Mama's got the Magic
If someone here tells you that they are doing laundry, you understand that that means they will be occupied for the better part of the day. There are no washers and dryers here, no multi-cycle machines to choose from; for most of us, laundry is done by hand. To be totally honest, I more or less suck at washing my clothes by hand. At this point, most my clothes are pretty beaten up and discolored, and my whites have turned into a sort of off-white/brownish color. I keep telling myself that it's just the nature of the beast; hand washing your clothes eventually destroys them. However, everyone around here washes their clothes by hand but you would never guess so just by looking at most of them, which makes me think that I must be doing something wrong. On the other hand, I have been coached by a few different people, and at this point I am at least able to get my clothes clean which is more than I could do a few months ago. It seems there's really no trick to keeping your whites whiter and your brights brighter when hand washing other than being taught from childhood the secrets to doing so.
Everybody's process is a bit different, but mine generally has four steps that go something like this: I start out by moving all of our laundry materials (scrub brush, wash board, laundry detergent, bar of laundry soap, rinsing bucket, stain stick) into the bathroom. I say a quick prayer that water will come out of the faucet when I turn it on and, assuming it does, I fill the bathtub with cold water. Next, I dump half my laundry basket full of clothes-- I do laundry so rarely that I usually have two bathtubs full to wash-- into the tub along with a handful of laundry detergent. Once the tub has filled with enough water (which usually takes a good 3 or 4 minutes depending upon how many other people are trying to do their laundry at the same time), I turn off the faucet, roll up my imaginary sleeves and begin to work the clothes in with the soap, using my hands and arms to make back and forth, washing machine-type motions. I continue this process for a few minutes until a good foam has been made. That's all step number one. From here, I take my book (currently Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) and go read outside for ten minutes or so, letting the clothes soak in the soapy water.
After either ten or forty minutes have passed (ten if I go unnoticed, forty if a neighbor or hostel border stops by to tell me about their day or their family or the latest Omaruru gossip of who I was seen taking a hike with or what I ate for dinner last night), I go back in and proceed to step two. With the bar of laundry soap, I begin rubbing the soap into my clothes. This is done by a method known as "squish and push" which I picked up after many lessons from the hostel boys (did I mention that I live in the boys hostel? Keeps life interesting :). With one hand holding the bar of soap on one side of a shirt or skirt or pair of pants, and the other hand gripping the article of clothing and making a sort of fist on the other side, I move my hands back and forth against each other in a scrubbing motion, funneling the piece of clothing through. Once the article of clothing is nice and soapy, I dunk it over and over into the water while at the same time pushing the soap through the fabric. For the really tough stains, I either use our "scrub brush," which is more or less a piece of steel wool, or I enlist the help of one of the hostel boys, who continually amaze me with their ability to remove stains not even the best washing machine could get out. After the article of clothing is thoroughly beaten, I throw it into the rinsing bucket and proceed to the next piece. This process usually lasts around twenty minutes per load (remember, I still have another load to go at this point).
After I've repeated the above steps with load number two, I drain the tub and move on to step three: the rinse cycle. First, I refill the tub and plop the first load back into the water. Again making the washing machine motions with my hands and arms, I work to get as much soap out of the clothes as possible. I do this for about five minutes, after which I drain the tub and if necessary, run my clothes under the faucet to rinse them. Next comes the wringing. I was pretty gentle with this at first until my host mother set me straight. "Harder!" she'd say. "Show them you are boss!" As a general rule, I know I'm wringing my clothes hard enough and tight enough when it begins to hurt my hands. My sheets are the worst, followed by pants and anything denim. My jeans leave the palms of my hands red and sore long after the wringing is complete.
Once most of the water is out of my clothes, we move outside to the final step: drying. I am lucky enough to have four clotheslines, about 4 meters long each, on my "patio." Hanging clothes to line dry requires no explanation but it does perhaps take more time for me than for others. I forego clothespins because I don't like the little marks they leave on my clothes. As a result, I have to spend some extra time hanging them just right to ensure that they a) will dry in less than a day, and b) don't fall onto the ground and into the dirt, thus requiring me to start the laundry process over. Once they are all hanging, I go back to the bathroom to repeat the final few steps with load number two. If all goes well, the entire washing process takes more or less two hours uninterrupted. And you people thought I wasn't domestic…
Once all my clothes are hanging however, I'm still sort of tied up because I can't leave them unattended on the line. Though a bit of an inconvenience, I should be thankful that for the most part, I've only had completely random things stolen from me since I've been in Namibia-- and by random, I mean my toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo, two pairs of socks, two pairs of underwear, a sports bra, two t-shirts, and my hairbrush. The socks, underwear, and sports bra were hanging on the clothesline when they were taken so now I have to sit with my laundry and wait for it to dry which, if the sun is shining, takes about 4 hours. If it's raining or if they haven't dried by nighttime, I hang them around the house on a few makeshift clotheslines we've rigged up. However, they then require at least a full day to dry so if the weather permits I much prefer babysitting the clothesline and reading my book or having a cool drink with the neighbors as I wait.
So yeah, that's what I did last Saturday. And keep in mind that I am sort of an anomaly around here; not only am I without children, but I am unmarried as well, and therefore, thankfully, have no husband or babies to do laundry for. Now that… that would be a real chore.