Peace Corps is truly different all around the world. Some countries are very poorly developed, and others.... well not so much. Kazakhstan doesn't quite fit the Posh Corps definition (okay, maybe some site locations might) but it falls closer on the more developed scale than my friends that are going to Africa soon. This general fact relates to my story about laundry.
While my family does have hot water (thankfully) and a TV (although no cable), they do not have a washing machine. Some volunteers have host families that do have washing machines. For them laundry is only different because there are no dryers. (Dryers, by the way, may be the most inefficient machine ever invented. Clothes dry. It's what they do. All you have to do is hang them up. But we found a way to use up power and electricity just to make it more convenient.) Anyway, it got to the point where I needed to do laundry. I was fine wearing my shirts over and over again, and my pants as well. But once you run low on socks and underwear, you don't have a choice.
I had broached the topic with my host brother on Thursday of last week, mentioning to him that I would need to do laundry. While I was wanting to do it on my own, a small part of me wanted to be faced with the hospitality that some of the other volunteers had, i.e. their family insisted on them doing it rather than the volunteer. My family, which gives me quite a bit of autonomy, was not interested in this. Rather, my host brother was pretty much like, okay. This was a problem, being that I didn't have any idea on HOW to do laundry.
Fortunately, I had enough essentials to last until Saturday in which our language teacher had promised a laundry training day. I was eagerly anticipating this, as I was quickly reaching the critical stage of garment options. Saturday came and we combined with another language group to learn this critical, developing world skill. We divided between men and women and raced against each other, each washing one piece of clothing. We learned how to soak, scrub, rinse, and dry. (Of course, the women won, partly due to the fact that one of their members routinely hand washed their clothes). But the more important victory was the knowledge of knowing how to do this myself.
That afternoon, I was ready. Instead of asking for instruction, I merely had to ask my host family where to wash. I asked them where I should and they gave me the tazik (tub) and told me I still needed soap and detergent. I was happy to buy this from the store, as I enjoy interacting with the local magazine (how to say store in Russian, think Army magazine) workers, mainly practicing the question of how much does this cost and getting a string of numbers back so quickly, that I don't actually understand them (I can county to 999,999,999,999 in Russian now, but it's just hearing it that is the problem).
Anyway, I get the soap, and the detergent, and my clothes, and I'm ready to go. I soak, and scrub, and rinse for about an hour and a half and get most of my clothes done. I was really feeling like I'm in the Peace Corps. So maybe I don't have to heat up my water on the stove or take malaria pills, but I'm hand washing my clothes. I even managed to rub a sore on one of my knuckles, from what I'm assuming was poor beginner's technique.
After rinsing the detergent (or at least most of it, who am I kidding, some of the detergent out of my clothes), I hung them off our fifth story balcony to dry. I wasn't fully thinking this through, but I only hung some article by one clothespin. This was due to the limiting number of clothespins and my large amount of clothing articles. I wanted to maximize the amount of clothes I could dry at one time.
I then left to hang out with some other volunteers and watch a movie. (We tried watching Aladdin, but had to settle for Just Friends instead. Major downgrade there.) I come back about three hours later to find that most of my clothes had already dried. But some of them weren't there. Having forgotten about the huge wind gusts that often go through our fifth floor apartment, I had not really considered how precarious my clothes were just hanging by one clip. A quick survey showed that my pants were still there, as were my shirts and there were an even number of socks. The gaps must therefore be from fallen underwear. Awesome.
I break out a flashlight and shine it down below. On the clothesline below ours I see two pairs of my boxer briefs just hanging there. Great way to meet the neighbors, I thought. Embarrassed, but seeing no other solution to my problem, I told my host brother the problem. He informed me that the apartment below ours is actually vacant. So no need to worry about someone awkwardly finding underwear hanging outside their window, but bad news for getting it back. Almost unfazed though, my host brother fastens a hook out of some twine, a nail, and some metal. He then dangles this hook off the balcony in order to get my clothing back. Did I mention this was all happening at about 11:30 at night? The first pair was a success, but the second was too close to the wall to get a good angle on it. He ended up knocking them off the line, and I was excited to see they cleared the clothing lines of the third, second, and first floor apartments as well to land safely on the dusty ground below.
I'm pretty sure my family will enjoying sharing that story for some time to come. And from now on, all my clothes get at least two clothespins. Minimum.