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Sunday, November 2, 2008

You'll Never Guess Who I Saw Friday Night

10:30PM. I'm on the N-Judah train coming home from downtown. Sarah Palin herself is about five feet away from me, wearing her red skirt suit, black pumps and trademark sexy librarian glasses. In her folksy manner, she's identifying the mavericks on the train, and the passengers are loving it. They're asking her about where the real Americans live (her answer: Alaska) and what she likes to read (her answer: everything). She's also talking about the Communists in America.

And you'll never guess who was sitting next to her! You guessed it: Joe the Plumber. But he had grown a head of dark, thick hair so I didn't recognize him until he pulled a wrench out of his pocket. (I thought he was Todd.)

Yes, Halloween night on the N-Judah. I also saw Amy Winehouse, Gwen Stefani, a cute girl bee with a skateboard and a pregnant nun, just to name a few more revelers.

However, I did not have my hands free to take photos of them for you and for that, I apologize because everyone looked festive and wild and was having a rollicking good time.


Returning home, my hands were full of books and information from the second installment of
my Mental Stimulus Package (man, I forgot to tell you about the first part with Ben Frankin and the glass armonica. Next time.).

I went to The Leakey Prize Laureate Lectures, honoring
Dr. Jane Goodall and Dr. Toshisada Nishida, at the Herbst Theatre. From the program description: The Leakey Prize was established in 1990 to reward intellectual achievement and express appreciation for research performed with courage and perseverance in the fields of ape and human evolution. Both Dr. Goodall and Dr. Toshisada Nishida will discuss the highlights of their pioneering careers. Through their diligent work, these scientists have shaped the field of primatology and uncovered pivotal findings that help us better understand one of our closes living relatives, the chimpanzee.

I don't even know where to start in describing the feeling of seeing Dr. Goodall on stage, speaking in her trademark calm, collected yet passionate story of her early years, her tutelage under Dr. Louis Leakey and the incredible faith he placed in her, and her deep desire to help reverse years of environmental damage and endangerment of many animal species, not just her beloved chimpanzees of Gombe.

If you're like me, you grew up reading Jane Goodall's books, watching her on National Geographic television specials. I also was secretly envious of her son, Grub, who got to spend his childhood living amongst the tribe of chimpanzees that Goodall studied for almost 30 years.

“The most important thing is to actually think about what you do. To become aware and actually think about the effect of what you do on the environment and on society. That's key, and that underlies everything else.” ~ Dr. Jane Goodall

I saw Dr. Goodall speak once before, when I was in college and she visited my university. Then the talk was about the chimps, and her work with them. The talk this year was different. Dr. Goodall travels about 300 days of the year, all over the world. She talks about preserving animal habitats and shared stories of the villages that her foundation has helped, encouraging safe farming habits, microloans to women, keeping girls in school and reforestation techiques, all of which have greatly improved the lives of villagers that had been deforesting areas of Tanzania and endangering the habitats of chimpanzees and many other animals. Her talk focused on how improving and educating the people has only served to enhance and improve the lives of the animals she struggles to save. Through the Jane Goodall Institute and her outreach program for children called Roots and Shoots, she has been doing extraordinary work outside the forests of Tanzania.

I could not help relating her talk to the tempestuous presidential campaign and the incredible need for effective and immediate science and math education for our kids to maintain our standing in the world as a leading nation (I won't even begin to address that Sarah Palin fruit fly debacle) not to mention the important contributions that studying chimpanzees, our closest living relatives on the evolutionary ladder, holds for the understanding of our own species.

It became vitally clear to me that not only are we poised to destroy an amazing link in evolutionary biolology (over 1,000,000 chimpanzees in 1960s down to about 200-300,000 today) but we are losing such a stronghold by not teaching our children how important science is in the real world to protecting the only planet we have. Our presidential election only emphasizes the polarity in our approaches to these crucial subjects.


From a recent speech:
“What gives me hope,” Dr. Goodall says, “is the amazing capacity of the human brain to come up with innovative solutions, the indomitable human spirit that fights back, and the resilience of nature.”

“It’s time to recreate the age of wisdom when elders would gather and ponder how any decision they would make would affect our future seven generations down the line,” says Goodall. Quoting the words of an Eskimo leader, she concluded: “Up in the north, the ice is melting. What will it take to melt the ice in the human heart?”


After the talk, I stood in line for almost as long as the talk, to have a chance to finally meet Dr. Goodall. While in line, we all shared stories of growing up with Jane, what a powerful impression she had made on us, and what a singular experience it was to hear her speak. I signed up to become a member of both of her organizations.

While we waited in line, servers carrying trays of cookies and Halloween candy and apple cider kept us full of sugary treats. And then finally it was my turn to stand next to a childhood idol, have her sign my books and try not to be overwhelmed and cry.

She first signed a chimpanzee mask for Little Curly Girl, my niece. I told her the LCG was recently just two years old, so she signed it "with love" because in her words, "Being two years old means she should get lots of extra love." (Almost cried but didn't.)

Then she signed my books. I told her what an honor it was to be in her presence and then we had our photo taken together (which I'll post when I find it on her website). And then I walked to the train station in a bit of a wistful mood.

As I waited for the train, I looked at what Dr. Goodall had written in my book.

For Julie
Follow your heart.
Jane Goodall

And surrounded by crazily dressed adult trick-or-treaters, I did cry a little bit. Happy/sad crying.


"Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don't believe is right." ~ Jane Goodall

Like Jane, I keep our fingers crossed for us primates. All of us primates. I think we can still pull it off and I think President Obama can help us get started.


willow November 2, 2008 at 3:18 PM  

Another great post, Julie...I mean Tangobaby. ;)

Christina November 2, 2008 at 6:11 PM  

Oh, this is lovely. I am in tears. Jane Goodall does that to me. Indeed, I grew up exploring her books. She gives me hope.

I melt at the site of her famous photograph where the gorillas finger tip is reaching toward her hair.

You are so lucky to have met her. ; ) She is at the top of my list of do gooders.


namastenancy November 2, 2008 at 11:13 PM  

I'm in tears as well. Jane Goodall was one of my early childhood heroines. I wanted to be like her when I grew up and it's one of my disappointments that science was just not my thing. Plus, Humanities West - what an awesome way to spend your money. I need to get myself back on their mailing list because their seminars are really good.

namastenancy November 2, 2008 at 11:15 PM  

Oh, and I want to use your Goodall quote about the elders on my blog. What a beautiful speech and what a difference from the dipstick that's on the Repug ticket as VP candidate.

Paris Parfait November 3, 2008 at 2:44 AM  

Amen, honey. So thrilled you got to have this awesome experience with the divine Ms. Goodall! I miss San Francisco and all these wonderful cultural activities for the mind (and heart). xoxox

Amanda November 3, 2008 at 4:38 AM  

I love this post! How lucky to have met her!

As for me, I saw a giant banana on Friday night. Who knows, could have been Palin for all I know!

d i a n a m u s e November 3, 2008 at 9:02 AM  

Oh, TBaby. What a wonderful post. In late September, my eldest daughter and I had the good fortune to attend a Jane Goodall interview/lecture that was part of the 92nd St. Y's Giants of Science series. Like you, we were thrilled to bask in the glow of Goodall's wisdom and powerful spirit. We didn't want to leave.

I love that she focuses nearly all of her energy and efforts on the youth of the world. She knows whom she can trust.

Once I (finally) get a Goodall tribute post together, I'll link back to you. Kind of a Left Coast/Right Coast thing.

tangobaby November 3, 2008 at 12:19 PM  

Hi guys,

I'm so glad you had the same reaction and feeling that I did. She's an incredible force for goodness and real change in the world.

She told us that "Africa is the heart of the world" and we could all feel a little bit of that through her. I was so impressed to learn about her program for kids, Roots & Shoots. I hope that many children around the world can have the opportunity to participate in her organization. Perhaps a little kid you know and love can be a part of the world's work?