Down at the river…

Each week I pile up a basin of dirty laundry, a couple packets of laundry detergent, a bar of laundry soap, softener (a fine luxury), a large cup and a hand scrubber. I’ve learned to carry this uncomfortable mess on my head and hike half a kilometer down the road to the river where I make all the dirty things clean again. In addition, a dear woman by the name of Meva (appropriately called Mama Dorea) comes to my house twice a week and takes a basin full of our dirty clothes, washes it clean, brings it home nicely folded and generates a portion of income for her family. Why not just give her that third basin each week and throw in the towel on this non-electric, laundry business? Well, the first month we were here that’s what I was doing…


It turns out that I want to experience this part of the Sakalava culture…I want to get in on this highly social event…I want to learn what goes on down at the river. So…after a good hike down the dirt road, I cross a bridge and on the left side I go down a hill and arrive at the water. I had seen this prized spot where women wash both their laundry and their bodies when I bumped by in a taxi, and it sparked curiosity in me…


Getting the right spot for washing is comparable to an anticipated trout fishing trip when all the fishermen wade into the water in the early hours of the morning to position themselves in just the right spot. What I saw first were women positioned near large rocks. I thought to myself, “Those are the cleanest rocks I’ve ever seen.” It crossed my mind that those large rocks are pristinely polished because, for generations, they have been cleaned and buffed as women scrub the dirt from their families’ clothes with soap and water. If you don’t get to the river early enough (and I’m not exactly a morning person…) you’ll find the best spots are already taken…


It hadn’t been but an hour during my first trip to the river when a large herd of zebu were led down the hill for a drink. I followed suit with the other ladies and grabbed my articles of clothing, drew them quickly out of the water and waited…I learned that going upstream, just around the bend is actually better because cattle don’t come messing in the water…but any farther downstream and you could find a crocodile. TIA! (This Is Africa!)


Life happens at the river…life happens on the road just getting there. Whether scrubbing the duck poop off my kids’ clothes, learning more language or just sitting together with women; it’s an experience that is teaching me more about this new place. Each time I’m at the river I get instruction from my new friends about washing clothes…because really, this is not how I normally function, and they sometimes laugh because they think I’m not getting Bryan’s clothes clean enough. Toss a load in the machine, pour in the detergent, and turn on the switch… Voila! Clean clothes in an hour with little to no exercise involved.


On the return home my basin is much heavier from the water that remains in the fabric, my arms and entire core are worn out from scrubbing, my neck is tired from carrying a load on my head, and I think to myself, “Western exercise makes little sense here because just about everything Sakalava people do is a workout, and by sundown people are physically exhausted.” If I give up the experience of going to the river to wash, then I give up much that could potentially add to the richness of this place. It’s not the smell of dirty laundry, or the laborious scrubbing, or the cows coming for a drink that intrigue me…it’s learning something new…joining in what my neighbors are doing…sharing in conversation (even if have to do most of the listening)…and strengthening relationships that draw me closer to mutual acceptance in my new home.

Grace and peace, Rebe


Keely is learning with me how to wash our laundry at the river…


This is a full basin of laundry ready to head down to the river.



The age old washboard rocks that aid us in getting our whites…white.


You can see Keely in the distance waiting for Mom to get moving on our laundry responsibilities…

This herd of cattle has just finished getting a drink at the river and then they journey up the hill to forage through the jungle.

This herd of cattle has just finished getting a drink at the river and then they journey up the hill to forage through the jungle.


On the road home I met up with friends who were coming back from picking ylang-ylang flowers from the plantation down the road. They are able to collect flowers and sell them for a small price.


On the way home with my heavier, wet load of laundry…