasn’t pretty but hail air conditioning. I’m ok here. Houston was much worse heat wise.

The wife visited, got the house in order..literally. You know when a dude lives alone. The house turns into a bachelor’s pad. I hope I can maintain it while she’s gone.

We planned on checking out Europe on the short break but that didn’t work out as we’d anticipated. Plan B kicked in. We headed to New York City first. It’s a huuuuge expensive city. It’s landmarks are legendary but oh my that life isn’t for everyone. From crazy traffic jams ( no wonder majority of New Yorkians don’t drive) to dilapidated subway system to human traffic in downtown Manhattan..It was a hot mess. Missus was excited to be heading to the big Apple but after a couple of hours, you could tell she wasn’t amused. We checked out the George Washington bridge, 911 memorial, Times Square, Hudson River, Broadway and a few other landmarks before we had to head up north east. The New Jersey turnpike to get across the Hudson river and head towards Connecticut cost $15 one way. What the..

We headed towards Rhode Island, crazy traffic on the only artery connecting that part of the world..I-95. We went through Rhode Island, continued to Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. 

We had great Mediterranean food in Portland, Maine..Iraqi’s who’ve settled there have brought with them all the middle eastern flavour. Samosas, Falafels, spicy meats and rice..finger licking stuff.

We then headed north west to Maine. A mountainous, beautiful and scenic state. I loved it. You could tell that during winter it becomes a ski state of sorts. Snow mobiles and cabins everywhere. We went into Burlington and I got to see my basic training comrade who lives and works there. 

We even made made it into Canada via a border crossing north of Burlington albeit for a short time. Missus had a Kenyan passport and didn’t have a visa so we couldn’t enjoy some Canadian hospitality. Had to turn back almost immediately. Will be back sometime.

Our plan was to head across to Niagara falls but the Audi started acting up and wouldn’t start in the mornings..Arghhhh. It was so frustrating and we spent many hours at auto garage in upstate Syracuse, New York.

We couldn’t risk it and decided to head home. Disappointed but it was a great road trip through 13 states. Will be back to that part of the world soon.

Got to watch some Olympics too and it was interesting to see some random sports like horses dancing to some music. Kenya kicked ass as always in track and field. Finishing only second to my adopted home the US.

Wife is back in Kenya as we await the next stage of this process called family reunification..Soon and very soon.

Pics from the trip.

Hurry up and wait

That seems to be the motto adopted by the National Visa Center (NVC) whom I’m dealing with currently for wifey’s paperwork. The go-ahead came after the Affidavit of Support (AOS) and Immigrant Visa (IV) fee posted. The next step was filing out DS 260 which in long means Application for Immigrant Visa & Alien Registration. 

To call it a long form is an understatement..it’s looooong and its online. You need a steady internet connection to finish filing it and a ton of information ready. For example, residential addresses since the age of 16..wow.each.and.Every.one.of.them.

It took me a minute to compete. I submitted that in and  only then could I proceed to the next step.

Affidavit of Support(AOS) was the next order of business. It’s basically the “don’t ask the government for assistance to help take care of your spouse/family” pledge. You collect all the tax paperwork for the last 3 years or so. I haven’t been here that long but I’ve been paying my taxes. I did collect all the paperwork. 

Then to the next one..supporting documents. Anything that proves that your relationship is legit. Pictures together, marriage certificate, phone call logs, whatsapp message log, birth certificate, affidavits from peeps who know you well, wedding pictures, police certificates from every country you’ve resided in since age 16. Good thing was the Kenyan one wasn’t hard to get but missus lived in South Africa for 4 years for school. We have to send in the finger prints to the South African Police (SAP) down in Pretoria and wait for God-knows-how-long. So I wrote a letter requesting a waiver to bring it to the interview in Nairobi. Will see what they say.

Lastly I arranged everything into one package and sent it out to them.

Guess what..more wait time. Six weeks for them to go through all the paperwork and then get back to us. Now to wait some more.

In other news I took a trip to Washington DC from my neck of woods to plane watch..yes, to plane watch. I had great time up there and even managed to check out a few attractions while I was there and saw the July 4th Independence day parade. The famed fireworks did not live up to expectations as the cloud cover was too low. Here are a few pics from that trip..Ooh and got to have some tasty fish and Ugali(Kenyan corn bread/dough) up in Swahili village in Laurel, Maryland..Great stuff.






Hustle of getting wife here

It’s about 4 months since I completed the citizenship process and immediately started the process of getting my wife here through a process of getting her a CR1 (Conditional Resident) visa by filing a form called I-130 or Petition for Alien Relative to the Chicago Lockbox. I wonder if there is a lockable box, or the reason behind the lockbox term 😄😄. There are 3 filing centers around the country based on where you live.

I sent in the paperwork to USCIS aka Immigration. You pay a filing fee of USD 420. They acknowledged a few days later they’d received the paperwork. But I got a response from a filing center called Potomac. I didn’t know where that was until I did a bit of research online, and learnt they’d recently opened a new center because the other 3 are overwhelmed with applications.

They send you a priority date. It’s the date USCIS formally acknowledges receiving your stuff, and more importantly it’s a date used to determine an immigrant’s place on the visa queue. There are limited visas available if the petitioner who is the person filing is a green card holder. This means first-come first-served. When the available visas for a particular country are quickly used up, you wait for the following year.Luckily for citizens there are unlimited visas available throughout the year.

Then the wait begins. A loooong wait. Nothing happened on my end. Who knows what they do on their end. More like our AirForce “hurry up and wait” philosophy. There is nothing you can do to speed up the process unless you are being deployed then maybe they might consider it on a case by case basis ; or there is a life and death situation going on. Pregnancy doesn’t count by the way.

Then out of the blues about 5 weeks ago there was some ‘action’ taken notification. USCIS had finished their bit and had approved the application. They were forwarding the case to the NVC (National Visa Center). Yeah, another of the government agencies that does something else that the other agency doesn’t do..

But..wait for it. It takes time to send the paperwork from that agency to the other one..Reminds me of Kenyan government bureaucracy, being tossed from office to office. I kept following up by calling the new agency but apparently it takes 2 weeks from sender to receiver confirming they got the stuff.

Finally they received the file..Yaay..or so I thought. Nope. It takes another two weeks to sign a case number. Common on now..wait, wait, wait..call..yea, we receive the file but haven’t assigned a case number. Wait for 2 weeks then holla..wait.wait.wait.

Finally they assigned a case number and an invoice number. Phew, at least I can move on with the process. But..wait for it. I have to assign an agent who will receive the correspondence with the NVC. What agent. I’m the petitioner and the wife is the applicant. No, no..choose an agent first. Fill out this DS261 form confirming you are indeed the agent. I did and sent it back..but..but..I have to wait for 2 weeks for them to process this new form. 

No, like seriously. I’m not even joking. So I have to wait for 2 weeks before I move on to the next step, which can’t happen until they ‘process’ my ‘agent’ who happens to be me :roll:. And I’m lucky my application was approved by USCIS after ‘only’ 2 months. Some people wait for seven or even nine months or a year before they move to the NVC step. I’m grateful despite the hurry and wait mode I find myself in. 

It reminds me of the refugees who I used to work with before in Kenya and the Sub Saharan Africa who would wait for years before they could be united with their relatives who were stateside.

Patience is the name of the game.

Life in the Air Force

It’s been 10 months since I joined the US Air Force. The beginning was kinda stressful due to the stringent rules and proximity of living in the same space with 50 plus other souls. I got used to that life in no time. Little things the training instructors made us do didn’t make sense at the time. Like making hospital corners when making our beds every morning or rolling our t-shirts a certain way and getting yelled at if we didn’t do it right or cut corners. It only make sense later when it was explained to us it was all about instilling in US the importance of attention to detail in everything we do in our careers. Some of us would be in careers handling jets and aircraft worth millions of dollars and small mistakes could cost lives and money.

Tech school was more relaxed. There were more freedoms but still very controlled. You could drink alcohol but only at the airman’s club. None in your dorm room. Some airmen thought they could beat the system but found out military justice too swift and uncompromising.

In both basic and tech school classes occupied majority of our time. In basic it was more of learning the military discipline, matching, firing weapons, customs & courtesies. In tech school more about the specific job one would be doing in the operational works. The majority of jobs in the Air Force involve maintaining aircrafts.

We finished tech school and headed into the operational Air Force thinking we were done with books for a while. How wrong we were. Upgrade training was awaiting us. More studying..Arghhh!!! Those who thought that by joining they were avoiding school had a rude awakening.

Life is more relaxed now. I drive everywhere I go as opposed to matching around base either with your flightmates or wingmen. I can count the number of times I’ve saluted an officer since I’ve been at my current base. I’m nearly always in a car. Growing up in Kenya as military kids we saw it all around us. Junior members saluting officers. Now I’m doing it here.

Life is very structured here. I work an 8-5 kinda job. I have all the weekends to myself. We have mandatory physical training 3 times a week in the gym and the running track. We report to work an hour and a half late on those days as PT is considered official business.

Most people I meet think I fly jets..oh how I wish. I’m not even allowed anywhere near the jets or aircraft. I’m in the civil engineering squadron. We are in charge of all the construction on-base. My job is Operations Management. We are the middle men between customers and the technicians. Electricians, plumbers, heavy equipment, air conditioning, pest control, fuels technicians. All repair, maintenance and construction is done in-house and through contacting. We are a big airport with everyone supporting the aircraft mission.

How is life different from before?  I’m in uniform during the duty day. 0730-1630. I can’t have a beard and keep hair short. Women have theirs tied a certain way. Dress and appearance they call it. I have a shaving waiver meaning I use clippers and can keep upto a quarter of an inch of facial hair. This is due to having bumps whenever I use razors. Some airmen though push the limits on the quarter inch rule and have a full grown beard. It’s a risk because even though the waiver is given by the clinic, it’s at your commander’s discretion to allow it.

Accommodation wise, if you are single you live in the dorms on base and if you are married there is base housing or you can live off base. I live off base. Single airmen who’ve served for more than 3 years can also get base housing or live off base.

We still have to maintain military readiness for when we deploy. Use of equipment, training and weapons in expeditionary conditions worldwide. I haven’t deployed yet but some of my shopmates are currently deployed around the world. Maybe my turn will come soon, we’ll see. That’s usually tough because you are separated from your family for the duration of the deployment. Ours are not too bad at 6-9 months down range as we call it.

We have a clinic on base, if you have major surgeries you are referred to the big local hospital outside base. There is a theater, airman’s club, chow hall or mess as the Army calls it for single airmen, a base exchange or mini mall, a commissary for groceries, a shoppette for alcohol, a day care center and other recreation facilities to occupy our time off.

I had my four wisdom teeth removed a couple of months ago. They check them out for everybody and if they think they’ll present a problem in the future, they operate and remove them. It was an interesting recovery when you are allowed to use powerful painkillers like percocet.

The other branches of the military have nicknamed us the ‘Chair Force’ due to our being the ‘soft’ cousins who just sit. We are the ‘Mighty mighty Air Force’ and they are the ‘Groundpounding Army’, ‘Jarhead Marine Corps’, ‘Deck Swabbing Navy’ and the ‘Lazy lazy Coast Guard’..all friendly rivalry.

What do I miss most? Being in a big city like Houston or Nairobi. The town i live in now is small. Luckily I’ve connected with the local cycling club and I do what I love. The mountains and ocean are not far off so my outdoor adventure continues. Can’t wait for the wife to get here so that we can do this together.

Use of the terms Sir/Ma’am when addressing others comes as second nature. I don’t notice it even when I’m in local stores and restaurants off base.

We can use military aircraft to travel around the world space permitting. It’s called Space ‘A’ travel. As long as you are on leave, you can hop on a plane to Europe, Hawaii, South America, Asia or within the US for 20 dollars. Not a bad deal at all. Sometimes it can be on cargo planes or the tanker refuellers or contacted civilian passenger jets. And you get 2 checked in bags too. For Africa though the only place they go to is Djibouti. It’s like a matatu (passenger minibus in Kenya) on military business and you are hopping in for the ride. I’ll use it to sight see in Europe soon.

I’ve had a great time since I joined last year. I don’t regret the decision. Military life is not for everybody especially if you don’t like being told what to do without asking questions..and following a chain of command when reporting.

I love it and I’m the only one in the family who has followed in dad’s shoes. He served in the Kenya Army years ago and is now happily retired. So I’ve always been a military kid growing up in Gilgil watching the paratroopers free falling in their chutes. It was a no brainer when I decided to join. I look forward to going to taking advantage of all the education opportunities at our disposal by going to flying school while I’m still in.

Impromptu Kenya visit

I hadn’t planned to go to Kenya but decided a week before my exams I was going to surprise the missus in Nairobi.

I looked up tickets, they were quite affordable but before I booked I wanted to check with the powers that be if it was permissible to transit through Europe with all that’s happened down there. That’s when the bombshell came. No restrictions on Europe but I needed to put in a request to visit Kenya..what? Yes, Kenya is currently classified as being in FPCON Charlie. It’s basically security speak to mean imminent terror attacks are in the works. I put in the request which was denied almost immediately. Wow..I could actually be refused the chance to visit home. I had to take this seriously lest I found myself unable to visit the wife.

I had to do some security training, short courses and other stuff to be able to resubmit my request for my impending impromptu visit. All this whole goings on while still preparing for my end of course exam.

Luckily for me, it got approved on the second time of asking, all conditions met.

I wanted to surprise my wife so I planned the trip behind her back. I gave her a phony story about my phone having issues. This was to cover the time I’d be in flight Nairobi bound.

I called my Nairobi cab driver in good time and he was waiting for me when I landed. I made my way to her place and it was the best surprise to see the shock on her face when she saw me at the door. It had been a minute since I last saw her at basic training graduation in San Antonio last year.

I was going to be in Kenya for a week, I had to maximize my time at home. We were lucky the wife got time off for the time I was there.

I got to see family and a few friends while I was there. Surprised them all and in the process missed a few. That’s the thing with surprises. They can be hits or misses.

I took a short roadtrip for a few days. It was refreshing being out there, one with nature.

A week flies by quick and before I knew it was time for me to head back to work.

It felt good being back home, not losing touch with what’s going on back there. Seeing the wife, folks and friends. I don’t want to be the Kenyan who immigrated and comes back with an accent and out of touch with reality on the home front.

I’m back now recovering from jet lag before I resume work.

Something so random happened on my return flight from Europe to the states. A dude who was seated in front of me at the back pulled out a cigarette and lit up. Just like that. I thought I was dreaming. He was actually smoking in a plane cabin in the year of our good Lord 2016. Unbelievable. Not the smartest move on a plane heading to the state in this era of security paranoia. Soon the cabin was filled with cigarette smoke. A flight attendant came rushing and yelling for the guy to hand over the lit cigarette. The evidence was taken away and we thought that was the end of it, save for the flight attendant head purser asking the dude if it was his first time flying to the states. When we landed there were 8 cops waiting at the gate. The dude and his friend were led away. What a way to end the trip on a high of a different kind.

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