Sunday, May 22, 2011

Don't Hang Your Knickers on the Line

Don’t Hang Your Knickers on the Line, and other Housekeeping Tales


I’m rescued from the drudgery of hand washing most of my clothes because I hire help.  But the help doesn’t touch my underpants.  There is a strong prohibition in Ugandan culture against having another person wash your panties.   Those underpants also cannot be hung to dry outside where (gasp!) someone might see them.  Bras on the line are OK, but NEVER those panties.

So, somewhere in your home there must be a panty drying station.  Special racks, circular with clothespins attached, are popular.  Women hang them in the bathing room.  That is, if the bathing room is inside the house.  My special place is a clothesline in the spare bedroom.  The curtain for the bedroom window stays closed, of course, so that none of my neighbors risks the visual assault of Body by Victoria.

Why is this?  For the same reason that massive cleavage is acceptable, but your skirt must cover your knees. Different cultures, different attitudes about body parts.

Bat Encounters of the Third Kind

Returning home after dinner one evening, I heard noises coming from the rear of the house, and then detected an unidentified flying object crashing about in the bathroom.  Promptly stepping outside and closing the door to the house, I ran to the neighbors.  “Help, there’s something flying around in my house”.  Brave Aloysius confronted the creature and bludgeoned it with my broom.  That was bat number one.

Another evening, another dinner out.  Returning this time with three houseguests.  Open the door, turn on the light, and there in the hall leading from the sitting room to the kitchen sits a creature.  Not flying, but crawling slowly toward us.  Is it a toad?  No.  Bat number two.  Brave Bryan pushed it across the floor with the broom, and out the door.

Bat number three.  This time I’m alone, reading by headlamp in my bed.  There’s a rustling noise in the corner.  I ignore it.  It starts again.  Climbing out of my mosquito net and turning on the bedroom light, I anxiously scan the room.  And there it is, creeping along the floor.  No house guest to rescue me, and it’s too late to run next door.  Linda has to take care of this one herself.  OK – to the kitchen to grab a bucket and the broom.  The bucket for trapping the little bugger and the broom for self defense.  I return to the bedroom.  The bat has disappeared.  I look high and low, everywhere, at least four times.  Still no bat.  Gotta get back to sleep, I have an early morning bus to catch.   I leave the light on, get back in bed, and tuck the mosquito net in extra tight.  No bats in my bed, sister.  Spent the rest of the night sleeping, fitfully.  In the morning, the search for the critter resumes.  It doesn’t take long. There he sits in the middle of the kitchen.  Ever so quietly I fetch the bucket, tip toe into the kitchen, and bam! Down goes the bucket.  I have just trapped my first bat.  Look at me folks!  I just trapped a bat.  Then, slowly, slowly, the bucket is pushed toward the door, the door is opened, and with a good push the bucket shovels the little sucker into the backyard.  Brave me!


So, where exactly do you throw a dead bat?  Or trash?  Or garbage?  Or paper, plastic and glass? There is no trash collection in Uganda.  No garbage disposal.  No recycling bin.    When I stayed with a family during training, their trash went to a pile in the backyard that was forever burning.  Here in Eastern Uganda, you dig a pit in the yard.  Everything goes into the pit, it is burned to reduce its volume from time to time, and the pit is covered with dirt when it gets full.  Then you dig a new pit. 

One reason that that the yard doesn’t become a giant landfill is because people don’t generate trash the way we do in the USA.  Most food comes from the market, with no packaging.  Not much else is consumed.  There are no paper towels.  No Kleenex.  “Modern” life is catching up though – for example, storm drains in Kampala are often clogged with thousands of plastic water bottles.  The streets of most towns are littered with discarded bottles, wrappers, plastic bags and other assorted trash.  (Somehow, Soroti is not.) 

In my home, the garbage disposal is a bucket.  If I were ambitious, I would be composting, but I’m not.  The bucket is all about a) bug control and b) a place to scrape plates so that the sink doesn’t clog.  I miss paper towels, but have found 101 uses for toilet paper.  Rolls of toilet paper are my paper towels (to help scrape those plates), Kleenex, and, well, toilet paper.  Other trash goes in a plastic bag left over from my weekly marketing.  Recyclables are another story.  I am conditioned so that I can’t just throw them in the pit.  Plastic bottles are easy (and I don’t buy many) – a Peace Corps friend is attempting to construct a building from them.  Beer bottles go back to the store for return of the deposit.  Wine bottles and miscellaneous cans, however, are accumulating in the box that my refrigerator came in.  I wonder just what I think I’m going to do with them.  I’ll probably leave them behind, and the next resident of my house will surmise that the crazy muzungu had a drinking problem.


Slashing.  It’s not a genre of horror film.  It’s how Ugandans cut the grass.  Slashing is performed by hand, with a machete-like blade.  Swinging back and forth, it produces a distinctive sound – a sound that sometimes wakes me in the morning.  (Slashing is hard work, best done in the early morning or in the evening.)   Nice accompaniment to the roosters.  Swish, swish, cock-a-doodle-, wish, doo…

A few enterprising Ugandans have made a business of slashing compounds - usually at businesses, government offices or NGOs - with an updated technology.  The weed whacker.  Yes, the entire yard is mowed with a weed whacker.  One of the most annoying sounds in the universe.  Consider that the day they whack the CEREDO compound we get to hear it… all… day… long.

Other Yardwork

My house is a cement rectangle, surrounded by a concrete “veranda” three feet wide and about 6 inches off the ground.  Beyond the veranda there is bare dirt, 10 feet deep, all round.  The dirt is compacted and hard, except after a good rain.  Weeds and grass like to take hold, but the dirt MUST be kept clear of vegetation.  Every Ugandan home, mud hut or concrete, has this dirt “border”.  People not only weed it, they also sweep it.  You can imagine my surprise the first time I saw someone sweeping the dirt.  It may be dirt, but it’s clean dirt!  I think there is a practical purpose to it – bare dirt is not hospitable to snakes, toads, rats and other critters.  I’ll sweep anything if it means none of those guys in my house.  Bats, geckos, spiders, and the occasional cockroach are more than enough excitement.

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