Category Archives: Hygiene

The Boy with the Sunken Teeth

Learning that someone only eats one meal a day is not something that makes me cry.  I’m perhaps the most cynical and hard-hearted social sciences/save the world type you’ll ever meet, except for maybe Falconer.

But then I sit and interview a young mom, whose husband is away five or six out of every seven days.  And the kids come to play and ask for my glasses or a picture to be taken.  I always ask them their names and how old they are, and I think I surprise them with formality when I shake their hands hello.  They laugh at me for being 22 with no novio, no esposo, no hijos para mi mismo.  It makes me a little sad to see how skinny and short they are for their ages.  It’s a little sad when for three days in a row, many of them wear the same clothing.  But they laugh and tease me and say cute things, so it’s easy to forget that they’re hungry and their school isn’t very good and they probably will never have a steady job. 

One little boy stands right by my side, leaning all over the arm rest.  He smiles a lot but doesn’t talk often, and patientily listens to me trip through Spanish.  He doesn’t wear pants or a shirt, just a ratty pair of underwear, their color undiscernible.  He laughs at me sometimes when I mess up or I make funny faces at him, and thats when I see the inside of his mouth.  From the front, with a formal, American closed-shut smile, everything looks fine and normal.  It isn’t until he gives a big, young belly laugh that I see the sunken black centers of all of his teeth.  With his eyes closed and his head thrown back, I can see what’s left of each and every tooth.  They are rotting away, from the sugar cane, from no dentist, from no toothbrush.  It makes my own mouth ache and twist to look at those teeth, every one of them pitted from the inside out.  It makes it obvious how a boy like this one grows into the decrepit old man with too few teeth to pronounce his Creole. 

There is a certain poverty that comes from looking like an old man before you’re ten years old, from not being able to eat an apple even if someone gave it to you.  A poverty of constant toothaches, of prevention just slightly out of reach, of losing your own basic faculties.

Ten Things No One Tells You About Study Abroad

  1. You will have at least one nervous breakdown.
  2. People don’t really want to hear that much about your trip30 seconds or less will do.
  3. Other countries are really not that scary.  The people are pretty much just like us–they just dress, talk and act different, and eat different food.
  4. Some days, it will suck. This is because it is real life, not an extended vacation.  So laugh and keep moving.  Even if you have to fake it, you probably won’t notice when you stop needing to.
  5. You will spend too much money.
  6. No matter how carefully you pack, you will have brought too much, and still manage to have left behind something you totally miss
  7. It’s harder to adjust to life back home at the end of the trip than life away from home at the beginning.
  8. Everyone gets in.  Well, pretty close to it.
  9. Everyone lies about how perfect study abroad is.  Study abroad is awesome, but not perfect.  I promise, your friends don’t post pictures, blogs or status updates about feeling overwhelmed, having trouble making friends, or being ridiculously homesick.  No one wants to admit “defeat” especially since everyone else’s time seems so perfect.  But everyone is having their rough days, too.
  10. You will, in fact, spend the same amount of time on facebook and watching movies/television as you did back home.

You Know You’re a Yovo if…

  • You think women should probably wear shirts, most of the time
  • You like your roads paved, and with potholes fewer than three feet wide
  • The only thing you knew about Vodoun before Benin came from movies
  • You wear sunscreen and bug spray, have a bug net and carry bottled water everywhere you go
  • You talk about showering more than you actually do it
  • You had never heard of Benin before you decided to go there
  • …but now you can’t wait to go back
  • You don’t wear heels to walk in the mud, but you DO carry your own bag
  • You don’t know how to successfuly carry things on your head
  • You’re afraid to cross the street, never mind get on a motorbike
  • You will probably never attempt to breast feed while carrying something on your head AND riding a motorbike
  • You’ve never authored a “Nigerian Prince” email
  • You refuse to swim in the standing water, and maybe even the ocean water too
  • You eat peanut butter
  • You point and yell (or perhaps whisper) every time you see a Yovo you don’t already know
  • You’ve been kidnapped (in a good-natured, well-meaning sort of way) at least once
  • You’re still annoyed by street harassment
  • You’re taken aback every time people ask if you’re a Christian
  • Your shirt and pants don’t match EXACTLY, and your family does not wear matching clothes
  • Your head has a maximum of two braids at any given time
  • You’re still a little surprised there’s never any cold beer–oh yeah, and you drink “Beninoise”, not “33”
  • People laugh when you eat with your hands
  • You don’t speak Fon, Yoruba, Goun or many of the other local tribal languages
  • When you go home, you’re confused by all the white people, and the fact that everyone speaks English
  • You have an awkward Mean Girls-style moment of assuming every black person you see speaks French
  • You don’t know the end of the yovo song, because no one ever finishes

de l’Eau

You come in hot and sweaty from a run or yard work.  But there’s no ac.  So you go to grab water, but it’s not safe from

Our sink and the buckets that become our shower.

the tap, filters are  expensive and it takes a lot of time and gas to boil the water.  You go to the store, but you don’t have a lot of money and the water’s hot anyway.  There is no frige to put it in, because the opower ciosts too much, nevermind the cost of the frudge.

So you take a shoer, being careful not to open your mouth.  Then the water runs out, so you use ta cup and a buckey, if you thought to fill it earlier when there was still water.  Of course it’s been stagnant, so there may be mosquitos gathering at it, but it’s what you’ve got.

After you pour the water on yourself, you feel no relief because the water’s hot as the air.  You didn’t use soap because there isn’t any, and that would watse too much water to wash off anyway.  You towel off with a small, harsh rag, which only takes a second because you’re already dry from evaporation.

Our toilet, sans seat. Also, it doesn't really flush...

Being hot sucks.  Summer is hot.  But in Benin there is little relief.  Everyone walks or takes motorbikes everywhere, there are no elevators, and clothing norms necessitate that you be covered in more than just shorts and a tube top.

Therese are just our conditions, in an over-priced hotel run by nuns (awkward..)  The Beninous have no handiwipes or leave-in conditionar, and often no toilet paper to go with their lack of toilet seat.  they can’t afforc to buy all the bottled water we do, or to own enough clothing to switch midday.

And most of all, in three weeks they won’t be in the United States like us.

Benin in Brief

Sory all, but the intenret cafe i’m in has some serious issues, so this is going to be a quick and dirty bullet post; sans photos.

  • sidewalks are treqcherous in Benin, including gaping three foot deep holes into the sewage system which is just stqgnant water
  • due to a linguistic mistake, we have no ac.  This is why it’s important to know the local language!
  • All the Benois students we’ve met have been enthusiastic and so friendly!
  • We bathe often but not thoroughly, and it makes little difference in the fqce of such heat
  • we have bug nets, zhich thankfully protect us fro, the bats as well
  • it is most definiely the rainy season n Benin
  • some of the letters and all of the sy,bols are ,oved aroung on the French keyboard which they use in Benin.  Desolée!
  • there qre very few streetlights and no trqffic lights
  • there qe no taxis; everyone rides motorbikes without helmets

I hope to find a better internet cafe soon, or perhaps somewhere with wifi!

Foto Friday: Les Citadines

Our kitchen. We also have a fridge, so we can cook our own food. I've been making my own breakfast and dinner.
My bedroom. Les Citadines is located in the very heart of Paris, within walking distance of the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, la Seine, and Centre Pompidou.
The view out my other bedroom window. Our classroom is a three minute walk from our door, and we're amidts a bustle of shops, creperies and street performers.
The Salle de Bains! So Western! Yay!
Our delicious potluck spread, prepared by Avi and his many sous-chefs.
Part of our group at dinner. Look at all that Dialogue love!

What About Benin?

I’ll be going to France on May 8, and after a week in Paris I’ll go to Benin until June 5.

Benny-what?

Benin. It’s a small country in West Africa.  It’s mostly known in history for its sad part in the slave trade as a major departure port.  I’ll be spending some time in Cotonou, as well as the capital of Porto-Novo

The Basics

Map courtesy of the UN website

I’m going through Northeastern University and the Dialogue of Civilizations program.  Instead of taking summer classes, I’m doing this.  I’ll get the normal summer credit for it (8 credits/two classes) and will be graded and such.  It’s like what I did in Egypt, except entirely different. 🙂

French is the official language of Benin, so I’ll be taking some lessons while in Paris and practicing my rather dormant French skills while there.  Many people also speak Fon, of which I know nothing, and Yoruba, a language that found its way to Cuba (and modern Cubañol) via the slave trade.  The country is considered very safe, but is severely lacking when it comes to infrastructure.

For our safety/for the sake of NU’s lawyers, we aren’t allowed to ride on motorbikes and will only be eating from a select few restaurants.  I have malaria pills and got my yellow fever vaccine, whose injection site still kinda hurts.  Blast, yellow fever, you’ve done it again!  I’m waiting with bated breath for my visa to come back (this seems to be a theme with me…) and already scoping out luggage and drawing up packing lists.  Here we go again!

Service-Learning

While in Benin, we’ll be meeting up with local NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to learn more about the country, such as development, culture and politics.  We will each be working with a local NGO for a few weeks, ranging from health care to orphanages to micro-enterprise(!) and lending a hand any way we can.  More on this later, since it’s most of the reason I chose this program.

Songhai Center

I’ll be living in the Songhai Center in Cotonou.  There are several of these throughout the country, and they are used for training Beninese people about agriculture and such.  It’s also thoroughly Green with a capital G, with each part of the center helping to fuel another.  Which brings up another point: I’ll be taking chilly rain barrel showers for most of the summer.  Basically, I’m going to refer you to the video contained in the link below, courtesy of BoingBoingTV, because it does a far better job of explaining than me.

Songhai Video link

Things I Miss/Crave

I already wrote before I left about the things I thought I would miss, so here is what I cannot WAIT to have when I’m back in Amurica.  I’m sure I’ll be thrilled to have even more things (like a cell phone and the Celtics) that Cuba has just conditioned me out of thinking I need, at the moment.  Don’t worry, I’m sure that later on this week I’ll be posting about all the Cuban stuff I miss.  But for now, all I can think about is home home HOME!

  • honey bbq wings
  • honey mustard wings
  • bbq bacon cheeseburger
  • BMG and DMG
  • My giant family
  • New Baby Alexandra Murphy!  And Coming-Soon Baby Harrington!
  • Andrew Robert Brady
  • Chicken Lou’s TKO
  • cereal
  • milk
  • steak
  • thai food
  • REAL Italian, where the pasta isnt overcooked
  • Mondo buffalo pizza=my life force
  • really any meat that isn’t a mystery
  • hot showers
  • quiznos, $5 foot longs even moreso
  • comfortable beds
  • back rubs (because of the aforementioned lack of comfy beds)
  • American tv, sort of.  But that’s way down on the list.  I’d take the food, showers or bed over television any day
  • It’ll be nice to have more of my closet back, but I was doing just fine with what I packed
  • I WILL love the ease of laundry in the states, however
  • fast walkers
  • rapid restaurants (although I think I’ll be overwhelmed at first)
  • personal space
  • not being harassed by men on the street.  Yeah right, I live in Boston.  But Reading will be nice.

If you spent three months in a developing nation where food was scarce and not many people speak your first language, what would YOU miss?

What I Wish I Brought

Let me start by saying sorry for the bizarre spacing–wordpress is dumb and so am I.  Second, congrats the UNA for their performance at Southeast!  Even more congrats for finding the Spartanburg nightlife–I hadn’t thought it was possible.  Good luck gearing up for Nationals!

Toilet Paper.
Closet storage. We don’t have any bureaus, and in my room Kate and I have to share a nightstand, which she graciously lets me use most of.  We each get four hangers in the closet, and the rest of our stuff is in suitcases under the bed.
Snacks. There just aren’t any here.  That seems like no great loss, but I seriously feel like I’ve been observing the most epic Lent ever over here.
Sweats. Like with snacks, sometimes you just need something comforting and home-like.  I don’t do the whole bit with bringing pictures from home.  If I miss my dog, I have pictures on my laptop.  If I miss my dad, I listen to Bruce.  If I miss the entire Harrington clan, I can watch Gram’s 80th birthday thing.  If I’m sick or tired, I just want some sweats and goldfish.  Well, I really just want Andrew and pad thai, but neither of those travel well.

Underwear. Let me first clarify that I did in fact bring sufficient undergarments for the trip. I did not, however, bring a ton.  It’s such a pain to wash your underwear here, because it either goes in the ineffective washer and out on the line for all to see, or is painstakingly washed (still rather ineffectively) in the bathtub and then put out on the line for all to see.  I think when you’re in a very strange environment, comfort is key (if you didn’t get that already.)  They don’t take up much room, and are far more valuable than a lot of the space-wasters I brought.  So for Benin, given how little room clean underwear takes up and how drastically it brightens my mood, I plan to bring enough so that I don’t have to wash it.  Yes, I know this is absurd.  But whatever, I’m the one going to weird countries, I get to decide what eccentric items make it possible for me to do so and not go insane.  Apparently, it’s underwear, sweatpants, cheez-its and my teddy bear.  Because I’m twelve.

School Supplies. It seems they can only be bought at rest stops here, who knows why.  It would also be nice to leave some with some of the people I’ve met here, since pens and pencils are a commodity.
Rain Boots. We’ve been rained at and semi-flooded often, and seriously epically flooded once.  I didn’t realize I’d need the boots here as much (or more) than  I need them in Boston.


More stuff to give away.
Toilettries, presents, clothing, medicine.  I didn’t need the big bottles I brought that weighed down my suitcase, but in this instance it worked out because it means I have a bunch left to leave to someone like Miledys.

Cold Medicine. I was a sniveling mess when I left the states, and I was terrified they would think I had h1n1 (I didn’t, and had the vaccination card to prove it) but my parents thought they would take away dayquil and cough drops.  Since then, I have wished I had them a million times.  What’s the worst that could have happened?  They take away my bargain bag of Halls?


Warmer clothes.
This is the coldest “winter” Cuba has experienced in about thirty years.  This country was not made for these gale force winds or temps toward freezing.  We can’t even close all the windows all the way.  For the first week or so, we wore all of our warm weather stuff all the time, even to sleep.


A bigger carry-on.
They weigh the checked luggage, not the carry-on.  Duh.  Silly Delia.

DVDs. I know it sounds stupid, and that’s why I didn’t bring them.  I’ll be in a tropical country, I thought.  I’ll be too busy being tan and fabulous to do a silly, indoor thing like watch a movie.  Yeah right, Bad-at-Packing Delia.  It’s three months!  There will be downtime, and there will be nights when you just want to stay in and relax.

El Baño

Spigot-shower. Hot water on the left, cold on the right.

Oh bathrooms, you can bring every traveler such joy and delight, but rarely both at once.

In France I had the scalding shower with no curtain or visible place to mount the shower head (think Cirque du Soleil while I tried not to scream my favorite American vulgarities or slip in the tub), Egypt brought bathrooms ranging from European with bidet to hole in the ground, and now we have the Cuban take.

At the Residencia, we have bidets (always hilarious and adventurous) as well as low-pressure European toilets and a feisty shower.  The shower is like a spigot that kind of pelts you in the torso with water that’s either lukewarm, freezing, scalding, or alternating all three.  On very rare occasion does one experience what might be thought of as a sustained, normal temperature.  I would describe any shower experience here as “aggressive.”  As far as the curtains, well, there’s one in each shower but I don’t think it makes a difference.  Luckily we now have mats on the floor so we don’t all have to go take advantage of our free health care by getting stitches.

Bano y bidet

The toilets.  We’re definitely rocking the yellow, mellow/brown, down adage, and of course all non-bio products get thrown in the trash.  One of the…perks of a trip like this is that everyone knows each other’s GI status.  While we aren’t quite as frank about it as the Egypt crew (who were sharing in hilarious, graphic detail from day one), people have started realizing that chatting about your bowels around the dinner table is as normal and helpful as Gram has always treated it.

Outside of the Residencia?  Well, it consists mostly of what I’ve been calling a Squat Situation.  No toilet paper ever, like in Egypt, but at least there are rarely attendants motioning towards their mouths and asking for baksheesh.  There are often no doors, meaning that bringing a pack of girls with you to the bathroom is (for once) actually a worthwhile enterprise.

Tub and bathmat. It's in especially rare form today, don't hold that against Maria.

Think this is a little graphic?  It’s a good deal more euphemistic than most actual conversations on the subject.  Be aware, though, that this is a very real part of travel, and definitely a factor I advise you be fully educated on before you buy a plane ticket.  People can be very particular about bathroom habits, and I find it’s best to know what you’re getting yourself into.

Of course, all this is null if you just stay in American hotels everywhere you go, but then (some might argue) so was your trip.