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Tidying the Dirt

16 January 2009

Show of hands – who is disappointed I didn’t post yesterday? Sorry about that. You see, I could not find my camera cord, and the only idea I had in my head required I also have a picture. But, without my camera cord, I couldn’t download my photos, and no photo would have ruined the whole post.

This dilemma has everything to do with my inability to stay uncluttered. Every two days or so I clean up the stacks of books, magazines, papers, clothes, etc. that have gathered on every horizontal surface in our apartment. I can’t really blame Mike because he is actually much better than I am at keeping his stuff in the right places. This fact became painfully clear when I was in India. While I often had to claw my way to my bedroom door through the piles of saris and salwar sets flooding my room, Mike’s life in Chicago was footloose and clutter free.

I am fully aware that one of the main reasons for this problem is that I have too much stuff and need to simplify my life. However, I think a bigger reason might be that I just don’t know how to stay clean. (Might have been a bigger problem if I had ever tried crack – good thing I dodged that bullet!) Sure, my mom tried to teach me, but when you have five people working against you, like she did, how much progress can you possibly make? After visiting over Christmas, I found that my parent’s house, except for D.A.D.’s office which clearly shows where I got my tendency toward clutter, was beautifully open and clear of extraneous piles of materials. Will I ever get there?

Last night a friend who just returned from Haiti and I were chatting about our overseas adventures. She noted that every morning she woke up to the unsettling crow of roosters outside her window and asked if I had the same experience. In India, not so much. Besides the occasional trumpet and drums, it was pretty much just car horns.

Then I remembered Zambia. Yes, roosters did crow every so often, but what I remember most is the woman who lived next door, just over the wall of my apartment complex, pretty much right under my bedroom window. Every morning around 6 a.m. she would come outside and sing a song while sweeping her dirt. Yes, dirt. It was too dry to have grass, so few people had lawns. Most houses and buildings were surrounded by dirt patches or concrete, and every day this woman would sweep the leaves and garbage from her patch. Every day. At 6 a.m.

At first, I found it pleasant, the swish-swish of the stiff broom bristles against the packed earth, playing in rhythm with her quiet song. Then, after two months, it became too much. I just wanted to sleep in on a Saturday. Because if I didn’t, and I was the first to get up, then I would also be the first one to realize we had no water, thereby becoming obligated to walk down to the tap in the courtyard and haul the buckets of water back to the flat.

Many a day, it was all I could do to keep myself from shouting out my window, “Lady, it’s dirt! How clean do you think it’s gonna get?!” But I always stopped myself and not just because I didn’t know how to translate “gonna” into Nyanja. I stopped myself because, as I peered out the window and over the wall, it continually struck me how tidy that patch of dirt really was.

Then it dawned on me how clean most of the places in Zambia really were. No, it was definitely not immaculate by any stretch, but in comparison to, say, India or my bedroom, Lusaka was darn near spotless. And it was thanks to the many women with those stiff brooms who, like my neighbor, woke up every morning to sweep the streets (often standing in their bright orange vests inches away from the speeding cars), parking lots, porches, and even the patches of dirt.

Now that’s a work ethic I need to get behind. Because if they can clean a patch of dirt, I should be able to clean off my coffee table.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 January 2009 4:58 pm

    Wow. You’re damn right about that. Maybe I should go brush the grapefruit peelings off of my counter and into the actual garbage can, not 3 feet away. inspired!

  2. 16 January 2009 7:43 pm

    Maybe we could sweep our snow around. There’s enough of it! and eventually. some time. in the far distant and uknowable future. it might melt for us anyway!

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