“Why Do My Office Curtains Smell Like Body Odor?” and other important questions

Living in a different country means that meeting other ex-pats often devolves into extended, philosophical dialogues. You spend a lot of time talking about life, culture, challenges, victories, and those moments when you want to punch people in the face. I’ve had these same conversations, over glorious ice cold Perła in Krakow’s Stare Miasto, among early-morning train drunks between Zelenograd and Moscow, sitting on a roof under a canopy of Haitian stars, sharing a warm Prestige. You sit with others who are outsiders, like you, and you talk, you drink, you ask questions – why do Rwandans touch their inner elbow when shaking hands? Why do Germans have insurance for everything? Do the British still care that much about speaking Queen’s English?

But travel causes you to question much about what you know or think. You spend a lot of time navel-gazing, thinking about your values and experiences, how you other life seems so far away from your current reality. You journey deeper into yourself, uncovering new tendencies, powers, or fears – which can be terrifying. I’ve learned that I will, in fact, throw a rock in the direction of a small child if that same child throws a rock at a defenseless dog (I didn’t hit him – it was more of a warning shot). I’ve realized how much baggage I carry from my other lives and how each day can be a struggle to question it.

However, philosophical musing aside, everyday life is filled with more banal inquiries. Influenced by Buzzfeed-driven listicle culture, I sample here for your reading pleasure my Saturday morning, riddled with questions.

Questions I Asked Myself (and Others) Today

1. Would I get more or less attention if I walked down the road in a full burka?

2. Why do the curtains (in my office) smell like body odor?

3. Will this electrocute me? (While attempting to plug in power strip in my classroom and the wall socket pops out of the wall in to my hand, with a few naked wires attaching it still.)

4. Can anyone name one American writer? (Spoken aloud, to my American Literature class. Answer: No.)

5. Does family planning indeed help you “avoid sex workers”? (While grading brainstorming cluster on Communication final exam)


Family planning: What? To avoid sex workers. 

6. Can one have lice if one’s head does not itch? (While putting on public-domain moto helmet)

7. If I turn around, will I find a) a child, b) a woman, or c) (yikes) a man lovingly stroking my hair? (While on the bus to Kigali, with hair being anonymous fondled- a common and usually child-driven occurrence.) 

8. Does everyone at the airport say, “You are going to Burkina Faso,” because, like me, they can’t remember how to pronounce “Ouagadougou”? (Beginning my 12-hour trek to West Africa for my program’s mid-year conference/pool fest). 

9. What will the next week, trading East for West, entail? (We’ll see, won’t we.) 

The stupid or the deep, travel begs of you a thousand questions. To Ryszard Kapuściński, it is all the journey: “travel is his vital exertion, his self-justification is the delving into, the struggle to learn—about life, the world, perhaps ultimately oneself” (p. 269).

But really, I’d like an answer to the lice question.

Kapuściński, R. (2007). Travels with Herodotus. New York: Penguin.


3 thoughts on ““Why Do My Office Curtains Smell Like Body Odor?” and other important questions

  1. Hi Leanne: Brava on another insightful, provocative, and hilarious piece. It is funny, I feel really close to you through your writing. One of my former students is in Indonesia and writes a blog…but she does not reveal the rich inner workings of her mind and heart as you do, through the nuance and hilarity of daily life. There is such an elegant balance between the macro universe and the tiniest details in your writing (very Zen like) as small and as big as lice! Thank you so much.

    The experience of having your hair played with is such an interesting anthropological thing. As a blonde, my Latino/Chicano/ Hispanic students loved to play with my hair when I read to them. It seems to be one way little kids experience culture: I’ve had African American colleagues share stories about being groomed by little European American kids and vice versa. Very interesting.

    It is freaking snowing here AGAIN. We are supposed to get walloped in upstate NY tonight AGAIN. Who needs a subscription to the gym when you can just keep shoveling the driveway? The Wikipedia web page of Rwanda looks warm and inviting and very jungle like.

    Am up to my eyeballs on an annual review of my teaching. Last year, my boss cherry picked all sorts of obsolete data from my course evals, so this year I will do it for her and provide context. 😉 What a waste of time, although I am getting some interesting ideas about teaching such as: My students are not relying on the technology I’ve set up for them to stay organized; they perceive participatory approaches to constructing the syllabus a form of disorganization, and they are totally desperate for community….they love interacting with the kids and having a sense of belonging, despite being vey afraid of culturally and linguistically diverse kids. The challenge is how to get their privilege and need for instant entertainment out of the way; they resist deep thinking and complicated projects, but need to learn how to create and co-create for themselves and with others in order to survive the profession. I’m wondering how I can throw out parts of the commissioner’s regulations and standards to address these needs in a concerted way. Two hours of credit a week is just not enough to cultivate profound understandings about language acquisition, race, ethnicity, and teaching pedagogies. Ahh!!!! Okay, I’ll stop whining.

    Have been putting together your care package and will send it off either tomorrow or Tuesday. Have been down for the count with a sinus infection and the flu this week, but am finally getting some energy back to get to the post office.

    Hoping all is well! Thank you again for all your excellent efforts on the newsletter. Your colleague and friend, Cathrene

    Dr. Cathrene Connery Associate Professor of Education Ithaca College Department of Education 194B Phillips Hall Annex 953 Danby Road Ithaca, New York 14850 Cconnery@ithaca.edu

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rwandans touch their inner elbow when shaking hands as a sign of respect, it’s like bowing low for East Asian, you do it for someone who is older than you or who is an authority figure, as for wearing full burka, i have seen a women stop and leave a bus because of all the questions she was receiving about her full burka.
    The touching of the hair i experienced it too in China (i’m Rwandan) , i guess its something about the different texture( i even had my skin pinched to check that it was not paint i’m wearing),as for lice,never having suffered from it despite the numerous moto taxi rides, i cannot help, but my guess if it does not itch, its not lice, and last but not least, no one says Ouagadougou you just say Ouaga (pronounced waga).
    Burkinabé are nice people, and i hear Ouaga is just like Kigali in terms of cleanliness, but they are mostly Muslim so more conservative than Rwandans, generally West Africans are louder and express their feeling more, that’s about all i know have a safe trip and enjoy your stay, its been a pleasure reading your blog

    Liked by 1 person

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