Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dirty Laundry

Washing clothes in my courtyard

When it comes to laundry and doing it the Kenyan way, Sister Jane, one of the Sisters of Notre Dame, says, "It's all part of the experience." So this is what I tell myself when work has to be done. If I want to live in Kenya, I must do it the Kenyan way.
Every weekend I gather my dirty clothes in the morning and take them out to the courtyard to wash. Although sleeping in always crosses my mind, the thought of having clean, dry clothes always gets me out of bed. As with many things in Kenya, laundry is done all by hand. I start by getting a wash basin and a bucket filled with rain water, laundry detergent, a bar of soap, and also a stool, because I know it’s going to take awhile. I have to pour the water for the basin and bucket through a strainer to remove all of the bugs, leaves, dirt, and debris. The basin is used for washing while the bucket is used for rinsing. I add a small handful of detergent to my wash basin before I begin.

Kenyan washing machine

Washing clothes by hand is a lot of work and it really gives my hands a workout. My shirts tend to be fairly easy to clean, but my pants seem to be a magnet for stains when I walk along the dirt roads. I use a bar of soap and lots of scrubbing to get out any stubborn stains. I can usually get the stains out of my pants, but nearly all of my white socks are permanently stained with red Kenyan soil.
When I am finished washing my clothes I make sure to wring them out thoroughly and place them in the rinse bucket. Despite my best efforts, by my second or third shirt, the rinse bucket usually is just as sudsy as the wash basin. After rinsing, I must again wring my clothes out thoroughly to lessen the time they will take to dry.

Kenyan automatic clothes dryer

I will then hang my clothes on a line in my courtyard to dry. In Kenya, there is very little privacy when it comes to laundry and nearly anyone at the parish has an opportunity to see everything I wear inside or out of the house, including my underwear. The sun at the equator can be very intense, especially around 12-noon. So I turn my shirts inside out to prevent them from fading or bleaching. When they do eventually dry, if I haven’t completely rinsed the soap out of my clothes, they will become stiff and will feel like sandpaper against my skin.

Early morning is the best time to do laundry because it allows the most time for the clothes to dry in the sun. Usually I try to do my laundry on Sunday just before church. After a 3-hour mass at St. Teresa, most of the drying will already be done by the time I get home.
Once I have finally finished my laundry and it becomes almost completely dry on the line sometimes it will rain and soak them all over again. On those days, I must pray that I have something else to wear! "It's all part of the experience."


MOMKISS2U said...

Bet you miss whomever used to do your laundry when you were growing up! Good luck to you so far away.

Erin Miesmer said...

Wow! Do your clothes even fit anymoe? You are getting thin there in Kenya! Glad to see in Kenya men do their own laundry though... :) Teasin! Hope you are doing well.


Anonymous said...


What do you do with the dirt water in the basin?


tim said...


We try to waste as little water as possible. So we use the dirty wash water for flushing the toilet.

Tim C.

Anonymous said...

And to think I complain about having to use so many quarters each weekend to do my laundry....I enjoy reading about your experiences over there Tim. It makes me want to go somewhere in life that's further away than Kentucky! :-) Hope things keep going well for you! You are in my prayers.


ps...I feel as if you will have even cooler advice on how to do even more random things than my dad does before too much longer...haha. :-)

Veronica said...

Hi Tim,

Your blog is looking awesome! Everyone here at the National Office enjoys reading up on your experiences. I am working on the upcoming newsletter of "Human. Kind." for NDMV and I would like to know if you had any particular stories from your blog that you would like to contribute or if you would like to write up your own summary of your experiences. Please select any photos that you want to include as well. If you have any other comments, questions or suggestions please feel free to contact me via email: vtsang@ndmva.org
I hope all is well and have a great day!

Veronica Y. Tsang
NDMVA Communications and Development VISTA

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