Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps


9/21/09 Spring - er, Fall - Cleaning

Happy First Day of Fall!

When I woke up this morning, my house looked like it had been hit by a tornado.

I was OK with this. I'm generally immune to the state of my surroundings, which is how they had turned tornado-esque in the first place.

In addition to the usual role of entropy, there were the complicating factors that (1) I returned about 36 hours ago from a whirlwind tour of the countryside, during which I successfully retrieved my sack from Marrakesh; (2) I'd unpacked said sack, but that consisted of pulling everything out and leaving it in a pile; (3) my crazy Ramadan/insomniac/jetlagged sleep schedule meant that I kept snacking all night and then sleeping through the hours that the water is on (~8-11ish), so the dishes were piling up; and (4) I really and truly don't care if I'm in a messy house.

I've had big plans for cleaning, mostly because I have something like 20 visitors coming this week, for Berberville's annual festival.

But they won't be here till Thursday, so I wasn't feeling any particular rush on the cleaning.

And then.

I popped up this morning around 8. I scraped off the henna I'd painted on last night, then decided to celebrate the end of Ramadan by making myself a pot of tea. (Consuming a beverage during daylight hours! What decadence!) I brewed up some yummy green jasmine tea, poured a big cup, and checked my email.

And then the anklebiter squad attacked.

They banged on my door. I looked down at myself. Lately, I've been using long underwear as PJs, so I was in skintight black from neck to wrist to ankle. Covered? Yes. Modest? Um, no. I wondered if I could pretend not to be here. I hadn't responded...maybe they'd gone away???

They banged again. So much for that.

I hollered, "Who is it?" while pulling on jeans and a fleece.

I heard an indignant, "It's me!" waft up from the door. Yeah, helpful. But "me" was clearly a female child, so I figured that there was no harm in opening the door.

Waiting outside were three shiny faces, none over a meter off the ground.


Cute little-girl anklebiters, but still.

One was my little sister, one was her neighbor, and the third I'd never seen before. They explained that they'd been sent to bring me to my host family's house, for l-3id.

Mindful of the tornado-esque state of my house, I told them to wait at the door while I got ready.

That worked for about 90 seconds, and then they let themselves in.

I grimaced to myself as they took in the messy state of affairs. Yeah, I was going to get ratted out to three different families for being the worst housekeeper in Berberville.

I finished getting dressed (which included flashing them, since one side effect of the crazy unpacking is that all my shirts were in the front hall - it's amazing what you can not-notice when you live alone), then packed up all the presents I was bringing my host family for the 3id, and off we went.

[More on the 3id itself will be posted tomorrow or Wednesday, inshallah.]

Fast-forward eight hours. At 12:30ish, as we were finishing lunch, Ama announced that she'd be coming over to my house for tea. "Around 4," she added helpfully.

I thought about the tornado.

"OK," I said with a show of enthusiasm, "You're always welcome."

As I walked home, I laid out my plan of attack. First the front stairs - create a good first impression. (Emergency Cleaning Tip #1: First impressions are key.) Then the front hall - ditto. Then sweep out the living room and living room and kitchen, then scrub them all.

Sounded manageable. I had 3 and a half hours, after all.

I opened my front door and looked at my stairs, aka Kauthar's Storage Shed. Over the months, I've accumulated all manner of useful things in my stairs...none of which really belong there. My bike, which has accumulated dust since its tire went flat. I keep telling myself I'll take it to the mechanic and get the tire patched, but keep putting it off. Buckets of paint and painting supplies from our muraling projects. Shovels and picks from the tree-planting. Boots and shoes, 'cause hey, this is where the muddy outside transitions into My House.

I started by tackling the bike. I filled a bucket of water and began rinsing it down. No point in bringing it upstairs covered in an inch of dust. (Not that it's really been *that* long, it's just that there's a 1'x2' opening above my door, so every passing truck that throws up a cloud of dust adds another layer onto the bike...and everything else in my staircase. Note to self: Kauthar's Storage Shed needs to relocate somewhere that doesn't breed dust quite this quickly.)

While the bike dripped dry, I started schlepping the picks, shovels, and buckets upstairs. After a moment's consideration, I put everything in my roof staircase. Those are *much* less frequently used than my front stairs (by anyone but me, anyway), so a much better choice for a storage site. (Emergency Cleaning Tip #2: If nobody sees it, it doesn't count as dirty.)

Once the stairs were cleared out, I realized that I couldn't roll the bike into the front room until the front room was itself cleared out. So I started on that.

About half of the stuff I'd unpacked from my rescued Marrakesh sack was food. Wonderful, delicious, happiness-inducing food. Some uniquely American, like dried cranberries and blueberries and maple syrup...some Asian but readily available in America (and NOT in Morocco), like wasabi and seaweed and four kinds of Thai curry paste...and some serendipitous Whole Foods discoveries, like a kilo each of brown rice and brown jasmine rice and granola (all of which I have MISSED but hadn't thought to put on my American Shopping List).

So I transported the food into the kitchen...which drew attention to how much the kitchen needed cleaning. It's usually the cleanest room in my house - I have no problem with untidiness, but I can't cook in a dirty kitchen - so once I cleared out the dishes and made a note to wipe down the counters (the water was still on! At 1pm! Lhumdullah!), I started organizing my foodstuffs into tupperwares. The brown rice went into empty peanut butter jars...the granola went into two matching small tupperwares (since the big ones were all in use)...etc, etc.

Once they were packaged, I started wiping down the counters - and heard a banging on the door.

Deja vu...again, my first reaction was to check what I was wearing.

For l-3id, I'd dressed in several layers of clothing...but to clean, I'd stripped most of them off. No point in getting dusty bike mess on my pretty 3id clothes, right?

So I was in long johns and a short-sleeved T-shirt.


I ran to my room and threw on some pants while calling, "Who is it?" I heard my sitemate's voice come up the stairs and realized that I didn't have to worry about covering the T-shirt. :)

"Fatima" opened the door and stared at my newly emptied stairs. After saying appropriately enthusiastic things, she asked, "What brings on this sudden burst of cleaning?"

I explained about Ama's impending visit. She understood immediately.

Also, as I've mentioned before, Fatima is something of a domestic goddess. She actually *likes* cleaning. Her house stays spotless. She empties every room at least once a month, to scrub the floors. She's kind of amazing.

I immediately turned the kitchen over to her, and went to tackle the front hall. Most of the clothes from the sack got tossed into my room. (Emergency Cleaning Tip #3: Pick one room that is PRIVATE and throw everything in there that you don't want people to see. Remember Tip #2 - It ain't dirty if they don't know.) A bigger problem was the storage boxes that have been sitting in the corner of my front room since, oh, last fall?

Yeah, this part made me feel smart.

See, I had two problems, and I'd figured out how to make them solve each other. :D

Problem 1: Unsightly storage boxes cluttering up my front room. Problem 2: I don't have a coffee table in my living room, which means there's nowhere to serve tea. I have a huge table in my kitchen, where it serves as extra storage space and counter space, but that doesn't help with the tea thing. Moroccans expect tables to be about a foot high, anyway, so the huge table would just be weird in my living room. (See, my PCV buddies and I generally just eat off our laps in my living room. So I haven't really missed having a table in the 3 months since Mina came to claim hers back from me.)

Solution? Put the boxes under a cloth in the middle of the living room. Presto-chango: Coffee table. :D

But before I could magick up a coffee table, I'd need to prepare the living room for it.

Which means sweeping and scrubbing the floor.

I started sweeping, then lifted up the ajertil (plastic rug...sort of) to sweep under it...and saw something unexpected.

The ajertil replicates straw-woven mats used in Morocco since time immemorial, so it has a lovely woven diamond pattern. What had never occurred to me was that woven plastic and solid sheets of plastic are Not The Same. Woven plastic has about a bajillion holes in it...and the dust that pours through my windows every dry afternoon has been sifting through my ajertil onto the cement floor beneath.

When I clean - which admittedly isn't very frequently - I just sweep the top of the ajertil and call it a day. Shamed by Fatima's example, I've been *meaning* to take out all the furniture and the ajertil and scrub the floor...but yeah, that hasn't happened.

Looking underneath it, I saw a lovely pattern of diamond-shaped DUST. The reddish-brown grains that coat every road and hillside in my lovely Berberville were piled, a good 2-3 millimeters deep, under Every Single Crevice of my woven plastic mat.

After taking a moment to reflect (and remind myself why it was worth it), I dove in. I stripped the blankets off the ponjs, the twin-mattress-like-giant-cushions that we use as sofas here. The blankets got trekked up to the roof to air out. Then I flipped the ponjs themselves on end and leaned them against the back wall. Since they weigh as much as a typical twin mattress, this took some doing. But it happened. I felt very Rosie-the-Riveter-esque. :)

Then I folded up the ajertil and carried it up to the roof, shook it out over the edge, then draped it across multiple clotheslines to maximize sun exposure (as I'd done with the blankets - my cobweb of clotheslines is handy for so many things!), beat it for a minute, and finally came back down to face the patterns of dust.

And then there was sweeping, and it behold, was very good. And then what I've been calling "scrubbing", but which I should clarify. There's a tool here called a sioq, which is basically a squeegee's impressive line-backer of a big brother. (You know, a squeegee. Those things you use to wipe off the walls of your shower, or that the guy who washes your windshield at a stoplight of those.) The sioq blade is probably half a meter long, and it's on a broom-handle sized pole, so you can use it to wipe your floor. I call it sioqing, in my own personal Tam-glish [Tamazight + English] blend. (Oh, and yes, sioq is both a verb and a noun here.) The concept is simple: once the chunky grime is removed (crumbs, dead insect bodies, whatever), splash some water around, then use the sioq to (1) push the water over every square inch of the floor, and then (2) scrape the floor clean.

Most Moroccan women sioq their floors at least once a day, and the houses are built for it: the cement floors slope downwards towards an open door or else a drain. My house was built wrongly for it. The only drain in my entire second-story apartment feeds to a drainpipe that slopes upwards for a short ways. So pushing water into it is Sisyphean, to say the least. That's the main reason I don't sioq my floor more often. Today, I avoided that drain entirely, and just pushed the water out my door, down my freshly-emptied front stairs. (Since the house is sloped towards the drain, in the opposite corner of the house from the stairs, it's still challenging, but not impossible. Watching dirty water pour back out of a drainpipe is way more disheartening.)

Once the kitchen, living room, and front room had all been sioqed, I had to pause to let them dry. So I went up to the roof and began beating things. I beat the blankets; I beat the ajertil ; I beat my pretty rug (purchased in Essaouira, one of my favoritest Moroccan cities); I just hit things for a good ten minutes, and watched the dust float away in the light breeze of the sunny afternoon. (By the way, today was the warmest, prettiest day we've had in weeks. If it were rainy and cold and wretched, my floors would probably *still* be wet, and nothing would have aired out on the roof. As it is, today was perfect spring cleaning weather. Fall cleaning weather. Whatever.)

I came back downstairs and checked the status of the floors. Dry already, lhumdullah. I checked the time: almost 3. An hour left till Ama arrived, with whatever entourage.

I beat the ajertil a few more times, then folded it up (it fills my airy living room from edge to edge, so is something like 16 square meters, and therefore can't be carried in any simple way). I laid it out in my living room, adjusting as necessary, then dropped the ponjs back down. (I flipped 'em and switched 'em, too, just on general principles.) Then back up to the roof for the blankets. These got draped across the ponjs, as is traditional here: it keeps the ponj itself clean (since those things are nearly impossible to clean), plus it's available for warmth as needed. :)

Then I got to implement the final step of my clever plan: bringing the front hall boxes into the middle of the room and draping them into passing for a table. The boxes had been shunted this way and that during the cleaning, ultimately perching precariously in the bathroom. But now....their moment of glory. I set them up in the middle of the living room, then draped my favorite lap blanket over them. OK, it looks like something out of a dorm room, but hey, it works. Mostly. There's a noticeable gap between the two boxes, whose sides bulge outwards from age and overpacking and, um, being stacked on top of each other for about a year.

I applied some MacGuyver logic, and realized that all I needed was a strong, flat surface to lie across them. I considered and ruled out: tea tray (needed to serve the tea to Ama et al), cookie sheet (not big enough), sleeping bag groundpad (too big), and then I found it. The box for my beloved giant butane heater, folded up and shoved against the back wall of my bedroom last November. It's just the right size, and plenty strong. It lay flat across the top of the other two boxes, with just enough room that the draped blanket hung smoothly down, and didn't get pooched out by the lumpy boxes. Victory!

I added a chubby candle atop my makeshift table (strengthening the illusion), replaced the pretty Essaouira blanket, tossed the throw pillows (which had themselves been beaten within an inch of their padded lives), and gave the living room my benediction.

The house was sparkly clean, the tea guests weren't coming for, oh, at least ten minutes, and for the first time in weeks, I had a home I could proudly bring guests to.

I don't care which equinox it is today, this counts as a successful Spring Cleaning. :D

No comments:

Post a Comment

Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps