Strong gusts of wind are swirling through Leon today. Mangoes blown out from the trees hit the metal roof with a loud bang and tumble noisily down into our yard. They are almost as loud as the cats at night running from rooftop to rooftop, sometimes squabbling, occasionally falling through into the homes below.
My mom asked, “How does a cat fall through the roof?” Metal/tin roofs here are often pieced together. In some homes this metal is the only thing between the living space and the sky. No insulation. Our current room does have an additional drop ceiling. But there are places where you can see the sun shine through in the kitchen.
The wind however also means that my hand-washed clothes from this morning dried before lunch! Small things like this make me excited, especially after just emerging from the rainy season where it seems that nothing ever dries and it is a constant battle to keep out the musty smell or to truly feel like our clothes are clean.
I had to learn to wash the clothes by hand here. Occasionally we stay in a home that has a washing machine, like the one featured in the cover pic above, but so far only one place had a dryer. You wouldn’t think washing clothes by hand would be that difficult, however I realized how inept I was at this after a trip to Haiti years ago. I joined some of the local ladies to help wash clothes. They redid every garment I had washed. Well, I tried to help at least.
No I never hand-washed my delicates separately before this trip either – who has time for that. That is what the delicate bags are for. OK, I did hand wash some items on long road trips or backpacking trips, but they were never quite clean, just good enough. I googled for instructions, most sites assume modern conveniences so I will post here how to wash clothes the Nica way in case you ever find yourself in this position.
What you need:
- Laundry detergent powder – ex. Espumil
- Laundry bar
- Large bin for water
- Washing board
- Dirty clothes (not shown below, you don’t need to see those)
Step 1 : Soak the Clothes with Detergent
Fill the large bin with enough water to cover the clothes, and add the detergent powder. Swish it around with your hand until dissolved. I sometimes heat the water for this part, but it can be done with cold water. Soak the clothes for 15-30 min. I generally soak for 30 minutes as it gives me more time to read a good book or take a Spanish lesson.
Step 2 : Soap up the Clothes
Take out each article of clothing one by one and rub it with the laundry bar. Pay attention to the armpits and other soiled areas. It is so hot here and sweat is inevitable I generally rub the whole garment down.
Step 3 : Rub the garment on the washing board
Our washing board here in Nicaragua is made of cement. It is a sink that was purposely not smoothed out when the concrete was poured so that it could be used for scrubbing. In the absence of a washboard, you can rub the garment against itself – grab the garment in two places and rub them together. You can do this methodically to the entire piece of clothing.
Step 4 : Rinse
Fill the bin with clean water and rinse each garment. Repeat as needed if the clothes still feel soapy. Wring out every garment. I know some clothing care instructions say to never wring a garment, but it has to be done or it won’t dry and will then mold, eww.
Step 5 : Hang Clothes to Dry
At this point, the clothes are ready to be hung on the clothesline. Optionally, you can snap them to get a little more water out. Snapping clothes takes a little practice and I still have not learned how to do it without getting some of the water splashed on me. Roma, our host lady here in Nicaragua, showed me how to do it. Hold out the garment in front of you, arms forward as if you are checking out a shirt at a store. In a swift motion, raise it a few inches then quickly move your arms downward, flicking your wrist down at the tail end of the motion. This will cause the other end of the garment to snap and expel some water. Since we are in the dry season now I skip this step, but it is necessary during the rainy season.
Hang the clothes to dry on the line and hope it doesn’t rain before they dry. Many homes here in Nicaragua and Costa Rica have clotheslines that are under the overhang of the roof. Since rain is a daily occurrence during the rainy season this is necessary.
Another awesome feature of most of the homes here is the inner courtyard. From the street all anyone can see is a long wall of concrete of various colors with really cool doors, block after block of walls against narrow sidewalks by busy streets. No front yards. Front doors are often left open during the day with only the metal bars closed. Through these we can be treated to glimpses of beautiful courtyards inside that one would never know existed from the outside. These courtyards are also where the cloths hang to dry, away from the dust in the streets.
Are you thankful for your washing machine and dryer now? Oddly enough I’m enjoying this task. For years I have longed for more time, to read a book, or study a certain subject or simply to catch up on everything that needs to be done. Finally I have time. I still keep a “to do” list. Some things never change, but it is one that can reasonably be done within the time allotted for it and it feels really good.
Life here might take longer, but it is much less complicated.
Retired from Corporate America at the age of 43 along with her husband Trinity. In 2016 they sold their home to begin a nomadic life of slow travel. Bonnie writes of their experience on the road in each country. Subscribe to follow her stories here.
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