The Washer Woman

It’s been a long couple of weeks. I’m on my fifteenth day straight of work, because I was in Juba and they work Monday through Friday, here in Khartoum we work Sunday through Thrusday; I should have had a weekend this Saturday and Sunday, but I had some direct report issues to deal with in Juba so I spent all day Friday afternoon dealing with that and then I had a meeting with one of our implementing partners on Saturday. 

I had moved into my new apartment right before I left for Juba and the owner, he and his family live on the first floor and rent out the rest of the building proudly showed me the brand new washing machine that came with the apartment.  It was a twin tub machine,with an agitator to wash the clothes and a spinner so that you don’t have to hang them up to dry sopping wet.   No one has dryers here, because there is no need. 

I knew I had to do laundry soon and this morning when I was down to my very last pair of underwear I knew it was going to have to be tonight.  So, I left work at 6:00 p.m. and headed straight home thinking I would throw a load of laundry in, do some unpacking, watch a movie, relax.  I had two choices on where my washing machine could go. either the bathroom or the kitchen; there was really no room  in the bathroom,  unless I wanted to climb over it to get to the shower,  so I chose the kitchen. 

I gathered up a small load of laundry and then read the instructions because the machine didn’t have all the normal controls.  Well it turns out you have to fill the machine with water.  You normally do this by attaching the hose to the kitchen sink faucet, but my hose didn’t attach so I had to stand there and hold it.  It was filling entirely too slowly so I abandoned the hose method and started using the bucket that I had purchased for the cleaner, that I haven’t gotten around to hiring yet.  So far so good, I can do this.

Thirty  minutes later I have enough water to do my wash.  I place my clothes in the water, with some detergent and Clorox for colors, close the lid and turn the knob to 15 minutes.  It starts agitating.  I head to my bedroom to start unpacking and fifteeen minutes later go back to check on my wash.  It’s done and the water is dirty, dirty brown.  I place the drainage tube near the drain, turn the knob to drain and  . . . nothing.  My clothes are still sitting in the dirty brown water.  I go back and read the instructions; trouble shoot everything and still nothing. 

I’m desperate I have no clean underwear and here in Khartoum they are crazy drivers so you should always wear clean underwear.  I limp down and knock on my landlord’s door; his daughter answers.  Her English is very good.  She understands my problem and says she will send her brother up when he comes home.  I was in my pajamas, but I need to be fully covered if a Sudanese male is coming into my home so I throw on my track suit.  Ahmed and his friend arrive 15 minutes later. 

There are two things that don’t work in my apartment the TV and the washing machine.  I’m more concerned about the washing machine they are more concerned about the TV.  In a surprising display of patience I unpack as they muck around with the TV for 20 minutes.  They can’t fix it so they decide to try the washing machine. 

They turn the knob to drain; read the instructions and run all through all the trouble-shooting and still my clothes are sitting in dirty brown water.  Finally, Ahmed’s friend (whose name I can’t pronouce) pulls out the drainage tube and the dyke is loose, they immediately shove the machine near the drain but there is still a minor flood.  However, we have discovered the problem, there is no hole on the end of the drainage tube attached to the machine.  They try and pull the plug out, try and twist it out and take  pair of pliers to it to no avail.  Finally I cut the end off. 

The friend replaces it in the machine, I  turn the knob to drain, and voila, it starts draining; however, the drain cannot  handle the capacity, so we have to keep stopping the drainage.  “Why don’t you put it in the bathroom?” Ahmed asks  me.  “Because the bathrom is tiny and it would take up the entire bathroom,” I explain.  “Why do you think it will work better in the bathroom the drains are the same size?”  I ask.  “You should put it in the bathroom,” he insists.  We go back and forth for 10 minutes while his friend is keeping the tube pinched so that it won’t flood the kitchen.  Ahmed goes to check out the bathroom, I take over controlling the drainage, the friend turns his back and I lose control and end up throwing it in the sink.  It drains fine. 

Ahmed comes back and his friend explains what happened in Arabic,  that it still drains if you put it in the sink and then Ahmed explains to me that his friend has discovered the solution.  Uncharacteristically I listen patiently while he gives his friend credit for discovering a solution to the drainage problem.  Meanwhile during the entire time they had been working on the TV, Ahmed keeps telling me that he will give me the name of their cleaner so I can hire her and I keep telling him that I have her name; I just haven’t gotten around to setting things up with her.  I think he is absolutely amazed that a Khawja (the Sudanese term for foreigner) would actually do her own laundry.  Here in Sudan only poor people do their own laundry and now I understand why.

After I had gotten the dirty water drained out to rinse the clothes I had to put them back in the machine and turn it on while running fresh water into it.  Because my plastic tube didn’t stay on the faucet I had to sit there and hold it.  So I would put water in, while the machine was agitating, it would become brown, then I would drain it out; put more water in, agitate it, then drain it out again and again.  Finally I took all my clothes out except two pairs of pants it took about three rinsings and drainings, but eventually the water was clear enough for me. 

I then pulled the sopping wet pants out of the washing machine, took the clothes out of the second barrel and put them in the machine to be rinsed.  As I started rinsing the next batch I turned on the spinner.  It was like a monster was trying to get out of the machine.  It danced all over the kitchen, meanwhile I’ve got one hand holding the hose to fill the barrel with clean water and the other hand trying to keep the machine from jumping out the window.  I look like I’m dancing the funky chicken with my washing machine.

I rinse the clothes until the water is dirty brown, then turn on the knob to drain, as I pick the hose up to place it in the sink, it comes out of the machine and my Birkenstocks are soaked in the fourth or fifth flood of the evening.  I shove the machine near the drain, and after it has emptied its belly I reattach the hose.  After three more rinses; the water is still fairly dirty.  So I hang the now unsopping pants up on my new drying rack, which I discover is already falling apart.  I had been going to buy a different one, but the man in the store said this one was better.  I’m taking it back. 

I put half the load back into the spinner and rinse the remaining half three more times.  Once more as I move the drainage hose to the sink it comes out of the machine and soaks my Birks yet again.  I shove it toward the drain so the drain will catch most of the water and then squish down to my room to put my shower shoes on.   

Squelch, squelch, squelch, I leave a trail of  muddy footprints in my wake, there is so much dust here it is unavoidable. 

I return to the kitchen and swap the sopping wet now rinsed clothes into the spin barrel and the sopping wet unrinsed clothes into the agitation barrel.  Once again the monster is trying to get out of the machine and I have one hand holding the hose onto the faucent, another hand trying to make sure the machine doesn’t fly out the window and my left foot keeping it from getting too far away from the sink.   Now I look like I’m doing the hokey, pokey with my washing machine.  It’s a good thing that there is beveled glass in the windows otherwise my neighbors might call the police.  As a foreigner my movements are restricted, I have to present a scanned copy of my diploma in order to get a stay visa (I guess they don’t want any dumb foreigners here) there are so many rules they are hard to keep track of.  I don’t want to take a chance that they might have a rule against cavorting with household appliances.  Better safe than sorry.

When I was staying at the guesthouse the woman who cleans there did our laundry.  It would dry super stiff and scratchy, in the middle of my war with the washing machne I realized it was because our cleaner, Awat, was using too much detergent and then not rinsing it enough.  Mystery solved, but then after what I had been through with the washing machine, who could blame her? 

During the third round of rinsing; I ended up dividing my sopping wet clothes into three seperate piles to acheive rinsability and still it takes  about three rinses per pile until I’m satisfied that there is enough soap and dirt out of my clothing that it can be consider clean.  I of course end up soaking my feet at least twice more and I’ve managed to get fairly wet from the filling hose.  I agitate the last batch, hang it up on my broken drying rack push the machine against the wall and make a note to go to the hardware store tomorrow to buy a decent hose or hoses and something to hold it onto the machine and the faucet.  Oh yes and take the drying rack back.

I thought I would throw a load in watch a movie etc.  I started my laundry at 6:30 p.m. and by 8:30 pm. had gotten my small load done and I now have either really dirty or really clean feet, I’m not sure which.  The good news is now I don’t have to mop the kitchen floor; however, I do have to clean up the footsteps that trail into my bedroom.

Tomorrow I have to arrange to have a cleaner come in, but I still don’t think I’m going to have her do my laundry, but I’ll see.  That shirt that had been soaked in  detergent looked and felt like it would be painful to put on.  I already walk funny if my underwear is overly stiff it could create real issues with my gait.

I’m exhausted.   Who knew that in this day and age laundry could be so challenging and time consuming.  So, I’m either going to have to do smaller loads, or possibly do laundry more often.  Woman vs. the machine.  Round one machine wins.  Stay tuned.  Tomorrow I have to do a load of darks.

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One Response to The Washer Woman

  1. Kari Dean says:

    oh my gosh- I am exhausted just reading this. wow.

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