Everyone in my compound found it fascinating that I was going to attempt to wash my own clothes, by hand that is. They would look and point and start to laugh. They would ask “what are you doing?” In my head I was like ‘uummm, Duhhh! Soap, water, pile of clothes, what does it look like I’m doing!!?!’ I didn’t utter a word, I’d just smiled. “Do you know how to wash?!”, “Im gonna buy you a washing machine” and then more laughter. After watching me for a few more minutes they would verbally conclude with amusement, “You don’t know how to wash!” and laugh as they continued on their way.
I grew up watching my grandmother wash by hand. She could get the toughest stains out and make the dullest of whites bright. Although I never did the washing myself, I believed I had a rudimentary understanding of how to wash by hand. I was also very proud of the hours of experience I knew I had logged washing my delicate by hand over the years. Surely they should see I know what I am doing!….. side eye, deep eye roll with a tongue pop.
I watched as they washed and I compared my technique to my observation, all scientific like…lol. I couldn’t see a difference but my knuckles and fingers were beginning to disagree. The women in the compound washed every day! I couldn’t figure out how nor why. My hands hurt for the next day or two after washing. This also began to prompt something inside me that began to compare, to evaluate, to measure my worth by my ability to do this one simple task well.
Every time the eyes. Every time a bit of laughter. This experience became challenging physically and emotionally… my knuckles being rubbed raw and my mind pondering why I couldn’t get it, better yet why weren’t they seeing that I was doing what they were doing! What was I missing? I became too shy to go outside and wash in the common areas. I didn’t want to deal with the “eyes” watching me, and what I perceived as belittling laughter at my expense. My ego stepped in trying to big me up, “Hey, you are the one who stepped outside her known. You are the one who has traveled and read and been pretty damn self sufficient for some years…blah blah blah” Then came the negative talk…“Whatever! right now all they see is that girl who doesn’t know how to wash her own clothes.”
In the west, a woman is applauded for her ability to earn her coins and keep herself well threaded and well coiffed. If she can cook that’s an added bonus. Washing never enters the equation. Washing in the west is a means to an end. There are machines or services that help facilitate this. There are no silent assessments on your womanhood based on if you know how to wash at all, let alone by hand. Yet here I was caught up in my own head game. Mind you, here in Ghana people do pay someone to wash for them. It only cost a few cedis. I could have done the same, but that never entered my thoughts. It became important to me to prove to myself and to “them” that I could do it too!
My first day trying to wash, my neighbour came over and sat by me as I began. She looked and of course said, “Oh you don’t know how to wash!” She handed me her baby. She got up and got me a rinse bucket and added more soap to my wash bucket and she began to wash. She picked up a shirt and showed me that the neck and the underarms should be the first things to concentrate on. The next thing she showed me was that I should concentrate on the seat and waste of a pair of pants. Then she told me to try as she watched and corrected. My eyes filled with tears because of her kindness. I was so appreciative.
Over the weeks that followed, after I got my courage back to face “the eyes”, whenever I saw her washing I would join her. The others still questioned and laughed but each time it became less. Each time I was a bit more relaxed, more confident. Today, six months later I can hold my own while washing in the compound. I also realize that the questions and laughter were not meant to put me down. For most it was a way to interact, to have a lighthearted conversation. Just as I was watching and learning them, they too were watching and learning from me. Like little boys who pull the ponytail of the girl they like. So the joking and jeering at me is what I needed to get out of my head so I could see past my ill perceptions. I needed to not take every gesture, every comment so personally. With language barriers and being the ‘outsider’, a lot can be misinterpreted. Time and patience and the willingness to see past/push past what you “think” you are seeing will make a world of difference.
ALSO READ: 5 THINGS BEING GHANAIAN HAS TAUGHT ME
Until Next time