As a kid in the 60s, I remember watching soap operas with my mother and seeing commercials for products that promised to “take the drudgery” out of washday. That subliminal message must have been embedded deeply in my young psyche, because I’ve always hated doing laundry. Back in the laundromat days, I called it “90 minutes of misery.” Despite being a generally evolved guy in other areas, I’d stuff the big front loader with everything, set it on cold and hope for the best. One time I put in so many clothes that the items in the center never even got wet! So much for the “Load as full as you like” instruction on the machine.
Now that I have my own washer and dryer, I stretch the drudgery and misery out over a longer period. Often I need to rewash or redry clothes that have sat forgotten in the machine and either smell like a swamp or have deep wrinkles etched into them. I hate doing laundry.
A couple weeks ago, I started chatting with Mtuseni on MXit and told him I’d just started a load of laundry. He said “Oh, I can see you’re busy. We can chat later.”
I said, “No bud, I just dump it in the machine and push a button.”
And I remembered that “doing laundry” has a distinctly different connotation for Mtuseni. Because he washes everything by hand outside. And dries it on the chain link fence. Sometimes he dries it on another fence that’s more convenient, even though it upsets a woman who says it’s “her” fence. More than once he’s come back to find his clothes gone because the old (w)itch takes them. He gets furious, but I tell him to just apologize to her and get the stuff back. Some of the clothes are quite nice; I bought them so he could compete sartorially with his campus peers. They mean a lot to him and his image. As he says, “I brag and charm in those clothes.” He certainly doesn’t want them to disappear.
When Mtuseni first told me last year about how he does laundry, I said, “Wow, I could never imagine washing my clothes by hand like that.” And he said, “Well, I could never imagine a machine washing my clothes.” This was when I began to fully understand the extent of his poverty. Before I had photos. Before I visited his settlement.
So now whenever I gripe about doing laundry — and it still happens — I remind myself that it could be much worse.
And when I get frustrated that Mtuseni doesn’t always do some of the personal development tasks I set for him, I need to remember that the reason may not be a late-teen, underdeveloped frontal cortex. He may just be doing laundry. The hard way.
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