Friday, February 19, 2010

Human Washing Machine

Today I did a monstrous load of laundry. For the past two weeks I had successfully ignored the increase in empty hangers in my “closet” but when my laundry basket began to overflow last night I decided today i’d roll up my sleeves and get it over with. Laundry is an internal struggle for me. Every time I’m thirty minutes in to washing my clothes, when my arms start to ache and I look up to see only half of my clothes hanging to dry, half still wet in a huge bucket with detergent, I think to myself, “next time I’m gonna pay someone to do this for me.” Then comes the next week and I once again decide to save the Q20 ($2.50) and do laundry on my own.

The worst part of it all is that I do an awful job at washing my own clothes. Ever since my first load when I ruined a shirt, a pair of slacks and damaged my jeans I decided hand washing clothes in a pila is not something I’m good at. I do slightly blame my Alotenango host mother for not being the best at explaining the proper technique. We started out standing at the pila. First we selected an item of clothing and placed it in the left pila basin (the side with little cement ripples). Then she began to dampen the clothes by taking water from the center well with a little plastic pan/bucket and dumping the water onto the clothes. Then lathered up the clothes with a bar of soap and began to drag the clothes over the cement basin to get the dirt out. During this “dragging” step my host mom, Dona Paula, clasped the clothing tightly and thrust the clothes back and forth, back and forth. To me it looked like she was harshly rubbing the clothes against the cement pila basin but it turns out she barely would nick the cement. When it was my turn to wash clothes my misinterpretation of her thrusts lead to numerous holes in my clothing. This was especially traumatic because I had come to Guatemala with so few clothes it wiped out about 1/6 of my stock. To this day I am a little upset that Peace Corps didn’t give us life skills training on how to hand wash clothes in the pila. Even a little cliffs notes explanation would have saved me some of my precious clothing.

Maybe at some point in my service i’ll cave and pay someone with a little more experience in pila practices to do my laundry. Until then, I maintain that it is un-Peace-Corps-like to not partake in a daily routine that all other females in my town have to do. But, I’ll be honest and say, I can’t wait for the day that i’ll once again be able to shove a load in the washer and come back 30 minutes later to clean clothes.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


“Aren’t you going to be scared and lonely?” This is the question everyone in my town asks me when I tell them that I am moving into my own house. In a culture where sons and daughters live with their parents until they are married, my desire to live independently strikes an odd cord with the townspeople.

When I give the response, “I am accustomed to living on my own. I haven’t lived with my parents since I left for the university when I was 17.” I get an I-see-but-I'm-still-confused response in the form of furrowed brow, slow head nod and an audible “ahhmmm.” Sometimes I switch it up and say, “My family and friends want to come visit so I need a house to host visitors.” This always goes over much better, even inducing enthusiasm.

The transition from my host family home to my own casita was a bit of a process. First, I needed the Peace Corps' approval on the security of the house which I received in December when my APCD and Project Assistant came to check up on me. Their only concern was that the two rooms in the house would get really hot during the day. I want to know what house, or any structure for that matter, here has rooms that don't get hot.

Then, I had to negotiate rent- Q350 ($44) a month. My new landlady is none other than Mama Noy- just keeping it in the family. Literally, because all of my new neighbors are primos (cousins) of my host family. I’ve already made arrangements for the family residing in the house behind mine to pass me tortillas through a gap in the chain link fence that separates the two properties.

Finally, I had to ready the casita for my arrival. This included contracting a local carpenter to make me a closet/shelf/desk wall unit, purchasing various essentials (bed, refrigerator, stove, and most importantly a fan), and cleaning and painting the house. I was lucky to have the entire family come over and help paint. We added a new coat to the front of the house- using a yellow paint left over from when Fernando painted his house in December. There wasn’t enough paint to cover the side and back walls of the house so they remained aqua. I’m writing off the mismatch as purposefully eclectic. Then we painted the two rooms inside the house and the bathroom/shower stalls in the back of the house. One of the most laborious tasks was cleaning the rancha (palm thatched pavilion) that stretches about 20 yards from my back porch to my neighbors chain link fence. The front half of the rancha is an open patio and the back half houses my outdoor kitchen. This rancha was a huge selling point for me as the patio portion provides a large covered area to hang hammocks (hammocks plural. There will be one waiting for you when you come visit).

All in all, the moving process took about two weeks and ended yesterday. Last night was my first night sleeping in my new casita. At 6:30PM I arrived home from my monthly Cooperative meeting and still had to unpack, put together my bed and hang my mosquito net. For the mosquito net, I enlisted the help of five neighbor boys (we’ll call them primos) who were loitering outside my front door. By 9PM I had assembled my bed, put vegetables I had bought from the friday veggie lady in the fridge, killed two cockroaches, and arranged all my belongings on shelves. By 10PM I was snug in my bed with the fan blowing and my laptop playing “The Bachelor” a movie I snagged from the Peace Corps library. Feeling perfectly content, neither scared nor lonely.

Here are a few pics of my new digs.

my very own pila.

Old chair left over from when Mama Noy lived in the house.