Lave men sove lavi

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!

7 thoughts on “Lave men sove lavi

  1. Actually Sam, in the Old Testament in the Bible there are numerous regulations concerning washing. God actually gave through Moses rules that would guide the jewish people in all aspects of life, including personal hygiene, so that they would survive and thrive amongst the peoples they had to live. They were one of the most civilized and clean people, especially due to these regulations.
    You have to understand that Moses could not tell his fellow jews that they should wash their hands because of the germs, so instead washing was presented as a kind of necessary ritual.
    For example, they had to wash their hands before eating; if someone came in contact with a sick man or touched a dead man, he was ‘unclean’ and had to undergo a ‘cleaning’ ritual, which included shaving their hair, burning the clothes, washing each day while dressing a new set of clothes and staying separately from the community for 1 week.
    So, if you will read Moses’ Pentatheuh (first 5 books of the Bible), you will find a lot of regulations and advices about many things, including washing.
    In fact, in the New Testament there is an episode where some jewish learned men ask Christ why his disciples do not wash their hands before eating, as Moses taught them – and Christ tells them that they missed the point of the rules, because they were given as a mean and not as an objective in themselves.

    As for all romanians washing their hands.. you are a dear for portraying such an image about Romania, but its a little far fetched. e.g, I work in IT at a firm where all employees are university graduates (or more) and we had to hold a crash course telling some that they should wash their hands after they go to the toilet. But then again, who knows, maybe the majority of romanians do wash their hands.


  2. Where do you get your facts from? Clearly not real life. It`s good though that those Romanians you see washing their hands in the public bathrooms compensate for the 40% or so who don’t have running water or access to an indoor toilet … That’s what I heard …


    1. If they do not have running water, it doesn’t mean they don’t wash. I lived in a house with no running water for three years (long story), in the rural area, among many others without running water. They washed religiously, maybe more than others I’ve seen in the urban area… Including after using the outdoor toilet.


  3. Not that I’m a biblical scholar but much of the law in the old testament is about washing up. I’ve read a few odd research pappers addressing hand washing here in the USA. The prof doing the study stationed himself in a stall singed “out-of-order” and sitting to hide his feet and counted the number of peole who washed their hands. The percentage was less than half. He noticed that when he stantioned himself in sight, the number of people washing hands was almolst 100%. Talk about peer pressure.

    We had a Romanian intern at our office for about a year. I noticed the same practice of hand washing. I have to say one thing, Romanians are certainly consistent.


  4. E ankò, Woumani gen to a tibèkiloz pi wo nan Ewòp. Mwen devine pa tout moun ap lave men yo apre yo fin tout …


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