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On Doing Laundry
 --  13 February 2007


I am sending you some pictures of the all-day activity at the convent EVERY Saturday--all morning and most of the afternoon----washing clothes.  Of course, with no electricity, there are no washing machines, so all the laundry is done by hand in metal or plastic tubs.  The sisters have 2 women who come to wash the sheets, towels, and the sisters' clothes on Monday and Thursday.  But the employees and students who live at the convent have to do their own.  They start about 8 AM.

The work is a cross between sheer drudgery and social interaction. The students talk and sing; friends stop by to chat; the little kids, Anita and Fanfan, spend time with the older girls.

Laundry Day at the Convent

A little laundry helper

Haitiens have a certain way all this is done.  They buy the soap (savon) in foot long bars that resemble white chocolate.  Large chunks of the soap are broken off and scrubbed into the clothes with a special hand action--with the clothes held in both fists, the cloth is rubbed knuckle against knuckle in a crossways direction, with the fists parallel to the ground, back and forth, left to right.
After the soaping, everything soaks in water in the sun; then the clothes are wrung out, rinsed, and hung on the line--without wringing them out a second time.  Of course, that makes for a lot of drippy clothes, but I think there may be less wrinkles that way. 

Before the clothes are completely dry, they are taken down and ironed--with a steel iron that has glowing charcoal inside to provide the heat.  By the time all this is finished it is about 6 PM.

At the old convent, before the fire, I got into the habit of doing all my own laundry about every other day---mainly because I didn't have a lot of clothes, and I couldn't wait a week for the clean clothes to return. I used shampoo because I didn't have any Fab (the Haitien term for ALL laundry powder), and my clothes weren't that dirty. There was a little more privacy, and nobody watched what I was doing or made any comments.

After the fire, at the temporary convent, there is a bit less privacy. About every other day, I stand by the big water drums near the bathroom (because that is easier than carrying the water elsewhere), and wash my two shirts, underwear, socks, and jumpers. Of course, everyone who passes by has a comment. (Oh, Joann knows how to wash. Oh, Joann washes quickly. I can wash that for you. Do you wash clothes like that in the US?) I finally had to start using FAB, because everyone rolled their eyes at the shampoo (Poor American, she just doesn't know any better.)

Everyone helps out!

The sisters finally received a new truck--after several years of waiting and walking and asking for rides to everything. The chauffer is a young man named Nadim--he seems to be a careful driver and a decent mechanic. At 8:30 every morning, he comes to the Convent to take the sisters to work. On Friday, he arrived a little early, and as I was starting my laundry activities, he stood watching and talking. Finally he couldn't stand it any longer. He laughed and said, Oh Joann does not know how to wash clothes. When I asked why he said that, he responded that my knuckle-to-knuckle scrubbing action was not correct. I was rubbing my knuckles front-to-back, not top-over-bottom. I asked him what the difference would be. After about 3 minutes of both of us examining different knuckle action, he gave up and said that the Haitien way was just better. Poor American, she just doesn't know any better. Nothing like a little critiquing from a driver to keep one's humility in line.

More Later--Joan