Thursday, November 27, 2008

This is how I Wash our Clothes

After hunting down all the dirties, grabbing the hand-washing detergent sunlight, and the pink 12” in diameter plastic wash basin with faded soccer balls around the sides, I head to the bathroom. I check the water pressure and if it is just a trickle, like today, I ask Janet to turn the water pump on. Then, I go back to my make shift washing room. There, I do the first “load” it consists mostly of all our under garments and socks. I fill up the wash basin with warm water and, if I remember, I add the detergent then so that it mixes in well with the water. If not, there is a lot of swooshing that has to happen to get the water sudsy enough. You are only supposed to add 1 handful of powder to a load, but I’m not sure that’s enough. I’ve tried 2 handfuls and that’s too many. So, I’m still working on the right consistency. After the water is ready I add the clothes and let them soak for 1 hour. I intermittently check on them to make sure no color is running. Like today, I had to quickly take out a maroon shirt because it was starting to bleed and the other light colors had to be taken out as well so they wouldn’t soak it up!! After any and all crises are averted I’m free to do other things during that hour. Today, it consisted of straightening our room and hiding from the bishops’ meeting called “the house of bishops” that is taking place at mercy house today. I had to put on nicer clothes just in case they saw me, which isn’t too fun when you’re splashing water on you for the better part of a morning.

[Rwandans dress very nicely and I’ve read do not appreciate it when westerners do not also care about their appearance. Almost as if, “you wouldn’t dress so scruffy in your own country so why would you here?” Even though most of us do dress quite casually! For example, students in the university dress very nicely and trying to explain U.S. students going to class in pajama bottoms and a hoodie is impossible. Rob and I have not had any problems, we’ve always looked nice, as far as I know. Although, I have had to resist the urge to arrive at the breakfast table in pjs.]

I return to the basin. I swoosh and scrub each piece individual and then wring it out and lay it to the side. I don’t spend much time at all on each piece, but collectively it seems to take awhile. Then I try to rinse each piece and refill the basin with clean water and put them all back in for a “rinse cycle”. I repeat the process of individually taking them back out and wringing them as dry as possible. Then, because this first load is under garments, I hang them in the bathroom. It seems slightly more private. There is a clothes line hanging over the bathtub and it is normally just the perfect amount of space for all those types of clothes. When we get to Hope house, I’ll probably dry all our clothes outside.

Today, just as I’m finishing up rinsing the first load and about to start my second there is a brown out-a loss of electricity during the day. This is not at all uncommon and normally the generator comes on in a few minutes, its only aggravating when you’re doing laundry. The house is well lit by sunlight and you can’t really tell the electricity is out except in the bathroom due to the lack of windows. After flipping the switch in the bathroom a few times hoping it will magically come back on, I remember I’m in Africa, that brown outs happen, and it’s nicer outside anyway. I feel around for the washing powder sack, my now half full bag of dirty clothes, dump the water out of the basin and into the tub and go outside to use the water spout there. Outside it is hot and bright, a great day for washing clothes-they’ll dry quickly. But as the day wears on the chance of rain increases and many here say that the intense heat is a sign of coming rain. I hope I can finish up before a rain shower undoes my work! I fill the basin with water, this time forgetting to add the washing powder at the beginning and thus vigorously swoosh in the powders in the basin full of water. Then I add the clothes and start the soaking process over, I’ll return to them in 1 hour.

The wind is beginning to blow hard; also a sign of coming rain. I hope at least the first things dry before the rain comes. I go to check to make sure the clothes haven’t blown off the line—very few clothespins here at mercy house! If they have blown off, I’ll have to re-wash them…. After seeing that everything is still on the line, I’ve decided 45-50 minutes is long enough to soak. The previous clothes are almost dry and if I hurry everything else should be dry by 1pm. I begin the process over again, scrub, swoosh, wring, rinse, swoosh, wring and hang. As I hang the clothes on the line under an avocado tree, a tropical crow-type bird with a white neck pecks in yesterday’s trash finding a cheese rind as his treasure and the smell of coffee wafts through the kitchen window in preparation for the bishops’ tea time. I begin to wring out one of rob’s dress shirts as I am beginning, a lady passes by and shakes her finger as in no no no, and motions to me how dress shirts should be hung on the line to drip dry. I guess that makes sense; I learn many things here every day- and everyone has become my teacher.

I am done with the wash process. Hopefully, the rain will not come until they’ve all had time to dry. I’ll take them off the line, shake off any spiders and leaves and bring them in to iron another day. All this I can do. Or, we could pay 2,500 FRW the equivalent of less than $5 USD to Francine for working for 5 hours, she would come and do the washing, ironing, and cleaning. Normally, Malu has her come twice a week, washing one day, ironing the next and cleaning interspersed throughout. Although I am not quite ready to hand it over to Francine. I kinda like the repetitiveness of the process and the quite time it gives me. I’ll stick with it for now, at least until the new year.

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