Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions here laid forth are mine and mine alone. They in no way represent the thoughts or opinions of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.
Disclaimer #2 This post was written a month after I arrived in country. I thought I had lost this post, but just found it today.
I haven’t changed my underwear in 8 days. It is not for lack of want. I’d love nothing more than to feel the coolness of fresh cotton, but currently I find myself trapped in quite a conundrum.
It is not traditional for males here to do much of what Americans would categorize as “daily housework.” The washing of one’s clothes definitely falls into the aforementioned category. I wanted to wash my clothes upon arrival. There was something kind of romantic about getting out the wash basin, throwing in some soap (the most popular brand here is called “BARF” strangely enough) and going to it. I kind of relished the exercise. My first attempt was headed off in its infancy by the females in my house as they saw me enter the washroom and came running to stop this affront to tradition. The second time I was a bit slyer and waited until all the females were indisposed in the garden or performing other tasks. I snuck in that sanctum of feminine production and was able to complete all the soaking and scrubbing necessary. I wrung out my clothes and headed for the wash line. My luck continued as there was no one in sight of the clothes line. As I pinned the last leg of my jeans (turned inside out to not fade in the sun) my host grandmother (or tateek) came around the corner and gave me a look which conveyed that she thought I truly was a foolish and willful young man. Brushing me aside she proceeded to take down all my clothes from the line, turn them back right side out and headed straight for the washroom. The rewashing of my clothes admittedly didn’t take as long, due to my host tateek’s years of experience, but as she re-hung all the clothes, I saw no appreciable difference in their level of cleanliness. On to the dilemma…
When you first meet your new host family the Peace Corps is kind enough to provide a translator for an hour or two as you work out the details of the new living arrangement. As myself, the translator, and my family were sitting around discussing things like smoking in the house, times of meals and the like, there began a whispering between the ladies of the house. After much hushed discussion my blushing mother leaned over in the translator’s ear and told her something. After nodding her understanding the translator pulled me aside and explained to me that they will wash my clothes but it is shameful for them to wash my underwear, and they don’t feel comfortable discussing it any more. I, being too distracted by other things like how late I could stay out on weekends to think through this statement to its proper end, just nodded and said, but of course. Now I don’t know if this aversion to foreign boxer-briefs is only present in my family, or if it is a culturally thing, but I do know that it has made things difficult for me.
So here is my conundrum; I am not allowed to wash my own clothes, but the only vehicle I have for washing my clothes will not wash my underwear. Thus, I sit here in 8 day old underwear perplexed.