This morning, I spent about two hours washing clothes. I was hanging my clothes on the line when Carelia came out to join me. She was sweeping the walk and asked me to save her my soapy rinse water so she could wash the walkway with it. She puts the radio on and the voices of Mexican singer Juan Gabriel and Spanish movie star Rocio Durcal immediately suck us in. The song is Dejame Vivir, and it’s on heavy rotation. I've heard it everyday since I've been here. Suddenly Carelia is singing Rocio's part, asking her former lover to go away and leave her in peace. She walks over to me at the sink and gives me a pleading look as she sings in my face.
“No tenemos ya mas nada que decirnos solo adiós…”
I surprise her by belting out Juan Gabriel's part.
"No no no yo no me resignare, no, a perderte nunca…”
She cracks up and runs up the walkway, back to her broom.
I keep singing "aunque me castigues con este desprecio que sientes por mi…”
It's a real musical now, so I continue with the song, begging her not to throw our love away. She comes back in on cue.
“Para ti no tengo amor, no tengo amor ni tengo nada…”
On the second verse she comes at me with the broom.
“Déjame vivir, porque no me comprendes que tu y yo…”
“No tienes nada nada nada nada nada?”
“Que no, que no!”
We continue in this fashion going about our work as we sing. I hang the last of my clothes and hand her the bucket of leftover soapy rinse water. She makes like she's going to throw it at me and ends our little act with the lyric: "así es que déjame y vete ya!"
I duck into my room just as she splashes the soapy water on the walk, lathering it up with the broom. While singing duets is probably uncommon, singing aloud while doing chores is an everyday occurrence in this household. At least with Carelia and Lissette - they sing all the time, as loud as their lungs allow.
It's the same with the neighbors. You walk through the streets and hear singing coming from the open windows. Well, they're all open windows since few houses have glass panes. Their singing reminds me that art and music are about expression, not the impression you are going to make on others. Often, the singing is off key but it always makes me feel good to hear it, no matter what it sounds like.
This is the first time I've had a musical laundry session but even without the duet, washing clothes in Esteli is so different from washing in L.A.. Here, the tangible reward of clean clothes is directly linked to the physical labor of scrubbing them. At home, you put the clothes in a washing machine and go do something else and you never have to focus on the act of washing except to measure out the detergent and set the temperature. You are free to go do a job where you can make more money so you can buy machines or services that separate labor from reward. I've come to understand that money is not as powerful here because there are not as many things to buy and when something is available, it is sold cheaply enough so that anyone can afford it. There’s less motivation to accumulate wealth. A lot of people share, trade and barter, making human relationships a kind of currency.
I'm not saying one way is better than the other, I'm not sure about that. It's just another big difference between how things are here and how they are back home. I'm sure that if I had to use the washboard every day of my life, I might be willing to sell my soul to the devil for a washing machine...or maybe not, the devil drives a hard bargain. Hmm, have I already made this deal?
Another thing that's strange is that I often think of myself as socially awkward but here, I like interacting with people, slowing down and getting to know them. At home I'm always on a mission. If I go to the market, I don't want to chat with the clerk, I want to pay for my groceries and get out but here I talk to everyone.
Upon reflection: In case you're getting the wrong idea, you should know that I hate housework. I don't mind the process of doing it now and then but I hate that it feels like a Sisyphean task. Once complete, the satisfaction of accomplishing the job is very brief before it must be redone.
I've developed a bad habit of stopping for a fresco every time I pass the fresco shop. That's an average of four times a day, back and forth in the morning and back and forth after lunch. The nice thing is that you have to sit down and drink the fresco there because they don't pack them in baggies like posicles. So every Fresco turns into an opportunity to talk to someone. Everyone talks to everyone here. In fact, the fresco shop has turned out to be one of the best places to sit and interview people about the literacy campaign. I buy the fresco and they'll talk to me for an hour.