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A Day in the Life of an Intern at OBOS

by Laura Subramanian

I wheel my bike up to the familiar blue door, with “Our Bodies Ourselves” inscribed in discreet block letters. I punch in the combination and go inside, propping up my bike in the hallway.

In the large loft space that serves as the OBOS office, I navigate deftly around desks and bookshelves to reach the back of the room. On my way, I stop to greet my fellow interns. “Just give me a minute to get settled,” I call to my supervisor as I toss my backpack on a chair and turn on the computer at my desk. I put my lunch in the little refrigerator in the kitchen area, and walk over to my supervisor’s desk.

“Is now a good time to check in?” I ask.

“Sure,” she replies. “Just let me finish this one sentence….OK. So how’s everything with you?”

We chat about what’s happened in our lives in the past few days. I ask about her dance class; she asks about my trip home. After a few minutes, we move on to the tasks for the day, which are itemized on a list that my supervisor has prepared. To quote Forrest Gump, my supervisor’s lists are like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. I’ve done everything from asking a local health clinic if they have dental dams for a photo shoot, to sending packages to Eve Ensler and Gloria Steinem, to finding strange websites while checking references.

Today, the list looks fairly tame. The first item reads, “Check stats on HIV in at-risk groups: IV drug users, teens, sex workers, prisoners.” Since I’ve been working on the HIV/AIDS chapter for the past few weeks, I have some idea of where to look for this information. I open my web browser and spend the next two hours immersed in a trail of websites. I find tantalizing links that turn out to be duds, and not-so-promising links that lead me to more helpful websites.

Engrossed in my research, I am startled when my supervisor says, “We’re heading up to the roof for lunch. Want to join us?” I realize that it’s already 12:30 and I am, in fact, starving. I grab my lunch and climb the spiral stairs to the rooftop deck where we often eat on nice days.

My supervisor and my fellow interns are already seated at the little round table, protected from the midday sun by an attached umbrella. “Pull up a chair!” one intern says. I sit down and join the usual hodgepodge of lunchtime conversation, which consists of tidbits such as:

Intern #1: “Has anyone seen that new commercial for Seasonale, the birth control pill where you only get 4 periods a year?”

Intern #2: “Yeah, I saw it - I couldn’t believe they said women’s health experts agree it’s safe! The stats aren’t conclusive at all…”

Intern #3: “The March for Women’s Lives was awesome.”

Supervisor: “It sounds really great; I wish I could have gone. Did you see the OBOS contingent while you were there?”

Intern #2: “Hey, what do you have for lunch today? That looks really good.”

Supervisor: “It’s Thai tofu curry, very easy to make….”

Intern #1: “So, I read in the Birth Control chapter that the female condom can be noisy. Is that true?”

Intern #3: “Yeah, I’ve tried it and it is kind of loud once you get going.”

Post-lunch, I return to my desk. My next task is listed as simply, “Safer Sex chapter.” I smile; Our Bodies, Ourselves covers many aspects of women’s health, but I seem to get all the sex-related assignments. I open the document on the computer to find that there are several comments in the margins about formatting, statistics and references. I take a deep breath and dive into the chapter, occasionally asking my supervisor a question (“Is foreplay one word or two?”) (“Do they sell dental dams in drugstores?”) and checking the internet for information (official condom use guidelines; statistics on relative sex risks).

The doorbell rings. I look up from my computer screen, which is displaying safety tips for oral sex, and see a deliveryman carrying a large box labeled “Female Condoms.” According to a fellow intern, these are samples for a conference that the executive director is attending next week.

I take a break from the Safer Sex chapter to check the OBOS email account. There are the usual inquiries about our organization, and questions about where to buy the book. I send replies, giving information from our website: “Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS), also known as the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (BWHBC), is a nonprofit, public interest women’s health education, advocacy, and consulting organization. We publish the book, Our Bodies, Ourselves, which provides information about health, sexuality and reproduction from a feminist and consumer perspective.” I tell people that the next edition of the book will be published in Spring 2005 and that they can get it through their local bookstores.

Soon I discover that it’s already 5:30, time to head home. I pack my things, say goodbye to everyone, and hop on my bike. As I ride home, I think about how my work today will affect the women who read the next edition of OBOS. I entertain visions of future days: a lively discussion about the health effects of low-carb diets? Research on acupuncture and migraines? A search for the perfect photo of a woman giving birth? Thanks to unpredictable lists and condom deliveries, my days at Our Bodies Ourselves will never be boring.

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