Outi cleaning

Outi cleaning

Outi Cleaning

Outi cleaning



Outi, the domestic genie, is showing how to dust in an Egyptian way.



Greetings from Cairo part VI
Published in Ishtar 3/2007

Cleaning up for the spring

As the spring is coming it's nice to remove some of the dust and spiderwebs from both the home and brain. Here is your opportunity to try the Caireneway of cleaning. See if it works just the same at your home.

Lessons learned in Finland

First I have to confess that my mother teaches chefs and professional cleaners for a living. Not so much the latter anymore, but some basic principles I did indeed learn as a child: only clean equipment will give you a clean result, one tool for one purpose and too many chemicals are unnecessary, carefully remove any visible dirt - then wipe with damp cloth, vacuum and wash the floor systematically - and who needs airfreshener at a fresh clean home. Growing up, I was tipped off that the level of cleanliness of the host can be measured by the bathroom mirror. Guess who cleans all the mirrors spotless before a party? I must also admit that I don't mind a pile of books on the floor or a scarf that fell off the coatsrack as much as a dirty sink or piles of dust floating around in the corners.

Down south by the desert

Since then I have become acquainted with a totally different cleaning culture here in Cairo. Because the city is located at the edge of the desert, there is dust and sand on a completely different scale than in Finland. Bookshelves become coated with dust and spiders weave their webs at a totally different speed. In a couple of weeks a layer of dust appears in a draftless place that would require at least a couple months to show up in Finland. All sorts of little crawling things with and without wings wander around looking for a place to call home. At first it took some time to comprehend why remotes or speakers are best kept in their original packaging, but now it no longer strikes me odd. Here they sell lots of cases and covers for different machines. My own wireless broadband router is neatly covered in a Metro Market plastic bag as we speak. The annual winds from Sahara were blowing mid-April: for one day the sky was brown with sand and it was grinding between the teeth even indoors. After that day I was removing light brown dust even in the fridge. Luckily I hadn't scrubbed the floors the day before. It would have been a shame.

Cleaning is for everybody

Home and its cleanliness are for the wives to worry about. If the family is wealthy enough - and this includes nearly all foreigners regardless of the job - they hire a housekeeper or a cleaning lady to take care of this. Traditionally, the home is scrubbed clean from floor to ceiling before holidays. Girls help their mothers and aunts by contributing to the endless amount of housework. Since young age, the womenfolk are taught how to care for and maintain the home for their own pleasure and that of the men. In shops and the public sector it's the men who have to grab the broom - sometimes literally. Their job description includes tidying up the streets as well as different stores and offices. Almost all the Street sweepers are men. Young - and sometimes older - shop assistants dust shelves and wash floors. Senior citizens wander around municipal buildings with buckets and rags. Here, a lot of time an energy is invested in cleaning. Thus cleanliness is quite important.

Cairo tricks

The Finnish proverb, 'water is the oldest of balms', is true according to the Cairenes as well. They use a lot of water for cleaning, even when there is no need. Pouring water on soil, tiles and stone is just fine. Then the tiles are swept dry and water goes down the drain or on the street next to the front door. These materials have been used in Egypt for millenia. The newcomer, hardwood floor, gets the same treatment. It is not difficult to quess why all the wooden floor materials are an easy-to-match gray. A bucketful of water first and the floor is then given a quick towel-dry of sorts. Before the water treatment you can possibly brush off some dirt, but there's no need for scrutiny. There is a gray coat of dust covering almost every corner as the water presses the dust tightly in the nooks and crannies. Cairenes do not vacuum, even if given the option. If they happen to do so, it will be a very efficient process that takes about half a minute per room.

Another cornerstone is the towel, for You can clean almost anything with it. And we're not talking about microfibers or thin towels intended for cleaning. A good old fashioned towel that your grandmother had is an absolute favorite. In addition to the above mentioned floor, the towel is used for wiping and dusting furniture, walls and window frames. When wiping, it is not essential to rinse the towel with water from time to time: instead you keep on wiping as long as there is any wiping to be done. Dusting is an entire science of its own. You beat all available surfaces with the towel and watch the dust floating around in the air. Where the dust settles once it comes down is irrelevant. Usually gravity pulls everything down: after dusting a chair the dust lands merrily back on in again. The strategies for cleaning curtains are not clear to me yet, so fortunately I still have some things to learn. The most elegantly arranged curtains are pleated and nailed into wooden boards which can then be put up in the windows as they are. With these you at least save yourself the trouble of having to clean them, since nothing can be done.

Dettol is an all purpose cleaner. It cleans everything: floors, kitchens, bathrooms. I had run into Dettol while living in England, so it wasn't a brand new acquaintance. At the time I was getting a disinfectant for my skin at the pharmacy. Dettol, since it is imported, is very expensive and as anything produced in the West is always better in the opinion of the Egyptians, using Dettol is also a status symbol. Many people claim it smells fresh, but to me it just stinks: anyone suffering from migraines ought to watch out. Commercials for all sorts of antibacterial soaps and detergents target families with children. Air fresheners and different scents are also popular. There have been times when I've marched out of a store as staff followed me around spraying authentic lily fragrance straight from the bottle. My previous landlord brought me a similar spray when I complained of a reek coming from a room next to the hallway. It was full of his own junk and hadn't been cleaned in at least a couple of years. I strictly told him not to spray away with the bottle in question and I suggested that cleaning the room could work better.

Once in a taxi I was watching a skillful cleaning operation executed by a man: he was washing a parked car. Here cars become dusty at lightning speed, so they need do be washed often. This time I watched the careful cleaning of tires. After finishing this part the man rinsed the rag - the towel, that is - in a bucketful of brown water and moved on to vigorously scrub the windows with the same cloth.

At home

I watched my own cleaning lady work hard for more than a year. I tried to advise, direct and give strict orders, but a week was always enough for her to completely forget the chat of the previous week and I had to start from square one again. It certainly was nice not having to get my hands wet or do the vacuuming myself, but after that I lost my temper and had to let her go. The last straw came in the form of a towel that was used for window cleaning and then left to soak in the dirty water used for floors. Usually, my cleaning lady left the mop or rag in the filthy water to wait for next week, so that was nothing new. I don't know if she was afraid the water would run out, or what. The correct way I had showed her was to rinse the mop in clean water three (3) times after use. Now I have to do all the dusting myself, but at least I'll save some water and clean the corners.




Photo by Päivi Arvonen

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