February 03, 2006

Today we had another meeting in the afternoon which carried on into a very fun barbeque dinner in a funky neighbourhood of San Francisco.  Catie and Greg joined us too which was great because they were able to meet some of the people we've been gabbing about over the last couple of days.

I never realised having a baby could take this long.  I feel like I want to call Angie and offer some suggestions like jumping on the trampoline but I think that would result in a nuclear explosion which most likely Harold would have to suffer.  The worst part is that for me it would be a joke, but I know it wouldn't be funny where the action is actually happening.

February 02, 2006

Another day working from home today, and I found myself again getting into that "zone" where you just stare at the computer screen so long that you kind of forget that you do exist in a realm of time and space.  We ordered our business cards in the afternoon, which definitely was exciting.  I also found out that things are moving along in the Auntie Fiona department, so we're waiting for a phonecall.

Jeremy made a nice dinner of penne with vodka sauce (I can't believe Greg, being Russian, didn't have any vodka in the house!) and we had a nice dinner together.  Greg and Catie are such a great time and really fun (and easy) to stay with.  We're going to miss them when we go.

February 01, 2006

As Jeremy had some testing he needed to do on a pc yesterday we didn't go into the office but worked from Catie and Greg's apartment.  We have a lot of reading and brainstorming to do, and Jeremy has a lot of techo type stuff to do, and as we were meeting with some Kiva people in San Francisco in the afternoon it made sense not to spend 3 hours travelling to San Carlos and back. 

We had a great meeting in the afternoon which evolved into seeing some of San Francisco, including the famous City Lights bookstore and the steepest street I have ever driven on in my LIFE!  I wonder that there is not a mandatory annual brake-testing for all cars driven in San Francisco as this place has some steep hills.  Even I was very nervous a few times. 

Jeremy checked out a local cheese shop with 350 cheeses and we did a little bar-hopping in the Mission district.  The more I see of this place the more I love it, the more it reminds me of Melbourne and the more I feel like I could definitely see myself living here.  Everyone is so damn happy.  I keep waiting for the catch, but I'm not quite sure what it is.

Still waiting for Harold and Angie's baby to come along... as we don't know the sex Jeremy says I don't know yet if I'm going to be an aunt or an uncle. 

January 31, 2006

The East Village Opera Company Rocks!

Tonight we saw one of the most amazing performances I've seen in my life!

We had a busy day at the office, starting with a meeting at 9am where we met the other US based staff.  It was great to meet everyone else, and get a clearer picture on the organization's goals and everyone's places within those. 

After work we met Catie and Greg at a little Mexican joint in the city, before heading to the Great American Music Hall, a magnificent venue complete with high ceiling and balcony.  Catie and Greg knew someone who was able to get free tickets to see the East Village Opera Company, and though no-one really knew what we were going to see, we were up for a free show even if we did make jokes about having to have a few drinks beforehand so that the show was bearable.

How wrong we were.  The East Village Opera Company combines opera with, what in hindsight is obviously the only appropriate marriage with opera, rock.  I'm not talking just a couple guitars and a quiet drum set, I'm talking squealing electric guitar solos, thumping bass and dominating drums in the only way leather pants can provide.  And I'm not talking about toned-down opera either.  I mean full-drama, foreign language lyrics with unforgivable demand for vocal range and control.  Together.  Leather pants and Puccini.  Passionate duets and gyrating thumping beats.  A crowd of twenty-somethings through sixty-somethings.  It was amazing.  Uplifting.  Inspiring.  And having seen it, obvious.  Both genres are equally, ridiculously, and over-the-top dramatic expressions.  And the men wear too-tight pants in both.

If you have the opportunity to see the guys, do.  It's really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  If not, check out their video at: http://www.eastvillageoperacompany.com/video.aspx

January 30, 2006

First Day

We had a great first day today and learned a lot about one of the organizations we will be working with.  We spent the majority of the day at the office, after starting the day off with a visit to the immunization clinic so I could get my final jab (rabies).  I’m finally done, which is a relief, more fiscal than physical.

We have a lot of reading and organizing to do so we’ve spent tonight in front of our computers.  I’m feeling tired, but good.  Learning is always stimulating and always makes me happy.  I’m glad how much I read before we arrived so that I’m familiar with some of the issues.

Tomorrow we meet the other US staff members so it will be a big day for us.  Wish us luck!

January 29, 2006

We Finally Got To Meet Everyone

It was wonderful, and what a relief.

We had a relaxing, yet for me very anxious, morning sitting in Catie and Greg’s apartment catching up on emails, talking and drinking a lot of tea while Greg went bouldering at the climbing gym.  Around two o’clock we went out and got one of the many delicious schwarmas (like a souvlaki) that you can get around here at the middle-eastern take-out shops.  By the time we got back it was time to shower and leave.

It took a long time to get to San Carlos, we had to take the inner-city subway to the end of the line, and then change to what you might call the outer-suburbs rail system.  We actually thought we were really early but it turned out we had no time for dallying at all, so I’m glad that we did leave “early”.  When we arrived at San Carlos we were met at the train station by Brian, who took us back to his house.  As we stepped inside we saw some other people hanging about, who we instantly recognized from the Kiva website as the founders of that organization!  It was such a surreal moment, we recognized them from their website and they instantly recognized us from Jeremy’s “Turn that shit Up”.  So there were a number of people who we met, including one guy who is moving to Uganda in a few weeks, so we plan to be seeing him there.

We had a wonderful, wonderful evening talking about how we’d all met, what we’d been doing, how we’d come to this point.  It really felt like a meeting of positive energy, young intelligent minds, lives of different backgrounds meeting around a dinner table in San Carlos to figure out how we can help to make things better for those who don’t have a dinner table to sit around.  It felt empowering and I definitely felt some destiny in play, like I had been looking for that dinner table for the last year and a half.  We talked and exchanged ideas and I felt stimulated and excited.  It was wonderful.

Unfortunately our getting home was a little more difficult, as the “last train” wasn’t running on Sundays so we had to get a taxi to the inner-city subway just in time for the last train.  We got home pretty late but tomorrow we are starting in the office, so it will be up early for us.  We feel very welcomed, which is very reassuring after such a long, anxious wait to this moment.

January 28, 2006



Today Catie, Greg, Jeremy and I all walked down to Chinatown after a nice relaxing morning sitting around drinking tea and catching up.  We had lunch at Nanking Restaurant, which was recommended to us by a good friend of ours, and it was great - yummy chicken with yams, scallops and mushrooms and dumplings.  After lunch we walked downtown to look around, but it started raining and Catie and Greg had studying to do so they bailed on us.  Jeremy and I carried on and checked out a huge camping and outdoor sports store out here, REI.  We still haven’t settled on the luggage equipment we are going to take with us to Africa, and probably won’t really decide until we’ve learnt more of the logistics of our trip, but it was good to get an idea of what is available.

We walked back to Catie and Greg’s house, in the rain, and are now absolutely exhausted.  Walking around all day, combined with all the jabs we got yesterday has been too much.  Tomorrow we get to meet Brian finally, and I’m really excited about that.  Hopefully my headache will go away soon.

January 27, 2006

Crack Would Be Cheaper

We made it.

And already I must say I love this city.  After only 4 hours sleep last night we were up bright and early, well it wasn't bright actually it was very dark, and arrived at Bradley International Airport at a crisp 6:10am.  Our flight left right on time and we changed at Chicago before continuing on to Oakland International just outside of San Francisco city. 

Even in the airport you could tell things were different.  People were smiling at me, for no reson.  I asked Jeremy if I had a huge goober hanging out of my nose and he said that I didn't.  While we were waiting for our luggage  we listened to a bird singing inside the building, it had flown through the automatic doors and was flying around near the ceiling.  People waited patiently for their luggage.  We went to catch the bus to the train station and the driver helpfully told us where we could buy our tickets and get change, as he had no change to give us.  We hadn't even asked him yet!  As I was standing there I heard someone say something about it being a lovely day.  What is wrong with these people! 

Once we made it into the city we lunched at a middle-eastern take-out which reminded me a lot of the many kebab shops on Brunswick street.  There were a lot of asian people about and it really felt like Melbourne.  We followed our map to the vaccination clinic and walked past the city hall, where only a few months ago same-sex couples had lined up to marry during a short utopian period of SF history.  I began to wonder about this gay city, everyone had a smile on their face, maybe gay was catching?  Maybe all the anti-gayers don't hate homosexuality, they just hate all the happiness?

We arrived at the vaccination clinic and spent the next two hours and a half hours discussing the pros and cons of needing a human immuglobin product in a third world country, survival rates of meningitis and possible psychotic effects (not in a good way) of some anti-malarials.  We were very lucky to be advised by a nurse who spent two years in Zambia with the PeaceCorps.  She gave us a lot of great first-hand advice, and further convinced us that we had done the right thing by not choosing to volunteer with PeaceCorps. 

After two and a half hours I began to feel as though I actually was getting sick, just as it was time to lay down and submit to the needle.  I was stuck five times, Jeremy six, and we now are chemical concoctions ready to fight off Tetanus, Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Polio, Tyhoid, Rabies, Meningitis and Yellow Fever.

$1,200 dollars later, and we're still not even done with all of the necessary vaccinations, and I'm still trying to convince myself that it's cheaper than dying out there.  But I can't help feeling that I should have at least got a good time for my $600 worth.  All I got was the feeling that Hell-Boy punched me in each arm thrice before sitting on my head for a while.  Drugs these days, they're not what they used to be. 

For now I'm exhausted.  We had to walk over a mile to Catie and Greg's with our luggage - the nurses were a little afraid we mightn't make it considering the long day we'd had and made us lie down a little before we left the clinic.  Oh, and the real kicker was, after looking at my travel vaccinations booklet and seeing what I have had in the past, they discovered that I actually might have rabies now as I was given the wrong injection after my monkey bite in India in 2001.  Maybe that explains that drooling problem I've been having lately.

January 26, 2006

I Got My US Driver's License

Today I got my US Driver’s License.  I know, I should be so proud of myself.  And in many ways I am.  I learnt a lot, the safe following distances for different driving conditions, the “four-second rule” and, most importantl, that one must give way to a train at railway tracks (I couldn’t have made that up if I’d tried).  However, in terms of actually passing the test, I don’t feel proud of that at all, in fact quite disappointed.  Being the competitive type, I had looked forward to getting tested, to see how well I could score.  Silly me.  I thought this was all about me, but of course it wasn’t. 

The test takes place in a DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) office, and consists of three parts: vision test, knowledge test and driving skills test.  I arrived half an hour early for my appointment so I had plenty of time to do all the paperwork first.  When my name was called for the first test I jumped up and rushed over.  The visual test involved holding what was like some huge goggles up to your face and peering inside them.  There were a number of rows of letters “inside” the goggles.  I as asked to read one row.  I did.  Then there were flashing lights in my peripheral vision and I was asked where I saw the lights.  I identified that I saw them on both sides.  I was asked to go back and sit down.

That was it.  No reading rows of letters which became gradually smaller.  No depth-of-vision testing.  No identification of colours.  I was disappointed, but hoped that the next test would be a better chance for me to prove my capability to be a good driver.

After a very short wait I was called up for the knowledge test.  I was shown a computer screen on which I would select the correct answer for 16 questions.  My computer screen was actually back-to-back with another computer screen, which meant that the other candidate and I were facing each other as we selected our answers.  There was no-one supervising us.  He was having a particularly difficult time with the questions and it would have been unbelievably easy for me to whisper some answers to him.  We were not even in a separate room, we were surrounded by the noise and activities of the DMV.  In fact, when Jeremy went to the bathroom he had to walk right by me.  He asked me what I was doing and I said “I’m doing my test – go away!”

I tapped the screen and began my test.  The guy opposite me was starting to really sweat so I thought it must be very hard.  The first question was, ““If you would like to pass a car in front of you, what should you do?  A – speed up  B – slow down  C – wait for the car in front of you to signal  D – Signal”.  Well, that was easy.  The second question was “Which of the following is correct: A – you don’t have to wear a seatbelt if you have airbags  B – seatbelts are dangerous because they keep you from being safely thrown from the car C – if you have a lap seatbelt you don’t have to wear the shoulder seatbelt  D – you should always wear a seatbelt”.  Another easy one.  Maybe I’m getting lucky because the guy opposite me is starting to look around him and curse under his breath.  The third question was “What do you have to do at a stop sign?: A – slow down  B – stop only if there is traffic in the intersection C – be ready to stop C – come to a complete stop.” 

At this point I wondered if I had been given the right test.  In fact, two of the questions I had been given were the exact same questions on the sample test on the DMV website.  Maybe the guy opposite me had asked for the test in the wrong language?  How could he be having difficulty with this? 

I worked through each question, waiting for the trick question they obviously were setting me up for.  Suddenly the program exited the test.  Hang on, what’s going on here?  I’m sure I haven’t answered 16 questions yet.  A message box appeared on the screen “You have answered 12 questions correctly, please wait for the DMV officer.”  What?  What about  my 4 remaining questions?  Can I only do the minimum required to pass?  Don't you want to see if I get 100% (because I do!)  As I was waiting the guy opposite me suddenly hit the screen and then walked over to the officer.  After he complained there was something wrong with the computer as it had just shut itself down, the officer explained that it had done that as he had answered 5 questions incorrectly (I’m really not sure he got it in the right language).

Without even a “Well done, you got them all right!” I was asked to sit down and wait for my driving test.  “This part will be hard” I thought to myself.  I mean, obviously they didn’t really test you much on the vision and knowledge test because the driving test will reveal everything.  I sat back down with Jeremy (who was shocked I was already done) and waited eagerly for the big one.

After 10 minutes I was called up and greeted by a gruff looking man with “Which side of the road do you usually drive on?”  After my reply he looked whimsically back at his desk before heading out the door. 

We headed outside and he checked my side indicators and brake lights worked berfore we got in (I could almost see his lips whispering prayers under his breath).  As I started up the engine he pointed out all the possible dangers around me in an urgent tone - the pedestrian walking through the parking lot, the SUV pulling in beside me, the passing traffic.  "Wow, this is easy" I thought to myself.  "I don't even need to think, he's doing it all for me!"  As we pulled out to the street he made sure he mentioned the stop sign dead ahead, and as we drove into town he tried to calm himself, whoops I mean myself, with some casual conversation.  We stuck to right turns, don't want to get crazy now do we, and stayed far behind a school bus, just in case.  I did a three-point turn in a wide street with no traffic, and we headed back.  My one left-turn was coming up, so my instructor, whoops I mean tester, told me when to wait and when to go.  Even parking back in the parking lot he made sure I didn't get too close to any other cars, and I just slowly rolled around until I found an easy spot to park in.  He scribbled on a piece of paper and circled "Pass", and we headed inside. 

Wow.  I couldn't believe it.  It was all over.  I didn't have to do anything!  I didn't realise all I had to do was just sit in the car and do what the instructor told me.   I thought I had to actually think for myself.  Silly me. 

See, most people think that when you do the driving test it’s actually testing how well you drive.  They’re all wrong.  It’s actually to test the mettle of the tester, see, to see how long before he craps his pants sitting in a car driven by a native of a left-side driving country.  Don’t worry about making sure if you’re clear to turn left across on-coming traffic.  He’ll tell you when to go, and when to stop too.  If there’s a stop sign coming up, he’ll mention it to you so you don’t kill him.  I wasn't being tested at all.  I was testing him, see, to make sure he was a good tester.  Which he was.  I’m an okay driver too, which he’ll never know, as I didn’t have to make a single decision on my own.  And because I didn’t drive more than 10 minutes. 

Wow, after just 1 hour, including probably 30 minutes of waiting, it was all over!  It was that easy!  And here was I thinking I had to know speed limits and safe following distances.  Hah!  All I had to say was “I’m Australian – do you want to die today?”

Jeremy Has Gum Disease

Leaving for Africa for a 6 month journey to places we don't even know about yet requires an extensive pre-departure check-list.  Get vaccinations, book flights, buy travel insurance, check if there are any wars being fought, visit the dentist etc.  We are currently up to "visit the dentist" and in pursuit of crossing that one off the list Jeremy yesterday called around a few dentists in the area to see if he could get an appointment for a cleaning before we leave (I will be seeing my beloved Dr. Michael when I'm in D.C., the only person I feel comfortable allowing to poke sharp objects inside my mouth). 

Finding a dentist is not like bargain hunting - if you find one for half the price you're not necessarily going to assume there's just a clearance sale going on.  But at the same time it's not a transparent industry - like car mechanics, most of the time we have to just trust that we/the car do have the condition they have diagnosed and that the treatment they have prescribed is necessary, and the price they have quoted is reasonable.  Besides, who are we to question an expert who has obviously studied optimum emissions testing or periodontitis.

Which, in fact, was the exact position Jeremy found himself in yesterday.  Because who can resist a sale, really?  Even it is a dentist's sale - I mean, who are we to say that a reasonable dentist can't have a sale?  Maybe they're just want to "give back" (I know, it's starting to sound bad already).  In hindsight, maybe a $95 consultation and full set of x-rays does set of a few warning lights, but hindsight is a cruel thing.  Maybe we should have started to question this "deal" when we called back to check if this included a clean (isn't that the whole point of going to the dentist?) which of course it didn't, but $95 for an individual x-ray of each tooth is a great deal ("All the better to find lots of expensive things wrong with your teeth, my dear").  Maybe we should have wondered why this dentist was able to see us the same day, when most dentists in the States (that I've had contact with) are usually booked out at least 2 or 3 months in advance.  But instead we rejoiced in our luck and Jeremy trotted off to the dentist in the afternoon.

Upon his return he looked, let me say, disconcerted.  A little confused, a little anxious.  I asked him how the appointment went.
"I have gum disease?"
"What???"  OK, let's start from the beginning.  "Did she clean your teeth?"
"Yeah, I guess so." 
"Well, did it feel like she did a good job?" 
"I don't know, it hurt like hell.  Then she held up a mirror and started stabbing my gums with this sharp thing until there was blood pouring from my gums, and said 'See, you have gum disease'".
"You don't have gum disease."
"How do you know?"
Flashback to second grade, when two ladies in dental nurse's outfits visited my Australian classroom with huge dentures and a huge toothbrush and demonstrated how to clean your teeth correctly.  Then, just to make sure you got the message, they pulled out huge picture cards showing us, in progressive steps, what would happen if you didn't clean your teeth correctly, from the slightly reddened gums with a little plaque on the teeth, right through to the gap-toothed, pussy-gummed, blackened smile which has haunted me to this day. 
"So what did she say you have to do?"
"She said I need a deep-cleaning, four quadrants at $210 each."
"WHAT!!!!!!!!  But you don't even have gum disease!"
"How do you know?"
"If you had gum disease, YOU would know.  Get on the internet."

At this point ensued a frenzied 20 minutes of internet searching punctuated by tourets-like swearing and cursing of this so-called dentist.  I mean, this is no "extra-good clean" she prescribed, her deep-cleaning involves anaesthetising the gums and cutting them open to clean them right out.  For a 29 year-old perfectly healthy man who very very rarely bleeds from his gums when he brushes them (show me someone whose gums never bleed and I'll show you someone who's never eaten a chocolate bar ever). 

So now we're left with Jeremy's very sore and tender gums, and wondering if the "so-called cavity" she noticed actually exists or was another figment of her imagination.  Who's to know?  Luckily Jeremy still has the appointment with the other dentist, who apparently doesn't stab gums to inflict symptoms of a  condition requiring very expensive treatment.

I guess the moral to this story is, when it comes to dentists, if it sounds like a good deal, it's not the one that you want.  And if someone ever stabs you in the gums and says you have gum disease, try stabbing them in the face and telling them they have face disease.

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