“Tenemos agua today?” As soon as those words came out of my mouth I knew I had just spoken some sort of Spanglish. Cecilia gave me a funny look and said, “Qué?” (What?) I started laughing so hard I had a difficult time explaining what I’d just said. What I meant to say was, “Tenemos agua hoy?” (Do we have water today?) The water only runs every other day here for a few hours and I couldn’t remember if it was running today. Eventually I calmed down and Cecilia told me that we did have water today. Lovely. Later on I told Alejandro, Cecilia’s brother, about what I said and told him in the US we call that Spanglish. He called it a “mezcla” (mixture).
After learning we had water and it was still running I decided to do some laundry. That way, as I used up water, the pila (concrete basin) would still be filling up. Today I washed 3 shirts, 3 pairs of pants, socks, a pillowcase, and several of my “unmentionables”. This took me about 40 minutes. As I’m sure many people know, hand washing things takes a long time. Granted, I know I’m not as efficient or skillful as the women here who wash clothes. These women are pros at washing clothes and bedding. (I say “women” because it is almost always the women who wash clothes for the entire family).
When I do laundry here I like to do it more often and in smaller parts. In the US I like to wait as long as I can before washing. The difference is time and water usage. In the US I like to conserve as much water as I can so I wait until I have enough dirty laundry to do a proper load. Here, it doesn’t matter how much laundry I have because I’m always going to use a certain amount of water for each piece of clothing. There are several other reasons why the US way of washing clothes doesn’t work here. If I waited to do laundry until I had almost no clean clothes it would take a lot of time, I’d probably use up all the water in the pila leaving none for anyone else, and my clothes may or may not dry before nightfall.
As I was doing my laundry today I decided that even though it appears that sometimes no one here is organized they are in fact incredibly organized but in a different way than people in the US. The women of El Salvador have somehow figured out a way to do it all. They cook, clean the house, do the laundry, take care of the kids, and often work in the fields as well. Again, I don’t want you to think I’m being sexist because I’m leaving men out of the equation, but most of the time in El Salvador, if there is a woman in the household, she is the one who does the cooking, cleaning, and raising of children.
The ladies at the Pastoral House are no different. I swear, I never see the ladies washing their personal laundry. I see them doing bedding from the delegations and doing their kid’s & brother’s laundry, but rarely their own. It’s like their laundry magically gets done on its own. They cook a feast for a delegation or a visitor and then take only a tiny portion for themselves. Every day they wake up early to sweep and mop the floors, clean the bathrooms, tidy up the kitchen, and attend to any other cleaning needs that pop up. Many times they do the cleaning before anyone else wakes up so it appears as those the house cleaned itself.
A week or so ago I compared the ladies at the Pastoral House to people who own a bed and breakfast. I said what they do is like owning a bed and breakfast only you never get paid, you make all the meals, and have to accompany your guests on all their activities. Then when your guests leave you continue to check on the projects they worked on from time to time. But not only are the ladies here running that kind of B&B, they also have to do all their own laundry by hand, cook for themselves, help raise children, and work in the fields when they have spare time. They are all leaders in their community and attend every religious event possible. They take the rest of their miniscule spare time to help other people in the community who are less fortunate with basic health, food, and housing needs.
Wow!! They are a constant reminder of how amazing the women in this country are! Yet I feel that my description of the women here only scratches the surface of everything they strive for and everything they’ve already accomplished. Words cannot illustrate the love and passion they have for their work and for their lives. I am so honored to be able to spend time with them and to learn all that they have to teach. And I think I’ll leave it at that for tonight.