Efficiencies develop differently in different places. The dorm laundries in college were similar in that they were long rows of big machines, but different in that they were secluded in a basement instead of tumbling my underthings in full view of the street. My bittypartment in Japants had a laundromat nearby for those few times when I needed a dryer, but what I used was the tiny, plastic, water-efficient washer on my back balcony. I hung my wet washing to dry like everyone else. No panty thieves dared make the climb.
The hosts in India had a similar, if more battered and less used, plastic washing machine. They hauled it out with great ceremony for me, and I expressed gratification and was duly impressed, but... it wasn't really very useful, when the power cut out twice daily and once at night.
So I hand-washed, like the hostmom taught me, with two buckets and a faucet and a brush, and a bright orange-red box of Tide just like the ones on the shelves ten feet from where I'm sitting now.* Soak first, wring out, lay out, scrub, rinse twice, hang up. Wave hello to the neighbor kids watching me do laundry on my rooftop. Smile and laugh and duck behind the pants for the little ones, who shrieked in laughter when I reappeared. Sing songs to myself, sometimes, always aware that someone on the road or a neighboring rooftop was listening.
(Retreat into my box, more often than not, and curl up on my bed with my laptop where at least no one could see me for a second or a minute or fifteen)
and emerge smiling, and take down the dry laundry after dark. Or sometimes not until the next day. But always, always, before the boy students appeared that afternoon for tutoring.
I pull my undies out of the dryer in plain sight here. Sometimes I even fold them while I'm waiting for the rest to dry! But always, always, I'm looking over my shoulder or down the table or out the window, just glancing, surreptitiously: who's watching? (Am I shaming someone? Will that kid tell his parents about it?) And sometimes I move around the table, so I'm blocking the view of my ~unmentionables~ from the sidewalk.
But I'm friends with my laundromat owner! He's a cool guy. Speaks Chinese. There was a stray book in Japanese left behind on the table, so I picked it up and started reading, and he promptly gave it to me. Said it'd just been kicking around the place anyhow. We discuss politics and world events, and when the dryer heating broke he comped my wash.
And, luxury: a dryer-warm rug, felt with bare feet.
*It was the brand names that jarred me on a daily basis. There I was, nodding hello to the shepherd who was shooing his flock along the dusty road, and one of his charges would be gnawing away at a chemical-bright reflective bit of plastic that said Frito-Lay.
I've mostly not eaten things out of hard polyurethane bags since I came back. It probably doesn't make a difference. I definitely don't make a Big Personal Stand out of it. But I don't buy popcorn or chips or things like that.
Everything else was dusty, but the imported advertising was bright. The sanitary napkins sold at the lady-run general store just outshone the whole place.
I think of the marketing executives in this city who made the decisions that led to that. I'm still peeling out what I think, and how I feel, a year and a half later, and to be honest all I really have to show for it is a vague bilious clot in the back of my throat. And a personal aversion to Ruffles.