Every November I and other Americans here prepare ourselves for one of our most important holidays, known as Thanksgiving, the name literally meaning “giving thanks”. And while Thanksgiving the actual day is comprised of a large ceremonial meal with friends and family, the weeks and days leading up to it engender in all of us (hopefully) a sense of gratitude.
I really don’t say this lightly – one of the principal reasons I enjoy my life so much here in Romania is because I constantly remind myself to be grateful. When you say out loud (or in writing) exactly why you give thanks for something in your life, it enriches your life, it benefits you directly. Sometimes that seems like a silly or embarrassing thing to do but once you set your pride aside for a moment the blessings that you receive are almost instantaneously tangible. If you don’t believe me then just try it for yourself and see.
I am grateful for both “big” things as well as “small” things and today I am grateful for people washing their hands.
It seems pretty “obvious” now but just 150 years ago even scientists scoffed at the idea that washing hands had any benefit despite the fact that a brave doctor proved that this simple measure reduced mortality in his clinic to less than 1%.
Nowadays, in almost every country (including Haiti, where the title of this post comes from), everyone knows that washing your hands saves lives. But I can tell you that people in other countries, most definitely including the United States (and Britain), all “know” this but don’t actually do it. Of course they do it in a hospital setting before surgery but in ordinary, daily activities very few Americans actually wash their hands on a regular basis.
A few years ago I was here in Romania at a club, a place packed full of young men who were clearly drunk and having fun, and I remember being quite shocked to see them all line up at the sink in the bathroom to diligently wash their hands. At the time I actually laughed in derision. You’re staggeringly drunk and dash into the restroom to unload your beer in a messy fashion but yet you take the time to fastidiously wash your hands?
But over time I’ve realized that if drunk, horny young men in discos are diligently washing their hands then pretty much everyone else must be as well. And my observations have borne this out after being in a few hundred public bathrooms in Romania. Everyone from children to adults of both genders here wash their hands on a very regular basis.
Unlike in most of America, people who live in cities here are packed in pretty tightly with their neighbors, whether that’s in stores and shops or on buses and other forms of public transportation. With the windows tightly closed most of the time and all of us sharing our neighbor’s air, you’d think that diseases and airborne illnesses would be rife. And yet that’s not the case. Of course there are colds in the winter and that kind of thing but compared to how it could be, there’s shockingly little transfer of diseases between people here.
I’m no expert microbiologist but I truly do believe that Romanian diligence about hand washing is exactly why so many people are healthy so much of the time. Ask any government health official and they’ll tell you that the simplest but most effective way to prevent the transmission of a hell of a lot of diseases is by everyone washing their hands.
So from the bottom of my heart, to all of my fastidious Romanian neighbors, thank you for washing your hands!
Note: One of the most tragic shortcomings of the Bible (and for the most part, the Qur’an as well) is precisely the fact that while there is a great deal of material concerning spiritual cleanliness versus uncleanliness, there’s basically nothing about washing your hands or other hygienic practices. There are more verses concerning what to do with your house when it’s full of mold (Rom: mucegai) than there are about bodily hygiene.
Sadly, if just one of the prophets or messiahs or other geniuses in these holy books had focused on this issue then literally billions of agonizing, awful deaths could’ve been prevented. Oh well!