laundry days in Dakar

Laundry was included in the cost of my homestay, so during my first month in Senegal, I’d leave the washerwoman (who I’ve never actually seen) a basketful of dirty clothes on Monday and get them back clean by Friday. I’d hand-wash my underwear and socks myself, in the shower because I’m lazy. (But not while wearing them! I’m not that lazy.)

The first few times I got my laundry back, I didn’t notice any problems, but soon enough I started finding tiny holes and broken seams in my tank tops, and my formerly tight t-shirts started fitting like maternity wear. Knowing I would probably ruin it all through work and travel, I had only brought my most worn-out and least loved clothing to Senegal, so I didn’t really mind the damage. But when it got so bad that I had to throw stuff out, I realized that my already tiny wardrobe was dwindling too quickly and I would soon run out of things to wear. So I decided to wash my clothing myself.

Every other weekend, I set aside 2 or 3 hours to do my laundry. My technique and my set-up has improved over time: I now use one bucket for pre-soaking, a washbasin with a built-in washrack for scrubbing, another bucket for rinsing, and a final one for wringing. I’ve learned to go easy on the washrack, since my overzealousness at first caused just as much stretching and created just as many snags as the washerwoman had. I’ve switched from gentle-on-the-skin baby wash to chemical-laden but much easier to use laundry soap. And I’ve discovered that I can stream the radio from my cell phone without any Internet connection, so I listen to mbalax on the sunny third floor terrace while telling myself that hand-washing is meditative as opposed to mind-numbing.

(Not to mention finger-busting. By the end of each laundry set, my hands are frozen into the shape of fists and every slight movement of my fingers sends jolts of pain coursing up my arms.)

As with other facets of settling in to Dakar (getting Internet access, topping up phone credit, figuring out how to get around, etc.), I didn’t realize until very late in the game that there is an easier option than the one I defaulted to because it was the first thing that became apparent or was suggested to me. Mamie informed me recently that there are laundromats – with washing machines you can operate yourself – in Dakar. I’m guessing they must be the “blanchisserie“s that I see all over and had taken at face value (or rather, at literal translation value) as places where you get your whites bleached. They could also be the “pressing“s, which are even more common than blanchisseries and which I had assumed were places where you get your clothes dry cleaned and ironed. (I had half-wondered why bleaching and ironing shops were ubiquitous but laundries non-existent… But there are so many things I half-wonder about here, all vying for attention from my overworked brain, and this one just wasn’t important enough to make the leap from giving my consciousness pause to compelling it to pursue an answer.)

It’s taken me so long to discover the better, faster, easier way to do so many things here, that I suspect there’s a part of me that prefers the more time-consuming and complicated way. Perhaps that’s because in the still more-analog-than-digital environment of Dakar, I am rediscovering the hidden benefits of boredom. If I stop hand-washing my clothes, I’ll save a lot of time, but I’ll also lose 3 hours of mindless, repetitive motion that gets the wheels of my creative brain turning.