Back in the U.S.A.




I thought I would take this opportunity to remind my readers (assuming I have any), why I am doing this blog. It’s partly for my friends and family in America and the rest of the world to keep track of what I am doing and experience some small piece of what it is for me to live life in a different country, and have some better understanding of where I am coming from when we talk. But it is also for me, so I can reflect as I am writing and so I have some sort of a basic record to look back on. Of course by its very nature it is personal and impersonal at the same time, and it reflects what is going through my head when I write it, which is not necessarily what goes through my head when thinking on the same topics later. The brain works like that.

I didn’t really get the time to describe my last day when I posted my last update so here it is. Yes, handstand pushups and I increased my max unbroken from 3 to 5 (didn’t try to go higher as I didn’t want to tire myself out!). I need to practice these more at home if I want to get the 45 with full range of motion for Diane in only 3 weeks! I was a little sad to bid adieu to Cape CrossFit but I am actually excited for my first ever CrossFit workout in a different space under different coaching!

Many of us were running a bit late to work so I showed up and put on the pajamas, then sat for a bit of a photo session (for the record that is not my muffin or my laptop), and the meeting was supposed to be to have everyone talk about their experience working with a co-worker who is going back to Europe after a three-month stint. But I started off by having him reflect a bit on his time at heart and asked him what advice he would give us. This led to a very long discussion around the potential and challenges for what we are trying to do, and actually a very, very interesting discussion on potential fundraising approaches. This was cool, in addition to the quality of the discussion you could just feel the excitement in the room popping. One of my co-workers came up to me afterwards, suggesting that I meet a friend of his and see if we couldn’t arrange some sort of a quid pro quo. The guy is apparently an entrepreneur and would potentially be interested in giving funding for one of our ventures in exchange for help writing a business plan for a new idea he wants to get off the ground. This is exactly the sort of conversation we should be having, and I’m happy that this morning’s meeting had stimulated whatever thoughts in my co-worker’s head to make him realise that he should make the connection. Anyway life is a bit like a gear box: when things are working smoothly they just work, and when something gets stuck, well, you’re stuck. I’m happy to be in the flow.

According to my co-worker I had “that look in my eye” on Friday. Not the “I’m excited to go on vacation look” but the “how am I going to get all of this done before I leave” look! I actually wound up spending much of the day talking to people: doing weekly mentoring with one of my interns, getting some sparring of my own from the co-worker I mentioned above, a Swiss national who has been with us for a few months and will continue to be mentoring us from afar. As much as I try really hard to look at the big picture sometimes you have blind spots and he pointed out a big one on FoodTents. But, this is actually fantastic: now that I see the problem I will eventually figure out how to solve it, or how we need to change course to avoid it.

Not surprisingly I didn’t finish everything that I wanted to get done, but I did take care of the most important things, including dropping my car off for repairs (excited to get a much-needed alignment and new windshield wipers, albeit after winter is ended). This led to an amusing discussion: the guy who owned the place called to get the price of replacement wipers and then said: “the original wipers for this model cost R285 each. Do you care if they are original?” to which I replied much to the amusement of the other customer in the waiting area: “I really don’t care what they look like: I just want them to work!” Seriously, who would pay that much for windshield wipers? I never got around to looking for them in the SA equivalent of AutoZone (Midas, odd name actually when you think about it), but am happy to pay a little more to have the problem taken care of.

I also signed up for medical coverage since my American health coverage had ended at the end of October and I wanted to make sure I was covered for my trip to the States because goodness knows when you don’t have medical cover is the time when you get hit by a bus. Yes, Mom, this means there was a 12 day period when I was without coverage but no bank account means no coverage and I was just able to get that on Tuesday. Long story why that took so long … you know some things here are just way more difficult than they need to be! On the other hand, it’s great to have medical plans where you can buy essentially just insurance (and preventative screenings). In America all the medical plans also include subsidised doctor’s visits and prescription drugs, which really makes more sense when you are ill more often than I am. But, the healthy subsidise the ill and the entire scheme is very expensive. Although in purchasing power parity, things are probably more expensive in South Africa but in real terms or in proportion to professional wages, the system is quite good. Actually for R2500 a month (this is about $350 at current exchange rates) you can get 100% coverage for anything. Unlimited doctor’s visits, hospitalizations, surgeries, etc. all with no co-pay. Not sure about drugs. But an incredible value for money if you are older or have some sort of chronic condition!

My boss had kindly offered to take me to the airport; even if I wasn’t dropping off my car for repairs paying R100 per day for parking really adds up! But of course, the hospitality extended to a few bottles of Wines with Heart, and a paleo dinner (fish and salad). This was also a great opportunity to actually put out into the open a lot of the things that had remained unsaid (like, apparently, navigating boulders), and I was very pleased that we were 100% on the same page with regards to how we wanted to work together going forward. This whole discusssion was interesting too because he has a different view of my greatest strengths to the last person I had this discussion with (and to my own opinion). I had always maintained that I was better at execution than at strategy, and he thinks the opposite but that I am particularly good at working with people to get them to execute. Having reflected on this for a while I guess I’m not at all sure any more but it doesn’t actually matter all that much I suppose (except that what I am best at and where I have a greater comparative advantage are not necessarily one and the same but then again you learn such things in Economics 101).

So it was with a twinge of sadness that I looked around the airport before boarding my plane to London. Made me remember some of the sadness I had leaving Boston a few months ago. Luckily, I was so tired from a busy, emotional, and sleep-deprived week that it didn’t take much for me to collapse into sleep. Somehow I don’t really seem to mind these long plane rides … actually 6 hours across the U.S. bothers me a lot more than a 10 or 12-hour plane trip. I think it’s a mental thing. And, BA was flying a newer 777 and so I reminded myself why you can never watch The Matrix too many times. Yes, I’m a geek, but a leopard can’t change his spots either.

Got to check part of Heathrow Terminal 5, and then boarded a bus to Terminal 3. This was a very amusing process: the TV showed you where you were in the process, but only sort of. I was trying to figure out how it worked, if it was time-based as I had assumed, or what … then all of a sudden the progress indicator jumped by about 30% so perhaps it works off of passing some external sensor. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, either way. Remember that geek comment above? My brain does strange things sometimes. I was so fascinated by this thing that I almost didn’t notice when we went through a really long tunnel!

So Heathrow is as I remembered it. My 2.5 hour layover was enough time for this bus ride, another long security queue, walking to the gate at the far end of the terminal (really, it was like a 10 minute walk but I wasn’t in a huge hurry), and then to the gate. Now this was amusing. They were doing El-Al style security screenings, I presume because we were going to the States. The British couple in front of me were Indian by ethnicity and the guy gave them the third degree, and I was standing here, tired and annoyed that the lady told me I didn’t have time to go back and get coffee and yet I had been waiting in this line for 20 minutes. So then I get to him, he asks me three questions and it takes about a minute. Well, tired and annoyed-looking white American females don’t fit the profile I suppose. Actually as annoyed as I was (mainly at missing coffee) I was happy to see this style of questioning because it works a heck of a lot better than the x-ray screenings. But that’s a story for another day, or better yet, Google it.

My seat to Boston was literally the next to last row. This was good for getting up and stretching in the area by the toilet, although I spent as much of this flight as possible sleeping. I realized the South African in me when I ignored the command to shut down all electronic devices until someone literally made me, and I decided to smuggle biltong into the country (the theory being if they caught me I would claim I forgot, despite all the warnings of severe fines and whatnot). I had a harder time with the grouchy guy at immigration, but then again I’ve had harder times getting into Canada, so I guess having an American passport has some big advantages.

Our flight had arrived late because it took off late (something about leaking hydraulic fluid from the tug), so I was absolutely starving. We stopped at the Whole Foods in Andover for lunch (salad bar, salt-free rotisserie chicken, and salt-free pistachios!!), and I was literally a bit shellshocked at the amount of commercial messaging I was bombarded with. I went to wash my hands and in the bathroom alone there were displays telling me about the two different kinds of soap, recycled paper, and how switching off the lights was good for the environment. Then, there were several banners I was looking at: two describing the high quality of products available, one talking about the corporate mission of Whole Foods, and one which I couldn’t read but that had a photo of two people on it. It was all quite overwhelming, actually, and before I left this would all just have gone relatively unnoticed. Although I wonder if it’s unnoticed like a banner ad, or absorbed without knowledge like a commercial you fast forward through on TiVo (they are working on making commercials that are effective at normal speed and when on fastforward, you know – apparently brand recognition isn’t enough).

I was so exhausted when I arrived that all of yesterday seems like a bit of a dream. So, on to today … not entirely sure what is in store yet, other than apparently going to check out new bridges that have been built. The weather is surprisingly warm, and there are still leaves on some of the trees down in Andover, both of which are very pleasant surprises. It is pretty well full-on dark at 4:45pm though, so I will need to make the most out of whatever sun light is available!

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