Mzungu Memoirs

Repairer of Broken Clotheslines

When we lived in the States, we had an old but reliable Kenmore washer and dryer set.  Robert had inherited it from his grandmother before we were married.  Because they were older, they were fairly easy to repair (not as many parts as the fancy models today), and Robert was a whiz at working on them, particularly the dryer.  He replaced the heating element and belt several times and even the bearings once.  The old models were built so much better than the new ones in the townhouse we bought that Robert had aspirations of switching them, but a very tight stairwell with a 90° turn in the townhouse convinced us not to.  It was a sad day when we decided to sell the old washer and dryer with the last house they were in.  We just couldn’t justify the space they would take up in storage.

In all the years of keeping our trusty Kenmore dryer running, I doubt seriously Robert ever thought he would be working on our dryer in Africa.  “I thought you didn’t have a dryer” you say?  Well, I guess you are partially correct.  We do not have an electric drying machine like you would find in the States.  They do exist here, but they are very expensive, not as big as the ones in the States and belong primarily to the wealthy and elite.  We have a good old fashioned clothesline on which to hang our clothes to dry.  And apparently clotheslines need occasional repairs as well, at least here in Africa.

I had already been through several rounds with our day guard of replacing and tightening wires.  These were minor “repairs” compared to what was to come.

We get house help (local Ugandans hired by mzungus and affluent Africans to help out around the house) two mornings a week.  This last Tuesday, Stella, our help for the morning, was working on a particularly large pile of laundry.  Friday the week before had been a holiday, so we had not gotten any laundry done.  Plus, we had been out of town for the weekend, and that always seems to generate extra laundry.  Stella was hanging clothes on the line when I heard her call for me in a rather surprised tone.  I ran around the house to find Stella holding one of the supports poles for the clothesline up.  It had bent at the base under the weight of the wet clothes (Ugandan metal isn’t very strong, a serious design problem in many ways).  I took over holding up the pole (actually, more like preventing it from bending any further), while Stella quickly removed all the laundry she had already hung on the line.  Then we proceeded to move the wet clothes to the lines I had strung in the garage, the bathroom, the neighbors line, pretty much anywhere we could think of to put them.

Redistributing the laundry was the easy part compared to the repairs that Robert was now faced with.  Nothing is easy in Africa when it comes to repairs, well mostly.   It’s not like we have a local Wal-mart we can run down to get what we need.  And it certainly is not as easy as running to the appliance store and bringing a part home to install.

First Robert had to saw the bent pole at the base close to the ground.  Then he sawed the bent section out of the pole.  That was actually the easy part…  Next came a trip to our neighborhood hardware store.  Robert needed a missing chuck key for the drill he was borrowing, some masonry eye bolts, a slightly smaller tube to sleeve inside the clothesline support pole and some high strength wire to anchor the supports.  He found none of these at the hardware store, but was referred to several downtown stores as well as local welding shops.  With Robert frustrated at the seeming inability to find any of the necessary items and with Caleb, who was riding on the boda with Robert, getting thirsty, they just came home.  After church on Sunday, we did some shopping downtown at Nakumatt and Game, Kenyan and South African versions of Wal-Mart, and found some masonry anchors and a drill chuck.  The search continues for the steel pipe and high strength wire…

One of Robert’s favorite verses is Isaiah 58:12, and it talks about being called “Repairer of Broken Walls.”  I’m sure Isaiah would be mortified that I am even thinking of comparing this verse to repairing bent clotheslines, but I hope he will grant me some literary license.  I’m very grateful for my Repairer of Broken Clotheslines, Restorer of Laundry Facilities, and I sure am glad he is willing to fix them for me.  Because in Africa, handymen are kind of hard to come by too.

“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairers of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” Isaiah 58:12

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