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World Laundry

February 17, 2012

I had a fantastic session with the three of my English Language Literacy students (out of a class of eight) who were able to come to class this Wednesday. A picture of a pail in our workbook generated a conversation about doing laundry, as a Bhutanese woman described how she had washed clothes in the refugee camp, pouring water over the clothes. Lacking the word for “river,” she said they did the laundry in the “long water” – we used Google Images on my laptop to confirm my understanding of what she was telling me. The woman from Burundi agreed that this was how she had done laundry too – big rock, bar of soap, hang clothes. She gathered up a bunch of her skirt in her lap to demonstrate, and the other two women watched, smiled broadly and nodded; yes, yes, like that! they affirmed. The first woman told me “sister, brother, father say is lucky. They cry.” She meant they are envious that she can do her laundry in an hour using machines.

After our conversation, I showed them this TED video of Hans Rosling on the subject of washing machines. His slow manner of speaking and his accent all seemed to make him familiar and more readily understandable to him; they loved it, and I loved it anew watching it with them. When they saw his slides of people who look like them, washing clothes in tubs and rivers, they pointed at the screen and said again, “Yes, yes, like that!” And so it was that four women, challenged by language and cultural differences, had a meaningful conversation about laundry and environmental stewardship.

I recently promised the First Universalist Church of  Yarmouth, ME that I was going to give up my dryer as my next step in shrinking my carbon footprint. Today as I hung my laundry on my new drying rack, it felt like a joyful spiritual practice of loving people the world over. This is how we will save the world Рby loving one another enough to change our ways.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 17, 2012 9:13 pm

    Thoughtful piece, Lyn. Thanks. It is another cause for me to reflect on the vast gulf between the developed world and, well the rest of the world.

    Yesterday, my first with my daughters after my getting back from Manila, we went to West Edmonton Mall at their request (where else?). We were getting pet supplies.

    In an exhibition section of the Mall was a series of straw huts, all interconnected. They roused the girls’ curiosity (they’re 7 and 8). “Can we go see?” It was a Worldvision display, so I said ‘Sure’. It turns out it was an exhibit designed to wake the public up to the plight of AIDS orphans in Africa. I don’t know enough about WV to comment on their model or program, so this is not an endorsement.

    We went in and were given headphones and MP3 players. After quizzing me about the girls, the attendant suggested we follow the trail telling the true story of Beatrice of Zambia, who at the age of 7, became the sole caregiver of her infant niece hen her older sister died in childbirth. We trailed through sleeping quarters, living spaces adorned with rags and a few ancient dishes, even past the dead wrapped body of Beatrice’s sister. It was a difficult story to hear, and while some of it went over the heads of the girls, the last part did not. Having received some help from a WV worker, Beatrice and her niece were doing better and were finally tested for AIDS. My girls -grasping that this had life and death potential – sat nervously waiting for the results as if their own lives hung in the balance. Fortunately Beatrice was negative (two of the four story lines are positives). (Wise choosing, attendant!)

    As we emerged, both girls were a bit quiet, and we talked about our good fortune as Canadians. Then my eldest remembered that I had suggested we ‘adopt’ a Filipina girl through the UU Partner Church Council and sponsor her education. “Will that help her be safe?” asked my eldest. “No promises, but most likely yes.”

    Today I had no problem getting them to do extra chores to raise money for the project.

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