The women in my family had washed and hung their clothes before I had even woken. They left sleep behind at prayer call, six in the morning, when the sun had only kissed the sky and not yet embraced it in a hug, When I climbed out of bed onto the sand speckled, cracked concrete floor, the sun had already outstretched its rays and curled its fingers around Senegal, scorching everything with its grip. I had only one clean outfit, a pair of navy blue kaki capris and an Andy-Wharholed, Obama t-shirt laying on the single shelf that was designated to me. After putting on the last of my clean clothes, leaving the shelf bare, I decided that it had to be laundry day.
I gathered my red, dirt-stained clothes and took them out to the sandy yard. I found a big purple bucket and two makeshift buckets made out of empty gasoline jugs and filled them with tap water. Orange water spurted from the spigot, filled with minerals and iron that would normally be filtered out in the States. In one of the buckets I soaked all of my clothes in the murky water. Anything that I had that was white was immediately tie-dyed orange and brown. The next bucket I dropped soap in and the final bucket was for rinsing. I took each piece of clothing, grasping it with my palms and scrubbed it between my knuckles. The creases of my fingers slowly gave way to wrinkled, wet sores, which have now scabbed over from constant chafing. It took me a total of two hours in the hot sun, up to my elbows in water, to clean each article of clothing. The women in my family laughed at my poor washing methods. They scrub between their hands, squirting soapy water with the same perfection it takes to milk a cow. I awkwardly rub cloth together with my knuckles, unable to spray water from the fabric the way they do.
After the washing was done, I rung all the water out by twisting the clothes in my hands until calices began to form. I carefully carried my clothes and clipped them to the line. They probably weren’t really that clean, but the idea of them having been in soap and water was enough for me.
When the sun choked all dampness out of the hanging clothes, the women tore them down from the line, piled them in their arms and then dumped them on a mat under the big tree in our front yard. We all sat down and folded the garments. After folding my starched, stiff clothes I helped with theirs. I picked up each piece with caution as if they would crumble in my hands. Their clothes are thin and overused. While folding, I fingered the multiple holes that cover them. The kids’ clothes reminded me of the cheap doll outfits I used for my toys when I was a child. They are faded and worn, seams screaming for help, frayed at every edge. I looked at my pile of well-sown, sturdy clothes and cringed when I look back at theirs. Most of my family members only have three outfits that they wear all week.
Even though they dress in the same tattered outfits, it is the last thing you notice because they also wear their pride, accentuated with a smile.