Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On Handwashing my Laundry . . . and the Thoughts it Provokes

I spoke to my father on the phone last night, and he mentioned my lack of blogging recently. If even he mentioned it, I must be slacking off. So here I go.

I knew right from the getgo of this Intercordia/Beyond Borders program that, wherever I ended up for the summer, I'd be handwashing my laundry. In preparation I went to the Stone Store in Guelph, and bought some biodegradable powdered laundry soap. I didn't want my clean clothes to cause any bad effects for the world. I don't think the soap works that well, and it doesn't really have a scent, so my clothes don't even smell clean once I'm done washing them . . . but at least it's biodegradeable.

My friend Brittany and I decided near the beginning of our time here in Ecuador that handwashing takes pretty much the same amount of time as throwing a load in a washing machine. The only difference is . . . you can't walk away. Brittany says her pants are cleaner after being washed here than they are in Canada. I don't think the same is true for me. She and another friend of mine say they like handwashing their laundry. I personally wouldn't go that far. I don't mind handwashing my laundry. I don't like that it takes so long, especially since I can't walk away and do other things. I also prefer my laundry to smell clean, even if in actuality it maybe isn't. I like the effects (and scent) of fabric softener (of course I don't have that here either) and I do not enjoy the things the sun does to my laundry while it dries, such as bleaching it in lines and patches and other crazy shapes (yes, I like the colour of my clothes to be consistent throughout the whole item if that's the way it was made). The funny part is, my family has a washing machine, but I choose not to use it because it wouldn't be fair to my fellow Intercordians. (Okay, I used it once, but only for the blankets on my bed, because my host dad told me it would be too difficult to wash them by hand).

So now I have been handwashing my clothes for nearly 3 months. I think it is fair to say by now that I know my intimates intimately. All this time spent handwashing, if nothing else, gives your mind time to wander and think (and come up with witty phrases such as the one at the end of that last sentence). One day as I was washing my Fruit of the Looms, I started thinking . . . where were these made? Who made them? Were they paid fairly for their work? Do their employers treat them well?

One of the goals of the Intercordia/Beyond Borders program, I believe, is to help its participants become good global citizens. I don't know if that is the correct phrase, or even what it means exactly, but spending time in Ecuador is helping me begin to figure it out.

To be honest, I bought those Fruit of the Loom underwear without giving them too much thought. I made sure they were my size, I looked at the bright colours and designs in the package to see if I liked all or at least most of them, I checked the price to make sure I was getting a reasonable deal, and headed to the checkouts. But here, as I wash them all by hand, I wonder if my purchase helped the person who made them earn a decent living, or, oppositely, aided in keeping that same person in poverty.

To be honest, I don't know which of these two possibilities is the case. There is a good chance that whoever made them was not paid fairly for their labour, and I don't want to support companies that do not treat their workers well. At the same time, though, I kind of like my Fruit of the Looms. The are comfortable, colourful, and relatively inexpensive. As a university student, I can't afford expensive things. Plus, it will be tricky, time consuming, and tedious to look up each and every company that makes the products I buy to make sure they are ethical, and there is no way to know for sure if the information I find is accurate.

What is the solution to all of this? I don't know. But I do know I want to become more aware of where the things I'm purchasing have come from, and how the people who made these products were compensated for their work. And I think this is one step in the multi-faceted, complicated and sometimes difficult, but nonetheless extremely important process of becoming a better global citizen.

1 comment:

  1. this is great Amy, I'm on the same page as you in terms of becoming more conscious of what I buy and who I am supporting when making any kind of purchase.

    also - I especially enjoyed your witty comment... "knowing your intimates intimately." well done :)