How To Do Your Laundry in Pakistan

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  1. Head out to the store and buy some “washing-up powder.” Enjoy this step. It is cutesy in that English-accented way. It is also the last step that will be at all straightforward.
  2. Read the manual for the new machine, all white and shiny, sitting on your balcony. In noting that it says, “CAUTION: REMOVE WASHER FROM CARTON BEFORE OPERATING”, manhandle the machine out of the carton base that the builders neglected to remove. Note – it is a washing machine, so it’s pretty heavy. Wear sturdy shoes.
  3. Hook the drain hose per the pictured instructions, but improvise when you realise the instructions are for two different models and there’s no telling which one yours is. Smile in the knowledge that you can handle this, and plug in the newly purchased extension cord, out the door of the unit and onto the balcony.
  4. Dump in clothes and soap; ignite, using the happy button panel with its many clever icons and snappy slogans like “Fuzzy Wash.” Never mind that the indicator lights are nearly invisible in daylight and completely contradictory of one another. Surely this does not matter.
  5. Listen closely. If water is not forthcoming, open the tap behind the machine.Wonder idly if someone might have told you these steps were necessary. Smugly think to yourself, “I got this, no prob.”
  6. When the water and suds shoot up out of the drain hose, grab the wriggling hose mid-air and stuff it down the drain pipe. But don’t unhook it prematurely, because that makes the machine shut itself off. Get a Coke and wait.
  7. Wonder if you should do something about the power cord and extension that are strung through the puddle around the base of the machine. Gingerly remove them and place them on the sill for safekeeping, while the drain fights to keep up with the rushing water.
  8. When the machine inexplicably stops rinsing, long before the soap is out of the fabric, jigger with the buttons again, and try to make sense of the indicator lights. Curse once or twice.
  9. Try lifting up the hose and putting it in its hook again. Watch the water begin to enter again – that’s good – but also how the countdown clock inexplicably stops – odd. See the water rise and rise until it is ready to overflow. Turn off the water. Lament your soggy clothes.
  10. Pause the machine and look for something harder than Coke.
  11. Jigger with the buttons and indicator lights again. Stand back a bit but then swoop in to catch the hose as it again shoots out splurts of water. Stuff it back down the drain pipe and wait for the rinsing and spinning to complete.
  12. Stomp your foot like a nine-year-old when the machine instead drains out all the water out without rinsing or spinning.
  13. Ask your boyfriend to have a look at it, and try not to hit him when he laughs at you.
  14. Leave the clothes in the machine, and go to sleep frustrated.
  15. The next day, try to get help from your landlord, which is also your employer, and which moved you into this apartment to save money. Wince when your company contact says, “Well, I’m not a plumber! And I don’t have time for this! And the owner isn’t picking up his phone!” Comfort her because it’s not her fault. Await the arrival of the owner, which -never- happens.
  16. On the morning of the second day without help, take the wet clothes from the drum (yes, ooh, they stink now, don’t they?) to apartment 409 down the hall, which key was pushed under your door last night for this purpose. Balancing the bags of wet clothes, try the key over and over. Realise it is the bedroom key, not the front door key. Curse. Return to your own apartment with the wet clothes still in their plastic bags.
  17. Call the security guard to ask for the key to unit 408, which is currently empty but has a washing machine on its balcony, too. Take clothes, washing powder, computer and work to the balcony of that unit; start over.
  18. Start that washer – a different model – following its package instructions. Load half the clothes, since the load that fits in your balcony’s machine is twice the size of the load that will fit in this machine. Watch as the half-load of clothes spin and whirl without any fresh water, with soap particles polka-dotting across the twisting fabrics. Wonder if they smell any better than the other half-load, which is sitting next to you on the balcony chair with an aroma not entirely unlike wet dog.
  19. Test the water tap, and marvel at how it is actually open, which means there is no physics-based impediment to water actually entering the machine, and yet, miraculously, water still does not come.
  20. Ask the guard to help. Watch him press the machine rivets as if they were buttons. Ask him if he has ever worked a washing machine before, and witness how offended he is as he answers, “No, my wife does the laundry. This is not work for a man.” Thank him and send him on his way.
  21. Play with the buttons again, and rejoice when water begins to enter the drum, through no apparent action of your own. Accept that the universe has the right to do such things on your behalf. Settle in to work and watch the cycle.
  22. Watch the cycle. It is ten minutes long, according to the countdown timer. It is very soapy and will surely get rid of that mildewy funk your clothes had when you put them in there. Wonder idly why a second cycle begins after that one, but continue working on your computer, watching out of the corner of your eye. The machine is just getting started with you; there is no rush. Allow a third cycle, fourth and a fifth to take place before you decide you must take action.
  23. Pause the fifth cycle as the countdown clock runs out. Spin the lighted dial to “rinse and spin.” Suffer mightily when the machine does neither, even when you restart the machine.
  24. Press start one last time, getting exasperated. Get very excited when it starts, watch for five minutes as it spins. It may not have rinsed as well as you might have preferred, but perhaps soon you can drag the soap-smelling clothes into the light of day and hang them to dry. See how things work out when you are patient!
  25. Leave the machine for a moment to get a cup of tea. Wonder idly about the construction-type sounds you are hearing from the balcony, since there is actually construction going on, just outside. When finally the sounds get a little too close for comfort, turn to look. Leap up from your chair. Quickly now!
  26. Dash to the balcony, where the machine is literally bouncing around of its own accord. See the machine turned 180 degrees from where it was, bashing itself against the wall and glass door, tethered only by its water hose to the opposite wall. Shriek if you must, but it’s not strictly necessary. Or terribly helpful.
  27. Unplug the machine, and pant, waiting for the bouncing/dancing to stop – even though it takes a rather unnerving thirty additional seconds. Remind yourself that it is not demon-possessed. It is only a washing machine.
  28. Spin the machine back to face you. Open the door to the machine. When it will not open, pull harder. Face the realization that it will not open unless it is plugged in.
  29. Brace yourself. Plug the machine back in. As the machine begins again to bounce and gyrate, open the door to the machine. Try not to think about it. Reach in and feel your hand burn in the fabric that must be over 70 degrees. Unplug the machine and watch it bounce again to a halt.
  30. Call the security guard, and explain what has happened. See him trace the pattern in the balcony dirt, like a CSI cop, noting that the machine must have spun 180 degrees. Endure stoically that he didn’t believe you without this evidence, as well as his exhortations that you “be easy, be easy.” Grab up the wet clothing and towels, computer and teacup and go back to your apartment to fume alone. Give the security guard the key to the neighbor’s apartment, and refuse the third apartment key he offers you “to try again.”
  31. Call the company contact and tell her this is not working. Commiserate on how crappy the company is that they have left her in this position without LOE or full support. Don’t wonder where that leaves you; that’s a dead-end thought.
  32. Wait while the company contact phones the owners again, then wait for the owner to show up with his plumber “in ten minutes.” Continue waiting for 90 more minutes, for all the good it will do you.
  33. Bundle up all clothes – the half-rinsed ones that don’t smell quite as bad, the two-days-in-the-drum ones that are really musky, and the comparatively dry-ish ones you’ve sweated through getting to this point. Make a beeline for the laundry desk at the posh Serena Hotel.
  34. Watch the Serena laundry clerk lay out this assortment of clothes and towels on a desk that has heretofore seen mostly suits and dresses from fine brand names. Be patient as she tallies and double-counts each pair of panties, each small and large towel, each sock and t-shirt. Roll your eyes privately when she tallies two pairs of socks as “4” on the list.
  35. Continue to watch as she tots up the cost on the laundry form, tallying the extended cost twice for each line item. 10 towels at 85 rupees each, she calculates twice on the calculator: and miracle of miracles, it comes out as 850 rupees both times. Give a passing thought to the state of the Pakistani education system. Watch her add up the total, twice, and add tax. Twice.
  36. Give her a curious look as she then picks up the phone and calls someone, speaking in Urdu. Listen as she speaks rapidly, but catch those key words: “smells bad” and “very wet.” Allow “curious” to morph into “furious” when she then says, “No wash, Madam. Cannot no. Is wet.” Feel abject incredulity wash over you when you ask why she counted out all the wet, stinky items, if she had never intended to accept the clothes for the laundry. Ask for the manager.
  37. Begin to cry when the manager insists that it is the hotel’s policy not to accept wet laundry. Stifle the urge to quibble with his vocabulary and comprehension when he says, “It’s not a matter of exception, Madam. It is the hotel policy,” over and over.
  38. Explain that you have no clean underwear, and demonstrate the fact if necessary. Emphasise that you have stayed in the hotel for six months at great cost, and surely deserve just one small exception to the policy. Put your face in your hands and bite back your anger as the lack of food and overabundant emotions start to take their toll. Beseech, plead, and, yes, beg.
  39. When asked, accept all conditions – such as twice as long to receive your clothes, and full responsibility for damage to the clothes by the frightful spectre of “colour bleeding.” Secretly note that there is remarkably little chance of that given that your clothes have been wet for two days. You may raise an eyebrow or roll your eyes if it will make you feel better, since the manager is only on the phone and not in front of you.
  40. Sign away all responsibility. Thank the manager and the shopgirl profusely for this shitty treatment, if you feel so inclined.
  41. Go immediately to the nearest frozen yogurt shop and get a large cup with scoops from each and every tin of sprinkles, fruit sauces, candy bits, chocolate chips and nuts. Do not blink when it comes to 750 rupees on the scale. Eat this and get a frozen headache. Rejoice. You will have clean clothes in less than 48 more hours.
  42. Send yogurt bill to your employer, who put you up in a unit without sufficient support to begin with. Send them the laundry bill as well, but don’t expect them to pay it.Whatever you do, do NOT count the hours wasted on this exercise, taking on the burden of time and cost that your company shunted in your path. You don’t want to know.



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