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240 Hours: Interning at Our Bodies Ourselves

by Katherine "Kat" Burchell, Mount Holyoke College, '05

This essay concerns my Summer 2004 Our Bodies Ourselves internship, with Sally Whelan and the Translation/Adaptation Program.

Enter Oak Grove. “Malden Centah (change for commuter rail). Wellington Station. Suhilivan Squah. Cahmmunity College. North Station (change for green line and commuter rail). Haymahkat (change for green line). State. Downtown Crossin. Chinatown. New England Medical Center. Back Bay (change for commuter rail).” Exit Back Bay.

Turn left onto Dartmouth Street. 25¢ Boston Globe. Brownstones. Nieman Marcus. Young white Boston Brahmin mother walking little dog and baby carriage with Starbucks in hand. Well-dressed (probably) gay man. Stop, look, and listen before you cross the street. Traffic halts.

Sandals meet next curb. Slightly uneven cobblestone. Shaded trees. Pride flag. Colorful stationery in window. African-American man repaving gray brownstone steps for mystery tenant. Cross paths with Tremont Street. Dartmouth Street changes names because of a slight angle. West Dedham Street.

Corner store does not sell Charleston Chews. Cathedral Station Post Office. Botucatu restaurant. Torre Unidad high rise. Small modern apartments. One with fake peach flowers in the garden, the next patch has real flowers- a tiger lily even. Seated Puerto Rican grandmother watches cars pass. Safe in crosswalk. Eye level with green sprouting from the Unity Tower community garden, its sign greets me in three languages. Press walk button.

Another slender angle turns West Dedham Street, once Dartmouth Street, into Monsignor Reynolds Way. Foodies Urban Market. Poland Springs Lime Sparkling Water. Holy Cross Cathedral, Chartres gives it an inferiority complex. But the buttresses are still strong. Cathedral Housing development. Yellow brick apartment complexes, Spanish pop music, black girls braiding hair, nice rims. Watch for traffic. Coast clear. Cross and turn right on Harrison Avenue. Firemen! Policemen! (Oh my!) Just district departments.

Turn left the “wrong way” on a one way street. Plympton Street. Our Bodies Ourselves, #34, first bell.

“Hi Sally, hot out there today.”

“Hi Kat, I know! How was your evening?”

“Great, I …”

Fan on low, no, not right, medium now. Boot up my trusty computer. Enter the magic password. Open Outlook Express. Three new messages! Names end in -ov, -vic, and -ian. Today will be a good day.

It is. Need the red hand truck. Weigh, affix return address label, each package a different state (no international from Judy today). Scan Media Mail chart, find the winning number, enter rate, postage meter chugs out this Naša Tela, Mi’s ticket to Sacramento.

My favorite Post Office lady smiles as she says “Liquid, perishable, or hazardous?” “No, just books.” I return her smile. She knows they’re just books. She lets me go without double-checking my postage. I am their best customer. The cool air-conditioned room echoes “See you Thursday” as I leave.

240 hours. The designated time that qualifies my work as legitimate (by decree of my Career Development Center). But the first day I walked that mile from the Orange Line Back Bay train station to Our Bodies Ourselves, I knew my internship was the real thing. I saw one road change three names. Who knew what a street could do, that I could see change so condensed? Each name brought new housing styles, new skin colors, new languages. White, Latina and Asian, African-American. The "Historic" South End of Boston.

~          ~

Japanese, Armenian, Serbian, Bulgarian. I do not speak those languages but the people I email, chat with on the phone, and send books to do. Immigrants. Refugees. What have the last twenty years done to those words? These people are amazing, strong, and resilient. Not people who want to take my job or live off welfare. My hands have packaged and sent translations of Our Bodies Ourselves to half of the United States this summer. 4,000 dollars. That was the projects’ budget. 4,000 dollars to buy and ship 200 (combined) Bulgarian, Armenian, Serbian and Japanese translations free-of-charge to organizations and individuals who help and often are “immigrant women”. 4,000 dollars. I predict more than 4,000 women will be helped from my mandatory yet meager 240 hours this summer at Our Bodies Ourselves. Me. An immigrant 12 generations ago. Richard Warren, merchant, passenger of the Mayflower. But I am not marked by the immigration of my ancestors, like so many others are today. My skin, its history and politics have privileged me, guarded me from some hardships of today’s world but it has not tricked me to believe slanders against new American heritage or “the wrong side of town.”

I walk those three streets everyday. I see how these Boston streets have marked passages of immigrants- of Americans, by skin color, language, apartment square feet, mode of transportation…. At work I talk to women and men whose names end in -ian whose families came to this country because of genocide and I send books to a woman’s last name that ends that in -vic who came to the United States because she and her friends were raped during war. And someone wants to call them foreigners? They are more American, at the heart and history of the word, than my family is now, for the reason that they became American for survival’s sake.

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