Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Laundry: Samoan Style

child labor laundry

When we moved from Utah to California to Samoa in the early 80's, our Sears Kenmore Extra Capacity clothes washer was in a shipment container with our car, my mother's piano & most of our worldly (but meager) possessions.

After we had been in the village for over a month, my dad went down to the shipping office to ask when we could expect the boat to arrive. The ship had departed Los Angeles nearly 2 months before we did. Surely, it had to be arriving any day now?

Like a good 9 year old, I did my best to listen in on conversations that didn't include me. The (overly smiling at my daddy) lady parked behind the plywood counter at the shipping company said it was taking the long way to get to Samoa via China & that only God knew when it would be in.

(Well? What were going to do? Wait 3 to 6 months for our ship to come in?)

We went to the hardware store and bought a hand crank washer tub & a washer board. Staring at the small mountain of laundry piling up in our bathroom, my dad sent me to the bush store behind our house to buy laundry soap. He gave me 4 quarters & said "Go to the store and buy the wash soap." The wash soap turned out to be a 2 foot long bar of laundry soap in pink or beige pressed & milled in Apia. One scent - coconut extra clean. (Up until I went to the bush store, I always thought that washing soap came in a box called Tide)

Having an electrical washer was a big deal. Having an electric dryer with a washer was almost unheard of in the village. Or if there were people we did know who had them, their last names did not sound like mine.

My grandmother visiting from California, our house girl from Savaii and I would haul our loads of laundry out to the pipe on the side of the house early on a Saturday morning. My dad would've already left before the sun rose to go to his job at a construction site. My mother was still sick, pregnant with my youngest sister.

Gramma would scold me in Samoan for any number of offenses: I was too slow, I was not paying attention, I was thinking about sassing her. How she could know all of that without me speaking a single word is a skill I'm beginning to perfect as a mother. Samoan Grammy's are a fierce bunch!

Gramma directed. She was management. The rest of us were workers. So we worked. We sorted out the clothes by colors and if she decreed, we the sorted the colors in to similar materials or degree of dirtiness.
waiting for tadpoles

When I wasn't looking, she'd turn the pipe on full blast, splashing me awake with the chilly reservoir water. I'd be startled out of whatever fantasy land my mind had wondered off too. Then I'd be wet & grouchy too. (And trying very hard not to say a bad word a village boy had hissed at me earlier that week when I hit him full in the face with a dodge ball.)

The house girl would start soaping up the clothes in the big aluminum bucket. Breaking the wash soap up in to workable 4 inch pieces. She'd save some for the next wash load, tucking it into a mesh bag hanging from a hook above the pipe. Then she'd pick a piece out and start ferociously slamming some one's pants up & down the washer board. When it was clean enough, she'd hand it off to me to rinse & wring out.

I'd shove the soapy clothes under the pipe, pulling & pushing it to & fro. I'd watch the village water pour from the pipe & splash loudly on the mossy bricks below it. (I've got strong hands from that work!)

I'd stick my hands beneath it. Feel the cool slipperiness of it slide over my small hands.There were times when if I cupped my hands beneath the pipe as the water gushed forth - that I'd catch little tadpoles swimming out. (Yes I know the EPA Water people would freak out at that.)

After getting all the soap out, I'd wring them dry & set them aside in a woven basket to hang out on the lines.
We strung ropes from the mango trees to the umu and hung our laundry out to dry in the sunshine.

(those were the good old days!)

Today I still use an electric washer since rubbing the clothes up & down a washer board would take up all my precious face book/twitter/chat time. But I've opted out of using a dryer even though I could afford one and it would certainly dry my clothes with that Downy/Bounce freshness.

I like to believe that I'm going green & that I'm saving $$$ by hanging the clothes out.

Sunny Days = Laundry on the Lines
The truth is that, it reminds me of the hot days back in Samoa when every one hung their laundry out - even if they went to the laundromat to wash their clothes.

I love the peace it gives me in flipping the sheets & towels out and then carefully pinning the edges to the line. I love lining up the brightly colored shirts. I especially love all the 'accidentally' Clorox-ed clothes that have patches of white burned into them.

(those make me laugh the most)

My grandmother used to make me look for long branches to strip down so she could use it to prop up the clothes lines. Later on as we got more modern - we'd use aluminum poles we 'borrowed' from someone else's antenna.

(yes I did. Don't act. I'm pretty sure you did too or you thought about it & wished you could)

With love & Delicious laundry~
Cy.


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