Laundry Day…with and without electricity
Moving soon to my permanent site and assignment; new address to follow. For now, preparing for the swearing-in ceremony, an official celebration of the end of the jam-packed training sessions and the beginning of the new job, new responsibilities, new friends, new experiences, Yay!
After all the snow, power outages, and cold weather, I thought I’d take advantage of a bright day to do some laundry. Since clothes must be hung outdoors to dry, paying attention to the weather is necessary—and you do the laundry when you get a good chance, weather-wise, lest you run out of clothes to wear during bad weather/more power outages.
The mom in my host family is the proud owner of an electric agitator. It sits in the corner of our bathroom, which is a multipurpose room, about 8’ by 10’ with plain concrete walls, a small window about 10’ above the floor. The floor is the only part of the room that is tiled—in a pretty, bright orange. In one corner sits the toilet, another corner the stainless-steel sink, attached to the concrete wall is a shower hose, and in the middle of the room in the tile floor is the floor drain, which functions as the drain for the shower and the clothes washing. On one wall is an instant gas hot water heater, which is only turned on when clothes are going to be washed, or someone is going to take a shower. It also only works when the electricity is on, because the water flow into the house is dependent upon an outside auxiliary electric pump. The small agitator for washing clothes is also electric. The process is to plug it into a wall socket outside of the bathroom door in the hallway of the house. Then 3 buckets of hot water from the sink are filled and poured into the agitator together with some detergent and a fairly small amount of clothes. Then the agitator is turned on, and it runs for 5 minutes. Once it is stopped, you fish out the clothes by hand from the agitator, put them into a bucket, and take them to the sink to rinse by hand and wring dry. When my host “mom” first showed me this process, she asked if I had an automatic washing machine in America. When I said, yes, I did, she sort of shrugged as if to say, “Well, this works, too,” and it does!
After the clothes are wrung out by hand, they are carried in the bucket to hang up on the clothes-lines outside in the garden. Most Azerbaijanis, who have any yard space at all, have a garden in which they grow some of their own food. We have a small garden with several small fruit trees, grape vines (for the leaves, used to make one of the national dishes—“dolma”—stuffed grape leaves), also different kinds of herbs, onions, tomatoes, and some other vegetables, which I don’t quite recognize. There are some well-observed “rules” about how to hang up clothes, and I certainly showed what a fool I am for doing it all wrong. First of all, all items hung up to dry have their proper place on the lines…towels go in one spot, shirts in another, pants still another, and so on. I figured this out, after my host mom went outside and re-arranged everything I had hung up—and they must be pinned with the clothes-pins in a certain fashion as well. But the most important thing to pay attention to is where women’s underclothing is hung—and how they are hung up to dry, too. These items can only be hung over in the corner on lines that are behind and hidden by clothes hung on the larger lines. This is so that any male (even male a family member) who might enter the garden will not immediately see them. (This points out once again the importance of modesty which is exemplified in many facets of Azerbaijani life.) There are even little hankies that are sometimes clothes-pinned over the underwear, to further disguise them from view. All homes are behind brick/concrete block walls, so the only way anyone would see our laundry hanging up, would be if they were coming to visit and entered through the metal door leading into the garden behind the wall. In the months I have been here, only neighbor women have come by to visit—no men. So the only conceivable male who might possibly cast his eyes unintentionally upon this underwear hanging over in the corner, behind all the other clothes, would be the father of the family, consisting also of his wife and two daughters. How to observe the proper way to hang up clothes is actually also covered in one of our manuals on culture, so it is important to take note of this, as I personally also experienced.
Masazir has been plagued with lots of power outages. And when the electricity goes out, so does the heat in my home, which has several small electric space heaters. When this happens—and it can last for several days at a time—about the only sensible thing to do is stay covered up inside the wonderful sleeping bag furnished to us by Peace Corps, and affectionately called the “Brown Monster.” The power outages are so common that things just keep on running as usually though, too. For example, school is still held, even if there is no electricity in the building. The infrastructure in Masazir has not kept up with the influx of people. Ten years ago Masazir didn’t really exist; it was just a bunch of empty fields. Now there are a lot of homes here (this is not really a town or a village—it is considered a “settlement”). Many of the homes are in the process of being built, which it seems most people do for themselves—they build them out of concrete blocks, and work on them as they have the time and the money. So plenty of homes are in some stage of construction. Masazir has one main road, several side roads, and plenty of mud roads/paths that lead to peoples’ homes. There is no major bazaar or shopping place, just the main road, which is lined with small shops selling construction materials for building or remodeling; also some small supermarkets and butcher shops to serve the people who live here, many of whom work during the day in Baku. There is a municipal-type office which issues the permits to build these homes, but it seems like the homes are built first, and any kind of infrastructure perhaps follows. Hence, the roads flood all the time, the mud never gets a chance to drain and dry out, and it remains sloppy even after days of no rain. Walking to school—indeed anywhere—is a mud-puddle challenge. The power grid is often taxed too greatly, and without adequate construction inspection, homes are sometimes not properly wired. Some people have generators, because of the frequent loss of electricity. But I understand that this is primarily a problem of Masazir, because the rapid growth it has had—other towns and regions do not lose power quite so readily. Only a few people on my road have cars, so maybe the muddy, flooded roads/dirt paths are not that big of any issue. But everyone minds the loss of electricity: in my family, moans and groans are expressed, when the lights and heat go out, and shouts of joy and applause, when the electricity comes back on. I can’t help but think that Tim and his urban/environmental planning team from the county would have a field day here…and plenty of work cut out for them.