Washing machine

Each evening in Niger I had dinner with Chatou, the wife of the schoolteacher.  One night, her eyes grew very big as she asked me: "Maimouna, I heard... that in America, you have a machine that washes clothes!"  I confirmed this for her, and she asked me how it worked.  In my best Zarma, I described a large metal box, with a tube to connect to the water pump outside, and with basket with holes in it on the inside.  The basket fills up with water ("How does it fill up, if there are holes in it?" she asked.... ummmm... I don't know!)  I described the motor that agitates the basket with soap and then spins to let the water out, repeating the whole cycle with rinse water.  I had to explain that the power to run the motor came inside the house through wires.  ("You mean you wash clothes inside your house??")  I was astounded to realize how much about the washing machine I just took for granted, having no idea how it actually worked.

At the end of my story, she clucked her tongue and shook her head.  "You Americans," she said, "you've figure out everything... except how to get to the moon!!"



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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.