Mind the (Communication) Gap

When I packed for my three-week business trip to Tanzania, I had no idea what clothes to take. I knew it was going to be very hot, but I couldn’t go to work in shorts and a T-shirt. I still had to look professional in spite of the humidity and the fact that two of those three weeks would be spent at a mine site. So long pants and fancy shirts is what filled my suitcase. But I had one little problem – I only had enough clothes to last for one week. I reckoned it would be enough though, as long as I washed my clothes every evening when I got back to my room.

My friends and family know that I am about as far from being a domestic goddess as it is possible for one woman to be. After the first night of scrubbing my clothes in the sink, my hands were pink and stinging from the acidity of the hand wash detergent. After day three my knuckles were raw and bleeding. Dirty laundry was starting to pile up in the bottom drawer of my clothes cupboard while half-washed delicates were strung up on a line in the bathroom in the hope that water and some fanned air would miraculously clean them. If you can picture Nicole Kidman’s character in Far and Away doing her laundry that first week she stepped off the boat, you’d have some idea of my aptitude for this task.

When Saturday morning arrived I knew I had to make a plan and since I had literally not spent one shilling of my daily travel allowance up to then, I decided to send my clothes to Housekeeping to be washed. The blouses I like to wear to work are of the pre-crumpled variety, the type that you scrunch up after having washed them and do not iron. I knew from past experience that my domestic helper at home has a tendency to iron them flat if I don’t specifically tell her not to, so I wrote in the limited space available on the slip: “Only iron pants” in the hope that they would not be ruined upon their return. I marked the slip with same-day delivery and went out to explore.

When I returned to my room that evening there was no sign of my laundry. I assumed they must have had another one of the daily power failures and the clothes would be back early the next morning. Sunday afternoon at lunchtime saw me still without the greater part of my wardrobe. I phoned Housekeeping to enquire about the whereabouts of my clothes and they assured me that they were almost finished with them. Sure enough, at around 2pm that afternoon a lady knocked on my door with the freshly-laundered items. A quick glance was enough to see that my wrinkly blouses were in fact still wrinkly, much to my satisfaction.

I was due to catch the bus to the airport at 4am the next morning, so at 7pm I started packing my suitcase. I noticed one of my pairs of pants still had a spot of mud on it where I had gotten out of a dirty car, which I thought was somewhat odd, but I rinsed it off anyway and continued packing.

The next morning at about 6am, while I was sitting around at Dar es Salaam’s tiny little airport waiting for my delayed flight to get a move on, I suddenly realised what had happened. “Only iron pants” is what the slip had specified and is exactly what the ladies from Housekeeping had done. My pants never got washed! All five pairs of office pants that I had brought along on this trip had not only not been washed, but the sweat and dust from long, hot, humid days had now been ironed and ingrained into the material. I now had two weeks to go without any washing facilities and without any clean clothes.

What could I do? I laughed and shrugged it off. It was all part of the adventure.

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