Wednesday, July 7, 2010


There are many homes with washing machines on the Islands. Large, white, shining plastic appliances that use too much water. Just like the States, you program them and dump in the clothes, the soap, and walk away. There are also small shops, lavenderías, where you can take your dirty clothes, towels, and sheets to be washed for you. They place the parcel on a dry scale and charge you by the weight, or else by clothing item. Every home, however, has a tile basin with water reserve, bar soap and brush, and empty milk jug. This is for hand washing, and this is what I prefer.

Every week, I take all my clothes to the garden area of the house where I live in a small apartment on the third floor. Piece by piece, I drench the material in non-potable water drawn from the reserve, an untreated wood plank used to cover like a lid to keep mosquitos and blowing leaves and petals out. I take a small hand brush and smear some of the gritty white soap on the stiff bristles. Then, with every ounce of Volga German work ethic I can muster, I brush and clean, I rinse and twist, I flop the sopping cloth onto the other side and repeat. Pour a little water with the milk jug, wring and repeat. Squeeze as much water out as I can, then toss in my laundry bucket and start over with a new piece.

When all is washed, rinsed, and wrung, I hang it all on clotheslines to be whipped dry by the wind and warmed by the sun. There are clotheslines in the garden, next to the laundry basin, but I also have two lines upstairs, on my own balcony. Here the sheets wave like flags from countries represented by pink and yellow flowers, stripes, and plaid patterns. My socks dance to the music heard throughout the neighborhood. My under garments guiltlessly wave hello to anyone passing by, what nerve!

Unless there is mist, garua, everything dries quite quickly, even if winds are low or the sun is sleeping behind the clouds. The laundry smells fresh, clean, and warm. The tile sink and brushes are quick to wipe down, rinse out. I have used approximately 5 gallons of water and only the energy which can be replaced by a tasty almuerzo (lunch). My hands, however, have never been more dry. This is from the strong soap, and no lotion seems to soothe. But I am proud of the rough hands I wear, these working hands, capable hands.