Sunday, July 17, 2016

Hannah and the Hippos

On Hannah's birthday I woke up early to buy her flowers and make her a fresh breakfast. After breakfast, we drove to Rusizi National Park, which is only about 25 minutes outside of Bujumbura. We rented a boat and a guide to take us around the Rusizi river delta.

We saw a bunch of hippo families from pretty close up. Those animals are so big, and to see them in the wild, doing their own thing rather than in a zoo was really a treat.

There were also so many beautiful birds, whole flocks of them exploding out of the foliage as our boat passed.

We made our way down to where the river flows into Lake Tanganyika and the border between the brown river water and the blue lake water is very stark.

We chatted with a fisherman who had a giant fish in his canoe.

Near the end of the tour, we boated by the outskirts of the village of Gatumba, and little naked children waved at us from the shore.

Saturday, June 11, 2016


June 2016 has really packed in the excitement.

The top line update is that HANNAH IS COMING TO LIVE IN BURUNDI!

Although we've bought her ticket for her to arrive in three weeks, I'm still cautiously optimistic rather than just optimistic, because we had already gotten to this stage in Hannah's move last December when everything went to pieces and the second evacuation happened.

You'd think that would be exciting news enough, but we've also been given our next Foreign Service assignment: Barcelona, Spain starting in October 2017.

Oh yes, you will be visiting us, if at a minimum because of this difference:

Burundi Travel WarningSpain Travel Warning
The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against all travel to Burundi.

Hannah and I are very excited to spend the next year here in Burundi and I am especially enthusiastic about showing her everything there is to see about this beautiful country. Returning to Spain will be cool too, but we'll have plenty of time for that batch of excitement next year.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Fourth of July! (Give or Take a Month)

U.S. Embassy Bujumbura celebrated the 240th birthday of the United States of America a little early this year, and it was a ton of fun!

After a big tent was thrown up in front of the embassy, the decoration committee and I decked it out in red, white and blue!

The guests entered the party on a red carpet and were received by the senior officials of the embassy as they arrived.

The opening ceremonies involved a presentation of the American flag by the marine color guard, renditions of the U.S. and Burundian national anthems (our local staff choir performed the Burundian anthem!) and speeches by the Ambassador and the Foreign Minister of Burundi.

The guests mingled, snacked on hors d'oeuvres, quaffed wine, beer and sodas, and danced  to the tunes of a live band.

Happy birthday, oh country of mine.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Japan 2016: In Summary

This spring, I had the opportunity to accompany my family on a magical trip to Japan.

I joined up with my parents, sisters, cousins, aunts and Hannah to tour the cities of Tokyo, Kii-Katsuura, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka.

We visited beautiful, ancient sites like Mt. Fuji, Nachi Falls, Kinkaku-ji and Itsukushima Shrine.

We enjoyed the fruits of Japan's modernity, including modern art, video games, bullet trains, thrilling nightlife and karaoke.

We had unique cultural experiences like sitting naked in a hot spring, sleeping on tatami mats, wandering through a forest of giant vinegar vats, drinking life-prolonging water, and eating Kobe beef (kind of).

Far and away my favorite part was meeting my large family in Japan - brothers and sisters of my grandparents and all their descendants. I will never forget walking up the stairs to a Buddhist temple my family had attended for generations, touching the old wooden house where my grandfather spent his childhood, or offering incense at the grave of my great-grandmother.

I hope that one day I can return to this place, so full of difference and familiarity and humanity and history, but nothing will replace the wonderful memories I made here in the spring of 2016.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


We didn't spend much time in Fukuoka, but we had another family reunion with more family from my grandfather's side,

we walked along the beautiful Fukuoka waterfront and found a pretty cool international food festival,

put in one last late night with sushi, beers,

and of course, karaoke.

One final image that is central to understanding our time in Fukuoka: Jen dancing in a Japanese convenience store.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ancestors, Part Three: The Old House

This is a photo of a Japanese family standing in front of its house in 1940. By 1940, this family had already lived through hardship, discovered a new world and come back to tell the tale. Unbeknownst to anyone in this photograph, this family was about to be torn apart by an ocean, a war, love, and life.

Most of the people in this photo have passed away, but the descendants of these people returned to this exact house seventy-six years later. I am one of those descendants.

After visiting our family's traditional temple, we drive down the road to see the house where my grandfather had spent his Japanese childhood. We passed a stream where he had played with his brothers and gazed at the green hills he saw every day.

Our Aunt Kimiko, my grandfather's younger sister (and my sister's namesake), showed us her old home and posed in front of it - that lady is a hoot. I thought we were going to ask the current residents to look around, but it turned out that the house was abandoned, its garden overgrown.

My grandfather, who had been born in the United States, returned there in August of 1941 and was interned a few months later after Japan declared war on the United States. He never lived in this house again. His youngest brother Kiyoji, who walked the grounds with us, had not even been born when my grandfather left - they first met when Kiyoji was in his twenties.

This old house felt heavy with memory and history, sad and proud.

Ancestors, Part Two: Kozenji Temple

My great grandfather traveled with his family to the United States to seek his fortune and while he was there, my grandfather was born. After doing well as strawberry farmers, the family moved back to Japan and set up shop in a little town in Fukuoka prefecture. They were the first family in the village to have a tile roof and my grandfather donated a large wooden stand for the bell at the local Buddhist temple.

We drove out to Yame in Fukuoka Prefecture to visit that temple, Kozenji.

On arrival, we were met by our cousins - descendants of our grandfather's brothers and sisters.

From the bridge where our bus parked, we hiked up a steep hill, and then up a flight of stairs that led to the temple.

The temple itself was beautiful and old. Not too ornate, but rather simple and homey. In the back there was a majestic garden with raked pebbles and a koi pond.

After meeting everyone, we went into the Sangha hall for a service observing the seven-year anniversary of the death of my grandfather's brother Kazumi as well as to honor our grandfather. Being raised as a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist in San Diego, a lot of the aspects of the service were surprisingly familiar. It was a powerful experience to be there in the same temple that my family had gone to for decades.

After the service, we went back into the temple's entry hall for a large traditional lunch. We all sat on pillows in a giant square and ate, laughed and chatted awkwardly in terrible Japanese/English.

After dinner, the temple minister's husband performed on flute for us.

We finished the day with a family photo: four generations, thirty-two people making up just a part of what started with my great-grand parents and has become a huge multi-national family.

We also took a photo with the bellstand that our great grandfather had donated. If that isn't cool then I don't know what is.

Although Kozenji temple is beautiful - the memorable part of the day was getting to know my family members, making lateral connections in a family tree that until now had just been vertical. It was so amazing to talk to my grandfather's brother and sister, who were both characters in their own ways. Being in that temple with my family made my Japanese ancestry, always theoretical, feel so real and personal. Our visit to Kozenji will not be one I will easily forget.