What I’ve learned from undone laundry

I have to admit, I love having the laundry ‘all done’, if there ever is such a thing. Even when we were in the US, Dan used to tease me that I would be completely happy if everyone in the family would just strip down to nothing so that all of the laundry could actually be done at one time. I know it’s crazy, but an empty laundry hamper, or hampers(!), make me really happy. Maybe that is why this topic has been so much on my mind over the last 4 years of living in Kenya. Doing laundry here is quite different than doing it in the US. Oh, yes, I still sort the piles into like colors, decide which pile to wash first, even wash it in a washing machine, a front loader for that matter, but getting it done here is actually quite difficult. I’ve often likened it to launching the space shuttle. It seems the stars, sun, moon and planets all need to be lined up just right to get it done. Let me explain…

Laundry hanging on the lines on the terrace porch of our new apartment.

First, you need to have water. This may sound basic, but we don’t always have water here. Sometimes we do have water, but not enough to do a load of laundry. How can that be, you ask? Unlike in America, where water flows through your pipes in your house continuously, here, when we get water here, it flows into an underground tank in our backyard that holds about 2000 litres (about 440 gallons). Because we generally don’t get water every day, it becomes quite important to know the status of that underground tank before starting a load of laundry, or you may run out in the middle of the load. From that tank we have a pump that pumps the water up to our attic where a second tank resides, holding around 500 litres (110 gallons). It is from this upstairs tank that water is distributed throughout our home. When the outside tank runs out, then we are down to what is left in the upstairs tank, and that tank I cannot check, as it is in the attic. The other thing that’s nice to know is when we will be getting water next. Now this can be quite elusive. We are supposed to be on a nice schedule, knowing which hours on which days of the week water will flow into our tank, but alas, it rarely happens as planned, especially during the 15 months of drought in Kenya during 2016-2017. This really complicates the laundry conundrum. Now that summarizes just one part of the laundry equation here in Kenya.

The top of our underground tank of water.

Next, you need to have power. Now granted, I could wash the laundry by hand, but with a large family, and many other daily chores to get done, that is certainly not my preference. Again, we do not have power every day here. Sometimes it is because of an electric line problem nearby. However, they also do what are called rolling blackouts. This is where they choose different parts of the city each day to not have power for the day. Here again, it would be lovely if I knew when those days were scheduled. I even signed up once for the power company to text me when our area was scheduled for an outage, but alas, I have never received such a text. Usually it happens like this: I get up and get going on my normal day and decide I should get some laundry done. So I sort the laundry and get the first load started before 8 am, then shortly after 8 the power goes out. I make my usual call to Kenya Power to inquire if there is a power line problem and then I hear that the power is scheduled to be off until 5 or 6 pm. So, here I am with a partially washed load of laundry and multiple other piles sorted and ready to be washed, but, not today. That will have to wait until tomorrow, unless there’s no water (or power) tomorrow!

One of my favorite bushes here in Kenya, the ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’ bush. It’s flowers change from purple to lavender to white so at any given time all three colors are seen all over the bush. Lovely!

Finally, you need some sunshine, and it’s extra nice when that is accompanied by a slight breeze. We, like most Kenyans, have no clothes drier, so I hang my laundry to dry on laundry lines in the sun. No, it is not imperative to have sunshine and a breeze, but it really does help. During rainy season I have a few lines inside the laundry room that I can use, but the amount of humidity in the air can mean that many times Dan’s cargo pants that he wears daily may take 3 days to dry. I’ve tried moving some of the items onto hangers and putting them in my bathroom with a fan pointed on them, which helps some, but drying during rainy season is just a challenge. The funny thing is, during this time of year I can look outside as a load finishes washing and see blue skies, literally in every direction. So I proceed to carefully hang each piece of clothing onto the lines. Upon finishing, I head back in to work on other tasks around the house. Suddenly, I hear something outside and realize it’s rain. Out of nowhere, rain comes and starts DUMPING on us. When this happens I quickly yell to anyone in the house to come out and help move the laundry inside. Clothes pins are flying as we yank each item from the lines, hoping to get them inside before they are wetter than when they came out of the washer to begin with. When the rain comes here, it comes hard and fast! Thus, the stated ‘need’ for some sunshine!

Not sure the name of this flower, but I call it the Dr. Suess flowering bush as it looks like something you might find in one of his books!

So what have I learned from all this laundry craziness? Well, I have learned that laundry is a privilege, not a right. What? Yes, you read that correctly, it is a privilege, not a right. Having lived in the US for the first 44 years of my life, where, for the most part, every time I turned on the tap I had water, and every time I flipped a switch, I had electricity…apart from those winter storms that come every so often…it has been a huge adjustment for me to not have these things when there seems to be no apparent reason why. For 44 years of my life, I did laundry whenever I wanted. For 44 years, I started laundry whenever I wanted, moved it to the drier when I wanted, and folded it when I wanted. I planned my week around it. I could come home from a trip, start the laundry and be done with it in a couple of hours. The only reason for not having the laundry done was simply me not getting to it. Thus, though I did not recognize it at the time as such, I truly believe in my mind, it was a right. Here, however, I’ve learned to be thankful for the days that I am able to get any laundry done at all, and especially thankful when I get it ‘all done’. I’ve also learned to be content in the undone. I’ve learned to be thankful for the simple gifts of water, electricity and sunshine, especially when we get them all in one day. I’ve learned to enjoy the process of hanging the clothes on the line, feeling the sunshine on my face as I smell my clean laundry in my hands. I’ve learned to be extra thankful for the empty laundry hampers. And I’ve learned to rest in God’s plan for my day, each day, even when it doesn’t include the laundry that I had scheduled for that day. I’ve learned that laundry, though a huge weekly task, is a privilege, not a right!


PS I’m now laughing because as I am finishing writing the last sentences of this blog article, the power has just gone out…in the MIDDLE OF MY LOAD! I’m thankful for the privilege of getting three other loads done earlier today! And I will try to be content in the undone of this last load…until the power comes back on!