I have a lot of issues with the Spanish language. The informal v. formal forms of “you” (tú v. usted), having to conjugate verbs, and the fact that my limited vocabulary makes me sound like a poorly educated third grader. But the fact that there isn’t a direct translation for “awkward” is definitely the worst. Incómodo is about as close as it comes and it just isn’t good enough.
A lot of my life here could be summed up as awkward. Whether it be having to give an impromptu speech in front of the entire school, squeezing onto a crowded combi, or standing and smiling politely while people talk about me in a different language, my life is consistently awkward.
I think the awkwardness of my life can best be summed up by laundry day. There aren’t many roads in my site and my family’s house is conveniently located on one of the “busiest”. I put busy in quotes because it receives about the same amount of daily foot traffic as Aspen Ave in Oostburg or Doty St in Madison. Unless you count the sheep, cows, chickens, pigs and dogs, in which case the amount of foot traffic quadruples. But it’s considered busy at my site, which means that quite a few people walk by the house every day.
But I digress.
To do my laundry, I use the canal the runs in front of the house. For each piece of clothing, I need to 1) scrub the piece of clothing with soap, 2) rub it together to remove dirt or stains, 3) rinse it in the canal, 4) wring it out and check for remaining soap, 5) repeat steps 3 and 4 as necessary.
Needless to say it’s not a short process, especially when you let your dirty clothes gather for a week or more. (Hey, you wouldn’t be quick to do your laundry either if you had to hand wash it in front of the whole town.)
The mornings here are pretty cold so I’m not partial to starting my laundry in the morning if it means my hands will be freezing after fifteen minutes. So the last time I did my laundry I waited until after lunch when it finally began to warm up.
I decided to wash all of my clothing first, figuring that jeans and sweatshirts would be the more difficult things to get clean. The occasional townsperson would walk past and I would shake my head as they stared at me washing my jeans or t-shirts or whatever. Not a huge deal, though I could tell by the women’s smiles that my technique needed some help.
Just as I started washing my underwear, I started to hear voices. I continued washing and the sound grew progressively louder until a herd of children rounded the corner. I glanced at my watch and realized that school had just been let out and twenty or thirty kids would soon be walking past me as I hand washed my underwear.
“Fine,” I thought, “A bunch of kids will know what kind of underwear I like to wear. And yes, in a few days, I’m going to start leading a youth group that most of them will attend. And I feel like it’ll be a little harder to gain their respect once they know I have polka-dot underwear. But, it could be worse.”
As I was thinking this, a few of the neighborhood kids who I play with on a daily basis spotted me, started yelling my name, and ran towards me. I took a deep breath as I dropped the piece of underwear I was washing back into the tub. I figured that the kids would ask if I could play on the soccer field and then when I said no they’d head over there to wait.
“Puedes jugar, Ellie?” Rosmi asked. (Can you play?)
“No.” I said. “Necesito limpiar mi ropa. Posiblemente más tarde." (No. I need to clean my clothes. Possibly later.)
I assumed this would be a good enough answer and they’d head to the soccer field without me. Instead, Rosmi reached into my laundry tub and grabbed a piece of my underwear to start helping.
Awkward. Awkward, awkward, awkward.
I finally convinced the kids that I could, in fact, finish my own laundry and they scampered off to the soccer field with my promises that I would join them when I finish.
I wish that was the end of the story. I really do. But once you wash your laundry you need to dry it and that’s a whole new adventure.
I’m sure you can guess that my host family doesn’t have a dryer. In the center patio part of the house there are clotheslines but my host mom told me to hang my clothes over the second floor railings because it was going to rain that afternoon. Which left me with a choice: do I hang my underwear so that everyone who walks into the house will instantly see it or do I hang it off to the side. Obviously off to the side… or so I thought.
What I didn’t consider is that the railing off to the side is directly next to the staircase. Which meant that everyone who walked up the steps would get an up close and personal view of my intimates. Unfortunately, this didn’t just include my host dad, mom, sister, and niece but a whole host of weekend visitors including aunts, uncles, and some nephews.
Imagine having to wash your underwear in the gutter outside of your house. Imagine that a good portion of your town walks by while you’re doing this. Imagine that the neighborhood kids grab your underwear in an attempt to help. Imagine that you have to hang your underwear up by the dinner table in order to dry. And then imagine that your whole extended family comes over for a surprise visit and gets to see all of your underwear, on display, for the world to see.
Incómodo just doesn’t do it.
I’ve started an afterschool program which is as awkward as laundry day but much more fun. Here are some pictures from our first English lesson.