For 165 days in Moldova, I have refrained from discussing the subject of laundry. Needless to say, I have washed clothes in the mean time, but I have not found it fascinating enough to discuss in a long written form. But now, since I am more than 20 percent finished with my Peace Corps service (time flies when you're learning a language and warding off homesickness), I feel that I can write a rather comprehensive piece on laundry in Moldova.
In Costesti, I washed all of my clothes by hand. This took a couple hours, and always left me with the impression that I wasn't doing it right. Surely the act of merely putting clothes in soapy water, pulling them out, rubbing them in your hands, then rinsing them could not sufficiently clean them. Of course, this is exactly what a machine does, but we don't see it working, and so we assume that washing clothes is a much more complicated and sophisticated process. The Costesti process had me working for an hour and a half to wash the equivalent of one of my loads, and it was an hour and a half of continuous and sweaty work. In the process of doing laundry, I usually sweated through the white undershirt I was wearing, which I could not wash at that moment because the washing water was dark by that time.
When I finished washing in Costesti, I would take the clothes outside and hang them on the line. Mila, my host mother, was very picky about hanging clothes on the line, because by putting her clotheslines in the front of the house, she had exposed her laundry skills to the eyes of the entire neighborhood. There were very specific rules on how to hang long-sleeved shirts, short-sleeved shirts, t-shirts and undershirts, pants, shorts, socks and underwear, in order for everything to look frumos, or "beautiful". Mila cared most that all of the items on the line faced the same way. If I placed two shirts facing in opposite directions, Mila would come to me within 15 minutes, telling that she had to re-arrange things.
But I have now lived in Mereseni longer than I lived in Costesti, so I can focus on my current system. The good news here is that we have a washing machine. But wait. Don't get too excited.В Washing machines function differently when you don't have running water in your village.
The first difference, obviously, is the delivery of water to the machine. In Mereseni, we heat five or six gallons of water on the wood- or coal-burning stove, then pour the water into the machine. We also heat another gallon or two of water and place it in a large, shallow bowl. This is for rinsing, because the machine has no source for clean rinsing water. As such, the machine agitates the soap and rubs it into the clothes, and then I have to try to rinse all the soap out of the clothes, usually with a sense of failure. I then place the clothes on the line, where they dry over the course of a couple days.
Clothes out of an American dryer are warm, soft and smell like rose petals. Clothes off the Moldovan clothesline are stiff with soap, sun-bleached and covered in lint and other remnants that never really got cleaned off of them. As I discovered Sunday, clothes off the line in freezing weather and light snow present an even larger problem. I currently have socks, underwear, sweatpants and a sweatshirt hung up on various rods and draped over several chairs in my room as they thaw. You know it's cold when you take your sweatshirt off the line and the drawstrings stand straight up.
From doing laundry, I have learned a few important lessons:
1. В В Don't bring white clothes to the second or third world. They will never be truly clean, and you will become frustrated with your poor washing skills. Undershirts are the exception to this rule, while underwear is the double-underlined stress point to the rule.
2. В В Wash light clothes first, because the water gets darker and darker as you keep washing. It eventually looks both chalky and muddy at the same time.
3. В В Do your laundry several days before you need clothes, to account for drying time. To be honest, though, who knows if you wear the same underwear again?
4. В В Don't plan on any of your clothes' vibrant colors remaining for more than three wash cycles. Even the yellow stripe on my favorite socks (they were warm and matched the Ottawa Senators colors) became gray. Is nothing sacred?
5. В В A new washing machine with a functioning dryer costs about 2000 lei, and thanks to a certain string of Americans who have been living in my house of the past five and a half months, my host family will be buying one in the next few weeks. That means I will still have to hand-rinse, but time on the clothes line should be cut down drastically.
That's all from here. Time to prepare a lot of things for Thanksgiving break, including a new video.