I now have a system, although I am not sure it is the best system. The novelty has worn off and it is just something I do. It never gets easier and it never goes more quickly. My knees still hurt from kneeling on the bathroom floor next to the tub, and my arms and legs always begin to shake toward the end of the job, usually when trying to wring out jeans heavy with water. I love Saturday mornings best when I can listen to Top of the Pops on BBC. Rather than Kajagoogoo and Too Shy Shy I get to hear Changes by FAUL & Wad Ad vs Panau. I am doing my laundry.
I consider one bucket a load, and two loads is my limit. From wash to rinse to everything on the line takes about 90 minutes of constant work now. I separate loads by habit, doing trousers and dress shirts together, and underwear and T-shirts and socks together. I pretend I am a machine.
I hang things on the line in a distinctly un-African way. I know I ring things out more, which damages the fabric. I can’t help it. I use more clothespins. I hang from the edges so the wind can catch garments; I would never drape something in half over a line. My mother would have corrected me.
I remember that my grandmother had what to my 1960’s self was an ancient machine in her basement. She called it ‘the mangle’. I always heard ‘the mangler’. I never saw it in use, and it always seemed to me like the first-ever electric washing machine ever made. What I think I remember are two rollers where a garment could be wrung out by passing between the rollers. We were warned that we could lose fingers. I wish I had a mangle. What I loved most in the basement was spinning on the poles. Her house was supported by two metal poles, and by swinging around one pole and then running to the other I could make a figure eight pattern for hours. My grandfather also had one of these poles in his basement. ‘What should we do?’ ‘Let’s go to the basement and swing around the poles.’ Our basement had no poles.
I have two ibis who love my backyard in Kenya. I have learned to move slowly enough that they stay in the yard while I hang the laundry. They scream and fly away if they are unhappy. Although they are pretty their screams are ugly. I pretend the screams come from other birds when I hear them because I love the ibis.
I will not miss doing my laundry by hand on my knees. And I will miss doing my laundry in Africa on Malawi Close and hanging my clothes in my beautiful backyard on my dead end street on the campus of Kenyatta University.