October 1, 2004
Dealing with dirt
Americans are obsessed with cleanliness. We feel filthy if we can’t take a shower each day. Our supermarkets are jammed with isle after isle of cleaning products for ourselves, our carpets, furniture, pets, walls, toilets, clothing, floors, windows, and ovens.
The rest of the world laughs at us and our quest to conquer dirt. Here in Malawi in the battle between man vs. dirt, there is no contest. Dirt wins. Every time.
In America, my home gets a bit dusty. Here it gets dirty. You see, back home I have a nice lawn surrounding my house, then there is a paved street. Here I have grass, but right now it is dead and all you can see is the dirt. My driveway is dirt too. Most of the roads are dirt as well. Then the wind starts blowing…
On the day we moved in I went out and bought brooms and a mop and all kinds of cleaning supplies, and really got to work. When I finished sweeping and mopping the living room the floor, which was filthy linoleum, it just looked like I had moved the dirt around. That was when the Synod recommended that we hire a “house helper.”I have never had a cleaning woman or service in the USA, and at first I balked at the idea, but then they told me about the laundry.
In Malawi, all laundry is done by hand. It is hand washed and beaten until it is clean and then hung out to dry on the ground, bushes or lines. (We have a line in our yard.) There are insects similar to ticks that nest in the seams occasionally when the clothes are drying. To kill them, all clothes must be ironed. Skirts, shirts, pants, sweatshirts, towels, even socks and underwear, – everything must be ironed.
Silas Ncozana recommended that we hire a young man named Alfred. He looks about 20 but is actually 28. So we did. He got to work on my floors. I could not believe the difference. They are still stained and spotted from years of wear, but they look SO much better! Yesterday he washed the windows. These are creaky, rusty louvered panes that now let in the brilliant Malawian sunshine.
Everything in Malawi still seems dirty to the American way of thinking. Bodies are not washed regularly if there is no running water where you live. Washing clothes in a stream is a chore that is done only when absolutely necessary. The dust coats everything, but if you have to choose between feeding your family and buying soap, there is no contest.
Malawians are not unclean. They are constantly sweeping. Guess what they sweep? The dirt. I am not kidding. You see people sweeping dirt pathways and yards and sidewalks constantly. We Americans laugh, but considering the amount of people that walk the roads and the amount of garbage that is thrown into the streets, the city of Blantyre is remarkably clean.
So, everyday I say a prayer of thanksgiving for Alfred, who keeps my little section of Malawi a bit more dirt-free, but I have a new appreciation for clean socks and sidewalks.