House Cleaning Burundian Style

On Saturday morning in Burundi the whole country cleans house. By presidential decree you are to participate in neighborhood beautification projects. To ensure that everyone does this, the police put barbed wire across every major road at 7am and do not remove it until after 10. It is permissible to beautify your own property so most households send their hired help or one child out into the street for public duty and the rest of the family cleans house and does laundry.

I am in a guest apartment in the compound of my host. I clean my own apartment on Saturday morning. As a visitor to the country I could certainly pay someone else to do this and relax with coffee and a book on Saturday morning, but going downtown would still not be an option. I clean my own place as a good civic example.

It is dry season.  The streets in our neighborhood are dirt and sand several feet think. In the afternoon we have Sirocco winds from three until six. It is desiccatingly hot.  You have the option of closing up your house and baking or opening the windows and inviting the street in on the breeze. Literally. I like air. During the dry season you cannot actually get your house clean, but you can move the dirt around and send a lot of it down the drain.

For cleaning supplies I have 1 sponge, 1 small rag, 1 larger rag and a small straw whisk broom with no dustpan. I have bar soap, powdered bleach and a strong lye-based laundry powder. I am better provisioned than most households.
I have three rooms, a terrace and a bath. One of my rooms has a carpet. Lux. You whisk the carpet first because it raises a cloud of red dirt that settles on the sofa. Then you take the sofa cushions outside and beat them. Downwind. You clean your toilet with a rag, saving the sponge for your dishes. One Saturday I forgot and used my dish sponge on my toilet. When I realized what I had done, I simply took the time to boil and bleach my sponge and set it in the sun to dry. I had become exceedingly local.  You wipe down all other surfaces twice. The first time simply makes mud, the next time you mop up the mud. I do my laundry in my bathtub. The family does theirs in buckets in the back yard. But my tub is connected to a small water heater. Extra lux.  Dishes get washed in the tub too.  I do not mop my floors, because there are no mops. You do the floors with a rag, bending neatly in two at the waist, a trick all young Burundian females can do. Middle aged women don’t have to do floors, because we don’t bend that easily.

This is middle class cleaning. Poor women carry water. Wealthy women pay poor people to clean. But they do it the same way.

I can do my rooms in a couple of hours. The last thing you clean is yourself. And the dust runs off you in red rivulets.

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