Monday, July 19, 2010

Oops! I did it again... Washing in Guatemala

No, I am not talking about a song Britney sang a few years back. I am talking about Pilas here. Ok, now you wanna know what a pila is. Well, they have public pilas and there are also pilas in quite a few Guatemalan households. My mother in law's included.

Public pilas, like the one pictured above in Pastores, Guatemala are kind of like a public laundromat. The women bring clothes that need washing to the pila, and wash their clothes along with other women in the village. Not everyone has running water at home, so these community pilas are a big help to those that need to wash clothing, dishes, etc... The signs on the community pila pretty much say not to waste the water, etc...

Now the soap that they use to wash with is nasty. Well, maybe not all the soap they use, I am just saying from experiences that I had at my mother in law's house. They have little bags of powdered stuff and these rounded bars of soap (no wonderful scents, and they actually feel yucky in your hands and leave a residue, echhh!)and they use this soap for a multitude of things-to wash clothing, to wash dishes, and to wash your hands. When I first got there, and had to wash my hands using that stuff it was just plain yucky. I actually wish I had gone to the dollar store before I left for some Softsoap to wash my hands with but I will be prepared for next time I go.

One thing I noticed-the pila has 3 basins. One basin is for washing dishes, the other is for washing clothing. The middle basin is where the water is and also the faucet. Now here in the US, I brush my teeth and wash my hands under the faucet. I thought it was the same in Guatemala. Boy, was I wrong.

My first few days (ok, my first WEEK, lol) there I made a couple of screw ups. Ones that involved emptying the pila and washing it out. See, the middle area where the faucet is (the blue pila pictures) is where the standing water goes for the day. They fill up this basin and use the water to wash their clothing and dishes in the two side compartments using plastic bowls. The side compartments have a drainage system-the middle compartment does not. (hubby does tell me that some pilas have drainage in the middle)I thought that the middle compartment, being under a faucet and all, had a hole with a drain, and the standing water remained in that section because the drain was plugged with something-kind of like a bathtub here in the states.

So, the first few times I washed my dirty hands and brushed my teeth I did it under the faucet. Just like we would do here in the US. I ended up spitting into the middle section then began looking frantically for some sort of plug to let that dirty water out. Only there wasn't any. My mother in law looked on, horrified at what I was doing. Apparently hand washing and teeth brushing are done there, but only after you scoop out enough water in a plastic bowl, put said bowl into one of the side compartments and then spit in the side compartment before dumping the dirty water out and watching it drain out...through one of the side sections.

By now, I had done this not once, but TWICE. Just out of habit, and being totally forgetful, I turned on the faucet and spit into the standing water in the middle. The first time, my mother in law apparently drained the middle section harboring my spit plastic dish by plastic dish, before scrubbing down the pila. After all, that is where the water for the day is supposed to be-and it's not meant to spit in or wash your hands over. After the second offense, my husband was assigned the task. He was NOT pleased, and made sure to remind me every day what I needed to do to wash my hands and brush my teeth.

I guess I don't understand why there is no drain in the middle section. I mean, I am short, and when that water at the end of the day got way, way down I had to literally bend over and almost fall into the pila with plastic bowl in hand trying to get enough water in that bowl to wash my hands or brush my teeth. Note to people who build pilas: you will be making MY pila with a drain on both sides AND in the middle. I don't fancy the idea of using standing water that has been there all day to clean my dishes and pots and pans. Flies, insects etc... often find a resting place in that water as the day goes on, and you might literally find a fly in your soup, lol.

As far as washing the clothes goes, I observed my mother in law and sister in law washing their clothing in the pila. They use this powdered stuff that comes in small bags, and beat the hell out of the clothing to get it clean. Now my grandmother used to hand wash clothing in the kitchen sink, but it was nothing like this. At least she was gentle. These women scrub and scrub and I wonder by the time they get done how any clothing is left. Then it all goes up to the roof top to hang on lines to dry. I don't mind line drying my clothing, although I do have a dryer I opt to line dry at times myself. One of my other sisters in laws was lucky enough to buy a washing machine recently, and I chose to use her machine when laundry time came rather than leave my clothing at one of the lavanderias (washing places) because I had visions of unknown women beating the hell out of my clothing in the pila while I am thinking it is being washed in the machine that they have out front. (which is probably for looks and is not even hooked up lol) Lucky for me, I was able to wash my clothing (well, she did I wasn't allowed to touch her machine) and when I gave her my Purex 3 in 1 sheet which I had packed just for that purpose since it is great to use to wash when on trips and carry in your luggage-you would have thought that I was handing her something completely foreign. Actually, they have Purex there in Hiper Paiz (WalMart CentroAmerica) but they did not have the 3 in 1 sheets there yet that I could see. She expressed doubt that this one sheet would clean my clothing, but I told her to just toss it in and see what happens. Afterwards, she seemed amazed that the sheet worked, and ran to show her husband this wondrous new product from the States. I bet you can guess what she asked us to bring her on our next trip to Guatemala... plenty of Purex 3 in 1 sheets!

Reminder to self: make sure you have a washer of your own, a sink inside your kitchen, and a sink in your bathroom too-the Pila will make a wonderful decoration in my home, but it won't get much use. (unless of course the Guatemalan relatives who come to visit use it) My mother in law will soon be getting her own washer, if hubby has his way. We went to check them out and I was amazed at the ones that were made of plastic... yes plastic! Samsung had a few models for $500+ that looked nice, but they were hard plastic on the outside and on the top door. The more durable metal ones were more expensive and basic models of what we have in the States. No fancy HE metal frontloaders that I could see, all were toploaders. Looks like I will be buying my washer and shipping it down there when the time is right-because I just can't imagine how a plastic washer would hold up after a few years.

So there you have it-my observations on washing clothing, dishes, and personal grooming at the pila in Guatemala. Stay tuned for more posts coming soon!

1 comment:

Cafe Fashionista said...

What a wondeful post - I love the photographs you used to accompany it!! :)