Today is a glorious sunny day, the kind where I see the weather forecast and think, “I need to get the laundry going!” It is odd but true that in this desert city, winter is rather damp and frequently cloudy–weather not at all conducive to drying laundry on a clothesline. But clotheslines are the norm here, and my four lengths of wire outside the kitchen window will hold just one small load of laundry. I also have a drying rack in the living room, but it takes two or more days for things to dry inside the house. I know of people who have electric clothes dryers, but they are very expensive and use a lot of electricity, and are mostly found in the villas and apartments of foreigners and the very wealthy.
Thankfully, washing machines are pretty common. However, we–and most people of normal economic status–have what is called a “semi-automatic” or “half-automatic” washing machine. Most Westerners have never heard or seen one of these, and I’ll admit that the first time I had to use one, I stared at the (Arabic) instructions for over half an hour before I started. These washing machines are probably more appropriate for use in the Middle East than what I think of as a “normal” washing machine, as I think they use less water and electricity. They also are portable, not requiring their own specific plumbing and electrical outlet (which would not be found in most apartments).
The process for washing laundry goes like this:
1. Move washing machine from the kitchen to the bathroom. It is made of plastic and light enough that I can carry it on my own. Plug it in to the electrical outlet in the hallway.
2. Hook up water hose to the bidet (Lulu calls it “the washing machine toilet”) and begin filling washing tub (the big one on the left) with water. Add detergent and clothes; make sure not to overfill it. It is better to err on the side of too little clothing, as these are not super powerful washing machines. Put the washing machine drain hose into the bathroom floor drain.
3. Turn off water, put on washing tub lid, and turn washing dial to desired washing time, usually 9-12 minutes. (Make sure the setting dial is on “Normal.”) Watch the magic begin!
(I had a video for you, but apparently have to upgrade my blog before I can share it. Have to think about that…)
4. When it finishes, turn the Settings dial to “Drain.” All the water drains out of the washing tub. At this point, the clothes are pretty twisted and tied up, so I try to untangle them.
5. When it’s done draining, turn the Settings dial back to “Normal” and refill the washing tub with water. Now we are doing the “rinse” cycle, which is basically a repeat of the “wash” cycle but without adding detergent. Repeat steps #3 and #4.
6. Now we move on to the “spin” cycle, the right hand tub of the machine. This tub is much smaller than the washing tub, and can only hold a few items of clothing at a time. If you overload it, it won’t work, or it will try to go and you’ll start to smell burning plastic. The clothing in it also needs to be balanced weight-wise around the tub, or else when you turn it on it thumps and bumps and the washer jumps all around. So, put the clothes in, make sure the Settings dial is still on Drain, and press the clothes down with the insert. I guess this keeps them from flying around when they’re spinning? Close the lids and turn the Spin dial; two minutes is usually sufficient for everything except jeans and towels, which need a minute extra. For one load of wash, I usually end up with five or six loads of spinning.
7. When you’re done spinning, unplug the washing machine and then gently tilt it in the direction of the drain hose to make sure all the water comes out. Then pack it all up, move the washer back to the kitchen, and hang your clothes out on the clothesline.
The whole process takes a little bit over an hour, and is obviously more labor-intensive than just throwing things in a washing machine and moving them to the dryer. Even with family of just three, I end up doing laundry four or five days a week since it’s not possible to wash much at once and I have to space things out to make sure they have time to dry.