One bucket of cold water. Two spoonfuls of washing powder. Scrub with detergent bar as needed. Rinse thoroughly. Drain.
One bucket of cold water. One spoonful of Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Hemp Peppermint Pure – Castile Soap. Rinse thoroughly. Drain.
One bucket of cold water. Rinse thoroughly. Drain. *
The scent of freshly lit incense floated up to the first floor porch where I stood, wringing out a particularly water-logged pair of boxer briefs. Distracted by the smoky aroma, I spilled a trouser’s worth of water on my sandaled foot. Hearing my commotion from down below, Mom looked up to see me draping my freshly washed undergarments on the railing.
She pointed one finger to the sky. “Up!” she said.
“Up?” I repeated, undoubtedly with a puzzled expression. I turned my neck around and lifted my gaze but saw only the slanted rooftop of our little brick house.
“Hold on,” said Mom as she shuffled over to the brick wall surrounding our yard. She placed the incense sticks by a small shrine and turned around to teach her new son how to dry his clothes.
It was the second night at my home stay. When my host family first picked me up from the program house, Dad had given me my new Nepali name: Krishna, after “the powerful Hindu god.” Over a dinner of daal bhat (rice and lentils), aloo (potatoes), and kukura (chicken), Dad explained that his family was Hindu, so I could (finally) eat meat again!
The next morning, he gave me a quick tour of north Kathmandu as he led me on the 30-minute walk back to the program house. Dad speaks a bit of English pretty well, but Mom knows very little. So far, we have had a great deal of fun practicing our blossoming English and Nepali language skills with each other.
When Mom reached the top of the stairs, she motioned for me to follow her. I grabbed all of my wet clothes from the porch and stepped through the door and into the hallway. “Come, come,” she insisted, leading me into the dimly lit washroom. On the left was the tub in which I had recently squatted for my shower (I prefer the bucket-mug method as it only takes one third of the water required to fully wash a load of laundry). Behind the tub was my most appreciated luxury: a Western-style toilet, complete with flushing action! In front of the toilet, the room’s singular, fading light bulb hung above the sink. To the right, however, was a mysterious machine.
The green box stood no taller than my waist, no wider than my hips. Previously, I had used the device exclusively as a shelf to store my unwashed clothes. Mom opened a panel on the top of the machine. “You can put in,” she said, pointing from the soggy clothes in my hand to the hole in the green box.
I stuffed my sopping socks and underwear into the opening and Mom closed the lid. She turned a dial on to the right of the panel and the machine slowly started to shake. After about ten seconds, the machine stopped. Mom opened the panel once again and, to my amusement, my clothes were now drained of excess water. “Kasto raamro (how good)!” I exclaimed.
Mom smiled. “Come, follow,” she said, leaving the washroom. Together, we walked up the top flight of stairs to the roof. There, several strings stretched across the balcony. “Hang here,” Mom said, waving her arm towards the clotheslines.
I thanked her and laughed to myself as she walked away. Who knew a task as simple as laundry could pose such a challenge to this college grad?
Dhanyabaad! I cry
For where, o! where would we be
Without our mothers?
* Author’s Note: Three buckets of water. That’s over three times more water than I use to shower. (As an aspiring bucket shower professional, I can confirm that it takes less than one bucket of cold water to adequately clean a six-foot-four American man.
The day that I wrote this story in my journal marked the end of our first full week in Nepal. Already, I have been amazed at how little waste I am leaving in my wake. For reference, the bin in my room is no bigger than my two hands cupped together. My largest pieces of trash include toenail clippings, short bits of dental floss, and used Band-Aids (from nursing the surprisingly bloody leech wound on my left foot.) At this point, even three buckets of water for laundry seems excessive, especially when you realize that water must be shipped to every house and stored in large drums on the roof.