Tag Archives: my Dad

Ways of Seeing

Something that confuses me is oblivion–when someone just can’t see what’s staring you in the face.  Sometimes it’s just annoying to explain something over and over, or cruelly funny when a person is the only one out of the loop.  But it is the most frustrating and disheartening for me when this is oblivion to facts, the plight of others, and the narrow margin by which the lucky were so, and the others were not. 

But oblivion also leads to a more wondrous concept, and that is the brilliant things that one person sees and another can only appreciate.   My brother, for instance, is wildly creative.  He looks at a crack in the wall and sees a face, an old man, a scene.  I can only draw when instructed and led by the hand, but he is constantly seeing new and amazing things, abstract or concrete, in the whole world around us. 

My Andrew, on the other hand, can see in baseball.  He hasn’t admitted to it, but I’m fairly convinced.  I occasionally keep book for his neighborhood softball league games, something I enjoy but that I don’t yet understand the intricacies of.  Meanwhile, Andrew looks at the last inning and knows–no, sees–exactly who did what, even when it’s not notated.  It reminds me of that scene in the matrix, when Neo starts to see the world in code. 

My father sees in strategy.  He can play any card game and win any board game, even newly taught, because his brain is tuned to that frequency.  I taught him Cuban dominoes the other night (9-dot) and he beat the pants off my mother and I for a while.  Even when the fiches, or tiles, weren’t going his way, he could see the multiple levels of strategies he was just begining to comprehend. 

What about you?  What can you see that others can’t?  What do you wish you could see?  Have you noticed the mental advantages and thought processes of those around you?

What is Service-Learning

Sometimes I get so into what I’m doing that I put the horse WAY before the cart, and forget entirely about step one.  Sometimes even steps one through five, and I think I did that a wee bit with explaining this trip.  It wasn’t until I read a helpful e-mail from my confused father that I realized if he didn’t know what I was doing here, I don’t think anyone else could.  Most people are still wondering what the hell I’m doing in Africa, and where this Benin place is, anyhow, and what’s this service-learning I keep waxing philosophic about.


Service is volunteering one’s time at an organization, be it related to your church, school, workplace or other community.


Learning is your typical class room education, with objectives, goals, lectures and homework.  Pretty straightforward.


Obviously, this is a combination of the two.  It’s a great example of Northeastern’s philosophy of Experiential Education.  The field of education and type of service are related, and as the French say, il y a un rapport entre les deux.  The service is supposed to inform the learning, and vice versa.  Classroom discussions are enriched with anecdotes from the field, and volunteering is more useful because of the knowledge gained in the clasroom.

While this has typicaly been used in hands-on, service-oriented fields like Human Services (which is similar to and includes social work), sociology, etc, it has also been used in the medical field and with engineers.

Why is this trip Unique?

Generally, service-learning is localized to one’s community–our international setting is out of the ordinary.  The idea is that a person is helping their own community, where they understand the language, culture, geography, et cetera.  Also, service learning typically lasts for a semester, with students volunteering at their placement for a few hours each week.

The Logistics

Our group is broken up into 5 smaller groups, each of which works for three hours a day (9am to noon) with a local Beninois organization.  The groups are the same every day, and each group sticks with its own organization the entire time.  One group is working at a music school/recording studio that also has an AIDS clinic, another is an orphanage, a third group is working at our very own residence, the Songhai Center, the fourth is at a vocational school for women ages 10-20, and finally I am at a micro-enterprise of a group of women who pool their resources (time, money, childcare) to create four products to sell in the market.

The Schooling

We fit lectures in during afternoons, as well as site visits (like to UNESCO or the US Ambassador to Benin).  In France we had a week of language classes in the morning from 9am to noon, and we have been receiving reading assignments throughout the trip.  We have started picking topics for a research paper due after our return to the states, and we were also graded on our presentations to the Universite d’Abomey students in the city of Cotonou.  Finally, there is the capacity building project, which synthesizes our classroom knowledge about aid, NGOs and evaluating efficiency with our experience in the field with our organization where we volunteer.


I hope this offers you all a little clarity on why I’m here and what the program is all about.  Feel free to leave any questions in the comments!

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.


Paul Grew currently holds the title of Family Linguist, but I think I come in at a close second. 

Many people look at foreign languages as insurmountable and, well, foreign.  So here are a few tips from someone who has done pretty well for herself with language. 

  1. Don’t be afraid to sound like an idiot.  You need to speak in order to get better, and you will inevitably sound like a child.  Get over this and you will improve rapidly. 
  2. Look for cognates.  The better your english vocabulary and grammar is, the easier the other languages will be, especially if you go with a Germanic or Romance language.  Don’t worry if you’re bad at grammar, I’ve seen and experienced greater understanding of our own grammar concepts after learning the same one in a different language. 
  3. Pay attention the first time around.  I have been able to retain all those years of high school French avec Madame because I really learned and understood the concepts to begin with.  Now, when I review, it is just that. 
  4. See number one.  Yes, it’s that important that you speak often.  I came back from France a much better speaker than many of my friends because they were timid, so I was always the one ordering our food, asking for directions and trying to find the changing room.  Those who didn’t speak barely got anything out of the trip, linguistically. 
  5. Expose yourself to the language as much as possible.  This means movies, television shows, children’s books, music, whatever.  Your ear will get faster and your accent will improve. 

What’re your sure-fire tips for picking up/keeping up a language?  I know some of you are abroad now (Jackie) or will be soon (Miss Sarah) and some have had to deal with trying to maintain fluency after returning (Michelle.)  There are also a whole bunch of you who speak foreign languages (Aunt Sue, Dad, Kev) just as well if not better than me.  How did you do it?

Coming Out Party

I’m going to Cuba.  For a semester.  Starting pretty much right after New Year’s.


Sorry I’ve kept this way on the dl, for reasons both personal and logical.  I didn’t know if I would be allowed to apply, I didn’t know if I would get accepted, and I didn’t know if the trip would actually happen.

Even more surprising, is that this idea has been around for a while.  A little more than a year ago I mentioned it casually to my dad, who I assumed would shoot it down.  I should have known better.  As much as dad is always getting all worked up and worried that I’ll get myself into some sort of trouble with my curious, opinionated rabble-rousing ways, I know that we’re basically the same person.  Which means that he wishes he could go to Cuba too.

Since then, the idea was in the back of my mind.  After Egypt I knew I wouldn’t be staying in this country long, but due to co-op I would have to stay at least six months.  I casually mentioned the idea to a few friends as a “someday” possibility at the end of the summer, but then I let it drop.

One Thursday, I panicked and thought the deadline for Cuba was closer than it turned out to be.  At the idea of not being able to go, I suddenly realized the myriad reasons why I absolutely NEED to go.  By that Tuesday I had applied.

Since then it’s been my bizarro little secret, with only Sarah, Alex, Marisa and my immediate family in the loop.  I saw no reason to get everyone all worked up if I didn’t get in.  But now I’m going.  So there!

I feel like this is a press conference.  But given the last sentence of the previous paragraph, a press conference for a toddler.

I want this blog to be a lot more interactive.  I love travel, politics, language and culture, but I also love education.  I love educating myself and I love the act of spreading knowledge, which is a big part of why I started this blog.  Many of you will never go to Cuba or Egypt, or any third (or second!) world country.  But I will.  So much of what we hear about these places is misunderstood, over-simplified or flat-out false.

So live vicariously through me.  Leave comments with your questions.  Do you think I’ll be safe?  Do you think I’ll be able to send/receive mail?  Do you think people will hate us there?  Do you think people will speak English?  I want your impressions of Cuba.  Does it make you think of Scarface and cigars, or Hunter S. Thompson and rum?

I promise to answer the questions, especially the safety one.  I already know answers to some of them (especially the safety one!) but I would love to hear your impressions of Cuba, whether they’re based on books and movies or our President and the news.


A few weekends ago, I was one of the volunteers at the U2 shows down at Gillette.  Greenpeace, Save Burma and the ONE Campaign were also there, which made for some nice camaraderie amongst the volunteers. 

It was an experience I will always remember and never trade, but in a way, it was so disheartening.  I spent the day out in the hot sun, approaching strangers and beseeching them to care about this woman with a strange name who lives so far away and is rarely on the news.  I was polite to people who were rude, I engaged with people who were argumentative and I tried not to piss anybody off.  I did my best to cram as many facts in as I could, once they agreed to sign and were finagling the clipboard. 

But after all that, Bono did more. 

He waved his magic wand and brought us all on stage with her face covering our own.  He sang the song he wrote for her, and played an informative text overlay on the jumbo tron.  He got the crowd of people, previously drunk or disinterested, to put on their own masks of her, and to care. 

But does the ONE campaign really hold up?  Or rather, does it stay true to its ideals?  Yes, it raises money.  But the premise is that we each only have one voice, and if we each raise that one voice, there will be a million voices all crying out for the same freedoms and protections.  But not all voices are equal.  There’s a reason Brad Pitt and Don Cheadle do the ONE ads, not me and my dad. 

It was an emotional weekend, and for the first time I truly felt like an activist.  But it put into perspective a few things, like how many hundreds of hours of photocopying and data entry balanced out the joy of being on stage with U2.  Or more importantly,  the fact that no matter how hard I worked, Bono could write a check and give a directive and do more for Daw ASSK than I ever could in a lifetime of activism. 

For Bono, it doesn’t matter that he’s not a politician.  He’s an average Irish guy with an amazing voice, great songwriting skills, and some really talented friends.  But he has made himself so relevent to the non-profit and activism world, as well as to popular culture, that governments listen to him.  Average people listen to him.  There’s a reason people signed my petition if I said Bono asked us to be here, Bono wrote Walk On about this woman, Bono supports us. 

What he says matters. 

Which brings me back to my high school dream: I should either be president, or Bob Dylan.


The weekend of September 20th was phenomonal.  In the words of my father, “Nobody is gonna believe us.”

September 20th is my dad’s birthday, and he and I spent it by collecting signatures for Amnesty all day and then watching U2 from the inner circle at night.  Oh, yeah, and we walked on stage.  With Bono.  It was more amazing than I thought it could have been, and the best free birthday present ever. 

The second night I went to Gillette with Alex, cuz my dad works for a living and that was an exhausting day.  So that means I spent two full days immersed in Amnesty and Save Burma and U2.  I actually got a bit jaded from seeing them so much, which was kind of weird.  But it was by all accounts an amazing weekend, and not just for the reasons you would think. 

The second night, I was legitimately choked up while walking on stage, Aung Sun Suu Kyi‘s face in front of my own.  I finally felt like I was really doing something worthwhile, and I had this little moment of oh, so this is my life now.  I’m a girl who does the solidarnosc fist and wears peacock feathers in her hair because they symbolize democracy in Burma.  I’m also the only one (besides Alex) who knows what CEDAW is and can properly explain our petition about it.  I kind of like being this person.  Hm.  I could totally be this person, for real life, not just for coop.  Hm. 

It was englightening to speak to the monks, both of whom were in their early 20s.  These are people who have given up the comforts of modern or family life for ascetism and service to their people.  I really enjoyed seeing people my age who were so committed to their faith and their country, and on such a different path from where I am. 

One of the monks had a digital SLR, his only luxury item.  He explained that it was not frivolous at all.  Since the warrant for his arrest was issued due to his part in the protests, he can’t go home.  Instead, he travels, taking pictures and telling his story, trying to save his country from afar.  The camera is just his way of doing the work he was called to do, adapting to this new circumstance. 

I’m no monk, but I’d like to think that my path isn’t as far from his as it first seems.  Because right now, I’m a professional activist.