Sunday, October 13, 2013

Everyday Experience #1 - Laundry

Doing my laundry here wasn’t something I really thought about before I arrived. At home, it was such a normal, everyday experience that I didn’t put much thought into it.

During in-country orientation, new questions kept popping into my mind, such as “Do I have to provide my own toilet paper?” “When a light bulb goes out, where do I get a new one to replace it?” and “How will I do my laundry?”

For the last question, Tessa (my country coordinator) said something like this. “There is a washing machine there for you to use, but I was told that it also requires some ‘manual labor’ to wash your clothes.”


Based on that answer, I had no idea what to expect. I was honestly picturing myself having to literally shake the machine to imitate the churning of clothes inside. For something that I never gave a second thought, the thought of doing laundry was suddenly daunting.

When I arrived in Soweto, I asked the German volunteers here for advice on doing laundry. They said that there is a washing machine for the volunteers to use located directly behind our flat, but it is broken. Luckily, there is another machine, but we have to share it with other people, so sometimes it is hard to find a good time to wash. Finally, the machine works pretty well when actually washing the clothes, but it struggles during the spin cycle.

When I needed to attempt my first load of laundry, I had Giulia, my flat mate, show me how to run the machine. She said that I should turn on the machine, push every button once, and then hit start. I have no idea why we have to push every button once, but I just go with it and it works pretty well. After starting the machine, I wait for about 45 minutes, then go to check.

                                                  The working washing machine, located 
                                                                  just outside of the main kitchen at DAM.

Usually, I find my clothes sitting in a pool of water. This shows that the wash cycle is complete, but the ever-cumbersome drainage and spin cycle is struggling to begin. One of my neighbors said that the best way to make the spin cycle work is to have a small child sit on the machine. Since I am lacking in the “small child department” I simply lean on the machine and put pressure on the lid, which usually makes it spin for about two minutes before it stops again. This process of leaning, spinning, stopping, and leaning again continues until 1) my clothes are no longer soaking or 2) I am sick of leaning on the machine. Usually it is the latter.

Finally, it is time to hang my clothes on the line outside. Our clothesline is located just behind my flat in the garden. So far, it has been pretty windy here, which is good for quickly drying clothes, but creates a new challenge for keeping my clothes on the line and off the ground.

                                        Some of my laundry hanging on the line behind our flat.

I have discovered which clothespins are the strongest, and therefore work best for heavy items, such as jeans.  I came upon that discovery after having many items fall from the line onto the dry, dusty ground, which caused the items to now be muddy and almost as dirty as before I started laundry.

Luckily, the warm and breezy weather makes for very fast drying. For most items, about an hour on the line is enough. For others, I must leave them out there longer, and hope to remember to get them later. Fortunately, I live with some pretty great people who bring my jeans to my door should I forget them on the line for an extended period of time.

I have heard many stories about fellow YAGMs learning how to properly hand-wash their clothes, and I am extremely grateful to have the almost-fully-functioning washing machine that I have. In the few times that I have hand-washed my clothes, I think they end up smelling worse than before I started washing them.

Basically, doing my laundry here is different than it was back home, but I have learned to adjust and be flexible. Isn't it strange how even the most mundane activities can teach us lessons in life? Way to go, YAGM program. I have even learned lessons by doing my laundry.


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