Clean is Relative

The Martha in me cringes many times each day over home management. Because if I’ve learned anything in the past three weeks, it’s that clean is relative in Kenya.

It all started with waking up the day after we arrived and sitting on the couch, staring at the painted concrete floors. With all the work that had been done to the house and people going in and out, boy, they could use a cleaning. But I had no broom or mop. Patrick’s wife, Lois, graciously offered her services in cleaning the floors with me, and I jumped at the opportunity to get things spiffed up. I had my doubts, though, when she arrived without even a broom in hand.

She filled one big wash basin with soapy water and another with clean water. After realizing that I didn’t have a proper “cleaning rag,” she went home to fetch hers–which turned out to be an old, re-purposed sweater. With amazing dexterity and speed, she sopped the cleaning rag in soap, and (on hands and knees), mopped over the whole surface of one of the bedroom floors. Once the surface was done, she cleaned the rag in the rinse water and then went over the floor again with plain water, squeezing out the rag as needed during the process. In no time, both the soapy water and the rinsing water were filled with dirt and debris. But she kept going…room after room.

When we were done, there was indeed a great improvement in the looks of the floor. But I don’t think the Martha in me could call it “clean.”

This is my mopping towel. It rarely gets "clean," but it's good for sopping up water and debris.

I soon got a broom and mop, and realized that using mops on floors that were subject to so much dust and dirt was an exercise in futility. So I adopted the Kenyan method of just sloshing on a bunch of soap and water to make the floors…cleaner than they were before. (At least now I get to sweep first!) Marc bought a squeegee, which works wonderfully well to guide the water into a corner, where I soak up the excess in a dedicated “cleaning towel” and throw away the solid debris. Clean is relative.

These pants have been cleaned, but those stubborn stains where the pants drag in the dirt are just...impossible.

Same with laundry. The kids (and Marc) pick up so much dust and dirt that even with my best scrubbing, there are still some stubborn spots remaining after the clothes are washed. The wash water is brown halfway through the daily load, but I finish the remaining clothes in it. And they end up…cleaner than they were before. The sun-drying on the clothes line bleaches out an amazing number of stains, praise God! With the number of man-hours it takes to do laundry each day, we’re playing a new game; it’s called, “How many days can you wear the same shirt?”

Likewise, doing dishes with cold water (and no running water) has also been an exercise in surrender. I use less soap than I normally would to minimize rinsing (since getting water is such a chore). And all the dishes get rinsed in the same sink full of clean water, rather than under a  running stream. So, like everything else, they end up…cleaner than they were before.

And then there’s bathing; several children share bath water and I try to wash at least three children’s hair in one sink full of hot water. Yeah, halfway through the process, the water is light brown in color. But they end up…cleaner than they were before.

The Martha in me protests, but I’m getting used to it. One of these days, I hope to vlog about cleaning the floors. I think you’d enjoy it. 🙂



9 thoughts on “Clean is Relative

  1. It’s definitely not the same but this so reminds me of the trailer when I had to find very different methods of doing things, especially in winter when we didn’t have running water either. I love hearing your “adventures” along with Marc’s stories of ministry. You all are doing a great work!

  2. I was doing dishes today (being grateful for hot, running water!), and it occurred to me that your Kenyan home probably IS “Martha clean!” I bet she had a dirt floor and couldn’t even mop to get it cleaner than it was. 🙂 I’m so enjoying your updates and the reminders of the overwhelming abundance we have in the States.

  3. Cindy and Marc,
    I remember my white feet used to be black with dirt by the end of the day from running outside with no shoes on! I know the soil is hot there and not much grass by the sounds of it.
    I know I had more efficiencies than you have right now but we tried not to sweat it too much! Excuse the pun !

    1. Yup, foot washing is a necessity at the end of the day. Amazing how much dirt ends up in the wash basin… 😉

  4. We just got back from a short stint in Mexico. The house we were staying in had tiled floors, but the tile wasn’t sealed. Our neighbors treated that floor just as they would a dirt floor. Any extra water in the cup, pour it on the floor. Something spills on the floor–not to worry. Just leave it. It really is just one step up from a dirt floor. One certainly must wash one’s feet at night if one went barefoot at all on that floor. Still, it was better than dirt and we even had (gravity-fed) running water. Clean is relative! And luxury is relative, too, to a certain extent. Attitude is a big thing. We can make ourselves miserable by what we’re “suffering” or we can thank the Lord for His outpoured blessings!

  5. I forgot to mention that when we lived in the Philippines, our concrete floors were painted red, so we had red feet (and knees, in the baby’s case). :^)

  6. This all makes me think of our own walk with Christ. Everything we do to ‘clean up’ ie all our righteous deeds are as ‘filthy rags’ compared to Christ. however, we still must clean up, in faith and obedience, and know that, sometime soon, in the twinkling of an eye, we will all be changed. We will be given a brand new bridal gown of pure white, and we will be presented to Christ without spot or wrinkle, as His glorious bride. The bride has made herself ready, but it is not her own washings that made her clean. Only the spotless blood of the lamb. Thank you for your blog.

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