Daily Rwanda: Laundry Day

After 5 months at site, life has settled into a gentle rhythm. Every week passes by more or less the same as I have a set schedule I follow every day. Most days I wake up at 5:30 to do some exercise before starting my day, alternating between running and doing light yoga. In between teaching lessons, I run errands, such as walking to the market, studying Kinyarwanda with my tutor, going to the basket cooperative, etc. At some point during the course of the day, I sneak in some lesson planning (usually the hour before going to class- oops.) In the evenings, I eat dinner, read, get sucked into watching hours of the West Wing, and generally relax.

It’s really nice to have a routine to follow everyday; it makes life in Africa seem more ordinary. Therefore, I thought I would write some posts about what daily life is in like in Rwanda. I plan to give a mini tour of my village, describe the food, etc. But today I decided to start with laundry.

Dirty clothes, check. Water, check. Soap, check. Ready to go!

Dirty clothes, check. Water, check. Soap, check. Ready to go!

My students love to ask me about life in America, and they are always amazed by the differences. They can’t believe students don’t wear uniforms to school. They are jealous that we don’t have to fetch water. And they love the idea of having a washer and dryer!

After a few weeks without water, I had quite the pile of laundry heaped in my closet today. When the water isn’t running, I avoid doing laundry because I hate fetching water and I feel guilty when someone does it for me. This morning I woke up to find that the water running again, so I jumped on the opportunity to wash a month’s worth of dirty clothes. My laundry tends to pile up in the rainy season too because the clothes will never dry on the clothesline.

No temperature settings to worry about. No separating whites and colors. Just dump it all in the bucket and go!

No temperature settings to worry about. No separating whites and colors. Just dump it all in the bucket and go!


The first step of kumesa-ing imyenda, washing clothes, is to fill up a 20 liter jerry can of water, round up some buckets (two if you’re lazy, three if you’re thorough,) grab some stools, and assemble your washing station. They sell two brands of powdered laundry soap and a bar form. I usually just use whatever bar of soap I have laying around the house.

Then item by item, you dunk your clothes in the first bucket and rub on some soap. There are no washboards, so you just scrub the fabric against itself to work out any stains. Squeeze out as much soapy water as possible. Then scrub the clothes in the second bucket to rinse out the remaining of the suds. Wring out the clothes and hang them on the clothesline to dry.

Ironing. Literally.

Ironing. Literally.


In order to iron clothes, you put a couple irons on the stove to heat up, lay your clothes out on a table, then alternate between hot irons every few minutes. Not that I’ve ever done this. I clearly did not inherit Mom’s ironing gene. 😛 (Love you, Mom!)

It usually takes me about an hour to do my laundry, but my fellow teachers always tell me I wash really fast. I am not nearly as meticulous as they are though. Cleanliness is very important in Rwanda, and they will painstakingly scrub out every stain and smudge of dirt. I admire their dedication, but I just can’t motivate myself to work that hard at laundry.

Laundry finished before 7:30am!

Laundry finished before 7:30am!


Many volunteers hire a washerwoman to do their laundry once a week. Generally it costs between $1 and $2 for this service. Although I just admitted I am kind of lazy about laundry, it’s also rather enjoyable. You get to splash around in cool water, soak in some sun, and listen to music while you work.

So there you have it- laundry day in Rwanda. One bar of soap, one jerry can of water, clotheslines, and one hour of your time, and you’re left with a month’s worth of clean clothes. And yes, my students thought I was totally crazy for taking pictures of my laundry!

Nearly a month's worth of laundry out to dry

Nearly a month’s worth of laundry out to dry

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