Project Phongsali 2011: Sometimes we interrupt our glamorous lifestyle to do mundane tasks.

March 8, 2011
By Jim

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This photo successfully captures the level of enthusiasm that the female deminers on our team have for my labor saving invention.

Week Five

Day Thirty-Two:

Laundry Day: somewhat overdue.

It’s griddle-hot here but the humidity is low and we haven’t had even the faintest hint of rain. As we travel and work along Highway 2E, a narrow, unpaved road being completely rebuilt into a wider unpaved road, we’re constantly enveloped in a cloud of dust.  At the end of the day, the deminers slap one another on the back to dust each other off.  From a distance it looks as though the guys are struggling to extinguish smoldering clothes.  I’m tempted to shout, “Stop! Drop! Roll!”  But, being tired, I refrain and spare myself having to explain a lame joke.

Since I’m living with dust and not mud… instead of washing my clothes, I usually just strip down and shake them out.  What soil remains I view as good, clean dirt.

But… it eventually reaches the point that when I sit on my bed while wearing pants, I leave a dusty brown imprint of my buttocks on my relatively clean sheets.  Then… reluctantly, I concede that it’s time to do the laundry.  Time again to employ what the deminers have tagged “Mr. Jim’s washing machine”.

(My “washing machine” is currently an object of derision among the women on the team.  But then, they’ve worked with me for less than a month; given time, I’m certain that they’ll come to share my love of labor-saving devices).

In truth, my washer is not a machine in the sense of something burdened with the complexity of moving parts.  What I’ve got is a ten-gallon plastic bucket with a tight fitting lid.  I fill it two-third full of water, toss in a hearty scoop of laundry detergent, and then add an armful of dirty clothes.  I put the bucket on the bed of our truck (In the sun for a warm wash; in the shade for cool) and drive off for a day of work in the fields.

The roads here are such that mile after mile, as our truck bounces over rocks and ruts, my clothes are agitated with more enthusiasm than a Maytag could give them.  Sometime during the day, when we cross a mountain stream, I dump the wash water, refill with fresh, and start the rinse cycle.  At the end of the day, back at camp, my laundry needs only to be wrung and hung.

Among the team, I sense a faint, growing respect for my invention.  It won’t surprise me if, at the end of this project, one of my female skeptics sidles up and offers to give my machine a new home.

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