On washing machines

August 12, 2012, Sunday/ 16:10:00

Last week, an expatriate friend kindly arranged to bring me some second-hand goods I was purchasing from him. The appointed meeting place was a wonderful, relatively new Indian restaurant only a few meters from the Çemberlitaş tram stop and only a few blocks from my home. Anything close to my home is a blessing as I'm in the process of recovering from some major back/shoulder pain brought on by stupid things I did over 10 years ago and stupid things I did within the last 10 months. What was once a five-minute walk now takes 15 minutes as shoving oneself, even with the help of a cane, up the anyway normally perilous cobblestoned hills of İstanbul's Old City is a strenuous venture. So what does any of this have to do with owning a washing machine?

As we sat exchanging the news of our lives, I mentioned that the trip up the hill had been a bit harder than I had planned because I'd already done some hill-hiking earlier in the day to pick up some laundry from a Turkish friend who charges me nothing (that's another story for another day). My American friend, who has also lived here in Turkey for years, gave me a worried look. "You don't have a washing machine?" he asked. My reply “Why would I?” clearly puzzled him.

Last night, I went to meet two American women for coffee before they went to a concert at Aya İrini. During our one-and-a-half hour chat, somehow, the conversation, having roamed through food items and the curious question of the Turkish mail system, came to laundry. Again, there was amazement when I confessed to the lack of a washing machine. So here's the story, so that maybe I don't have to go through a convoluted explanation again.

Back on the far south side of Chicago, Illinois, in the 1950s, there were designated “wash days” when each family living in the apartments of our building could use the sole washing machine and then hang all the laundry out to dry on the clotheslines in the back yard. As my parents both worked long hours during the week and my older brother and sister were in high school, Saturday was our designated day. On Friday nights, we all sorted out the proper piles of whites, darks and reds. Early Saturday morning, my mother and I toted wooden laundry baskets down to the basement where the machine was located. Oh, how I wish I could properly describe that machine! It was a huge ceramic barrel set on four legs, with a very scary-looking gizmo on top called a "wringer" through which one would slowly push the washed clothes one by one to strain out the water and which could mangle fingers that pushed the laundry in the wrong manner. It was my job to hook up the water hose to the faucet, to hook up the drain hose and put it into the concrete sink so that dirty water would flow out of the machine. While my mother went back up the stairs to do motherly things, I sat beside the monster machine as it shook and trembled, jouncing our clothing around, and I watched to be sure that neither hose became disconnected. There was no such thing as an automatic timer in those days, but my mother always came back down when she knew everything had been battered about enough in its soap and rinse water. Years later, when Papa bought our first “new-fangled” automatic washer and dryer, we all rejoiced.

By the time I went to college in the mid 1960s, independent Laundromats abounded. For a few quarters, one could shove laundry into a washing machine, leave for about an hour to do some errands, return and sling the washed and wrung clothes into a dryer for the desired amount of time. “Wash day” had turned into only a few hours time. Of course, there remained the toting of clothes to and from these handy stores.

By the time I started teaching at a university in Indiana in the 1970s, I had enough money and space to have my own washing machine and dryer. So easy!

Ah, but life has its little ways. In the late 1990s, my late husband and I moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While his company was quite willing to wash his clothing, our sheets and towels for no cost, the laundry kids there tended to mangle my clothing, especially my delicates, much worse than had been done by that old machine back in the '50s. So, I took to washing most of my own clothing by hand. Hot water or cold water: my choice. Smooth out the garment and hang it up on a clothesline in the water-greedy air of Riyadh. I could even watch my clothing dry as I stood there. And no ironing required!

When I came to İstanbul to set up house some years ago, laundry was not of the first things on my mind. I rented a good apartment in the Old City, with a view of the sea and a balcony. It took me a week to realize that the kitchen was the size of a postage stamp and so, like many of my neighbors, I have my fridge in the hallway. The shower room is not connected to the room where the toilet and sink are. Both rooms are tiny. There is nowhere to put a big machine to wash my clothes, so I happily (or maybe sometimes grumpily) handwash them every day and hang them off the balcony to dry. As I stated earlier, a Turkish friend takes my towels and sheets about twice a month. While the arrangement may not be ideal, I am not much worried.

So that, my friends, is why I don't have, or want, a washing machine in İstanbul.

To anyone who lives alone, if you're looking for a “green” alternative to washing your clothes, it doesn't get much greener than using your own two hands. Just think of all the muscles you can build by doing it yourself.

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