My first trip to Japan was in 2003 for work. I was flying into Osaka and had a jam packed week of meetings ahead of me. It was my first international business trip and I was very excited to eat sushi, stay at the Westin, and be all grown-up. What I wasn’t expecting was the Jet Lag, fatigue, cold sore, over-exhaustion all made worse by the freezer like conditions of the overly air conditioned meeting room. You see, in Japan they don’t super air condition like in other parts of the world. It’s kept a little on the warm side in the summer, but still cool enough that you’re not sweating through your shirt or anything. But when the Americans come, they crank down the temperature in just one room. Ostensibly to make us air condition addicted Americans more comfortable, but I am convinced it is a ploy to weaken us so they can have the upper hand during meetings. Once we step outside of our room, we get lightheaded from the drastic temperature difference. And the constant climate change weakens our immune system which is already weakened from the jet lag. And on top of that, the meetings just run into each other, one after the other. I am embarrassed to say that I actually fell asleep during one. Luckily it was a meeting for another product category that had absolutely nothing to do with me, BUT, it was my first trip to Japan, and I was more than a little embarrassed!
I soon got the hang of international travel, and am proud to say that I never get Jet lag anymore. I have a patented system that has never failed, and because my professional reputation was at stake, I had to make the quick adjustment. This proved quite useful later on as I could thoroughly enjoy every minute I had with my family on my quick trips to Lebanon. My second trip to Japan was much better, except for the fact that I didn’t know I was pregnant at the time and I blamed my nausea on the inedible vegetarian airplane food. But that’s a whole other story that I will get to later.
While I was on these business trips to Japan and other cities around the U.S., my husband was bonding with Leila. It’s quite one thing to be the day time caretaker of an infant, quite another to be the 24 hour caretaker of an infant – especially when one does not have breasts that produce milk! But, my husband ingeniously had a system to put our daughter to sleep. He would put her in her car seat, because she loved car rides, give her a bottle of milk while shaking the bed on which the car seat was placed. And when she had finished her milk, and was just wanting to doze, he would quickly replace the bottle with a pacifier, which she would suck on for just one minute before falling into deep sleep. All the while, he would shake the bed. When she was sound asleep, he would simply transfer her to her crib. Now, here is the part that just melts my heart and brings a smile to my lips every time I picture it. Baby Leila hated sleeping in the crib. She would immediately wake up if she could sense that she was sleeping in a crib. So he would transfer her to her crib, and then get in the crib with her and shake the mattress just as he was shaking the bed. All this tricked her into thinking she was still sleeping in her car seat. And of course when we put the crib together, we had tested it for strength by having my husband jump on it a bit, so he knew it would support his weight. The sight of seeing a grown man climb into a baby crib just warmed my heart. Who knew?
The bed shaking carried through to Lebanon. There was no crib to climb into, but Fred pushed two beds together, and slept with Leila everyday they were in Lebanon. This would prove vitally important in the days of the war when you could hear bombs and fighter jets over head. At one particular point, the noise was so loud, he was convinced there were bombs in the neighborhood. He protected our sleeping baby by shielding her with his body just in case the window would explode from the sheer noise of it all.
The visas to Japan were in Beirut. Fred and Leila were not. All major roads leading into Beirut have been bombed. There were reports that cars heading into the Beirut were being indiscriminately bombed as well, even as they were waving white flags, even red cross vehicles. Their only hope was to try the back roads to Syria, where they could take a plane to Abu Dhabi where Fred’s sister, Fadia, lived. Fred’s youngest sister, Nour, had escorted Fadia’s son back to Abu Dhabi through Syria before the fighting got to its worst. Again Fred was leaving his parents in Lebanon, last minute, without proper goodbyes. He urged them to come, but they refused. The taxi to Syria cost 10 times more than it normally would, but we didn’t care. On the way a bomb fell just meters away from their vehicle. By the time they arrived in Syria, Fred and Leila’s faces were black with soot from the bombs.
After hours of not being able to talk to them, I finally got the call that they were safe at the Syrian airport, ready to board the next flight to Abu Dhabi. While my husband and baby were navigating bombs, I was glued to the T.V. Having worked at a Consumer Electronics Company, there were four TV’s in the house blaring CNN 24/7 since the start of the war. I can’t imagine what it was like for Fred, but it was no picnic on my side either.
Once in Abu Dhabi we had to get their visas to Japan. The ones that were prepared for them were still in Beirut. And because the Smooth Road is somehow always blocked for us, we had a hard time at the Japanese Embassy in Abu Dhabi. Like in Lebanon, a local was manning the visa desk. It’s hard to think that racism exists in a largely same race population, but what country you are from and what religion you are plays the same role as the color of your skin in those parts. Fred was asked to jump through hoops to prove that he had some kind of legitimate reason to go to Japan. It’s hard when you are stay-at-home-dad to say you are unemployed and have zero income, especially in the conservative world of the Middle East. Walid, the guy at the Japanese Embassy, was pretty harsh with Fred. How could he have the audacity to apply for a visa to Japan when he was an unemployed refugee from Lebanon? Another road block to happiness.