While my electricity experiences in rural South Africa are complicated, my household plumbing is straight forward. My bathtub, sink, dishwasher, and washing machine consist of four buckets: a green bathtub and three navy blue bins. One of the bins serves as the sink basin while the PC initiated water filter is the faucet. Two bins alternate between the aforementioned roles (and before anyone flips out over hygiene I clean the buckets thoroughly before they switch tasks). Water comes from the tap 10 meters from my house (I got really lucky in terms of tap access at both sites…there are SA PCVs who walk kilometers for water).
I could talk about washing dishes and bathing, but laundry is my sense of accomplishment as a PCV. Many PCVs dread laundry day, but for me it is the one task I can complete that week. Also laundry day is a treat these days because it has to be done when there is water and it is sunny.
Sunday is the unofficial laundry day, in part because listening to Kosi FM’s blaring soul classics makes the task fun! However this summer my schedule is all over the place. Add South Africa to the list of places impacted by climate change (cough global warming) and KZN is in a bad drought. Because of this drought, the municipality shuts off the water and I am the water police who humanely confronts my host niece and nephew about their using water as a toy habit (but that is a. My second week in Amajuba, I went without water for 6 days. When the water is off my only priority is drinking and filling the PC water filter. If I get dehydrated, there is no way that the other tasks will happen. Usually I budget enough water for one bath for a district meeting or my 3 day schedule, but laundry does not happen.
On a laundry morning (starting no later than 10 AM before afternoon thunderstorms are a problem), I gather my clothes, clothespins, laundry detergent, and nailbrush on my stoop. Clad in sunscreen, I sprinkle my detergent (Sunlight which is an cheap fabric softener and detergent plus a taste of my exchange student nostalgia) from the Pick N Pay yogurt container and add half a clear bucketful of water to each bin. Then I stir the detergent with the nailbrush (about 5 rand and the best laundry tool I have). After a minute the soap starts to dissolve and I add one more bucket from the tap to the buckets.
For the washing part, I have to confess that I am not high maintenance at washing. I separate my modest pile of white apparel but beyond that I mix reds with blues, towels with underwear and only “scrub” when the clothes are visibly dirty ( so far it has not ruined any of my clothes). As long as the clothes smell good, they are clean enough for me. When stains are present, I gently scrub back and forth with the nail brush. Without a lot of force, the nailbrush does a remarkable job of cleaning without rubbing the fabric thin. Once the clothes finish soaking (most are ready in 10 minutes) I wring them out and dunk them in the rinse bucket. Then after the clothes are rinsed, I ring them out and stick them on the clothesline to dry (depending on the timing, most clothes are done by the evening…quick dry fabrics are your friend. .
Right after I arrived, my host family put up a study clothes line which works great. Depending on the area, underwear can be taboo. Bras here are hung out here with no problem but bottoms are concealed. If you are like me and like underwear with adequate amount of material, one of the life hacks that I took from the roommate is grabbing the middle and loosely pulling it though a leg hole around the wire. Not only does this conserve clothes pins, and provides even areas for drying. It also makes the underwear smaller and easier to cover up with bigger clothes on the front clothesline. Host Family 1.0 taught me to hang long sleeved clothes (jackets, shirts, and jeans) upside down so they dry quicker. Jeans and heavier materials take more clothespins to secure on the line, and longer to dry (hence why I avoid wearing jeans, I get 5 wears out of a skirt but 1 wear out of jeans). For articles that cannot be exposed to direct sunlight (in my case reusable pads) I lay them to dry on a travel towel inside the house. When there is really no space, I would purposely wash the travel towel and hang the materials underneath)
One last laundry hack: I always have a travel laundry kit consisting of a handful of clothespins, nailbrush, and a bar of Sunlight Soap in a plastic bag. Other PCVs utilize it and it helped me maintain a routine while I was living in a backpackers (and laundromats in Pretoria charge per item…eish).
Laundry in South Africa. It is more effort than wash and dry machinery but feels better when it is done with solar energy.