The descent into San Francisco is otherworldly. The plane punches through the low clouds and skates across the sun-dappled waters of the bay. Nothing but whitecaps out the right-hand window, nothing but the rumpled hills of San Mateo out the left, to the point where you feel you are skirting the boundary between two worlds. The plane imperceptibly descends until, all of a sudden, the water winks out of view and you are touching down gently on a runway, slightly wet, that seems to have arisen out of the bay just to receive you.
San Francisco remains one of my favorite places in the world. Few cities repay aimless wandering so well. Once you get up into the hills, every block presents its own spectacular vista of the skyline, the Golden Gate, the bay, or all three in one. Streets divebomb up and down 30-percent grades heedless of topography, sensibility, or your poor aching calf muscles – a product of a time when man thought he had bent nature to his will. Entire charming neighborhoods become lost in the hidden folds between hills, invisible unless you find the right vantage point. It’s a patchwork of sharply demarcated cities-within-cities, North Beach and Chinatown, Castro and Mission, the Marina District and Tenderloin, each of which takes just one aspect of San Francisco’s crazy diversity and magnifies it to an absurd extent. It’s intoxicating. One day, I will live here.
I’ve spent my last five days in San Francisco undergoing intensive training to become a Kiva Fellow. In our first activity of the week, our three Kiva Fellows Program Coordinators took me into a darkened conference room, unscrewed the top of my head, and poured in gallons upon gallons of information about microfinance, borrower verification, social performance, repayment reporting, and all the skills we will need to be successful out in the field. Like drinking out of a fire hose, as one of my classmates put it. My days generally started at 6:30 with a bleary waffle at my hostel’s kitchen counter and ended 15 hours later over drinks with the other Kiva Fellows – which, can I just pause to say what an amazing and accomplished group of people this is and how lucky I feel to be a part of it? Since getting this fellowship, I’ve been surprised and gratified by the amount of support I’ve gotten from friends, family, and coworkers, even those who didn’t quite understand what I was doing or why one would do such a thing. But support is sometimes not the same as comprehension. It’s so nice to be surrounded by people who GET IT – who get a gleam in their eye when they talk about places like Zambia or Liberia or Cambodia, who understand why a person would quit their job to take an unpaid volunteer position halfway around the world, who grasp that the months ahead of us will be filled with both difficult times and amazing experiences, but that we can make it through both by leaning on each other. I’m looking forward to staying in touch with these folks.
This, incidentally, is one of my semi-frequent “oh hi I am living in an airport tonight” posts. My flight was supposed to leave at 6:15 AM, so I decided I would just hop on the very last BART train the night before and spend the wee hours of the morning getting to know scenic Terminal 1 of SFO. It’s been a… creative night. This was my second bed of three:
This may be one of the more luxurious living situations I will encounter over the next year. There’s free wifi and everything! I may not be able to top this in Tajikistan.
So I’m going to take advantage of this developed-world luxury to link you again to the Kiva Fellows blog. Jason Jones, a Kiva Fellow currently in the field in Nicaragua, has put together a two-part blog post on what it actually means to live on less than one dollar per day. Highly recommended.
One Dollar Per Day: A Beginner’s Guide (Part 1 | Part 2)