The Power of Humanity to Reach New Heights

The thing about new human endeavors is how easy and obvious they seem in hindsight.

From sailing around the world tapollo-11-920-0o submerging to the bottom of the ocean, humanity is defined by inspiring people solving seemingly impossible challenges.

We’ve designed telescopes that peer deep into the universe and particle colliders that tell us how it all began. We’ve built airplanes that defy gravity (and made the world seem smaller). We’ve even sent men to the Moon! This last great achievement, accomplished in 1969, is what I would like to discuss now.

The Space Race of the 1960s between the USA and the USSR showed how human imagination, combined with technology and science, can make something which seems impossible possible. It’s astonishing to think that John F. Kennedy promised (quote below) to have an American land on the Moon less than 60 years after the Wright Brothers first flight! From our feet off the ground to our first steps on another body of the solar system in only six decades! Continue reading


Hand Wash Only

What is it like to wash all your clothes by hand and have no access to a washing machine. Mostly, it takes time.

Here is how I would wash a week’s worth of dirty laundry while in Nicaragua (or anywhere with a lack of machinery to do the work).

  • Bring your clothes to the local source of water. This might be a tap in your home or the nearby stream.
  • Fill a bucket, pan, or any other large container with clean water. Add detergent. This will be your equivalent of a ‘wash cycle’.
  • Place clothes in bucket to soak.
  • While these are soaking, fill a second container with water. This will be your ‘rinse cycle’.
  • To wash your clothes, you can use a washing board, like I found in my hostel in Esteli, but I prefer to do it the way I was taught in Ghana. The basic goal is to rub clothes vigorously over themselves to agitate and remove dirt. This is a long process as you have to clean each item, one at a time, repeatedly to make it clean.
  • For example, to wash a shirt: hold with your left hand, then grab a bit of it with your right hand and rub over your wrist; move the shirt up a bit and rub again; move it up again and rub. Do this two or three times by re-orientating the garment so that you have washed all of it.
  • Do this with each item.
  • Tip: ring out the water over your bucket first to save detergent.
  • Once you have completing washing, place clothes into the second bucket.
  • After they’ve had a bit of time to soak out the last bit of detergent, repeat the hand washing cycle again for an extra clean.
  • Once all items have gone through both cycles, they are ready for hanging. This is the equivalent of a dryer – using the sun instead of heat.
  • Give each item a quick snap of the wrist to get out some extra water and then attach to a clothes line with clothes pins. It will take several hours or up to the next day for them to dry. Watch out for the rainy season, as you may need to take items down and out of the rain momentarily.

In the end, this process would take me easily an hour to go through my own clothes after a week. Some shirts, a few pairs of socks, underwear, and maybe a pair of pants. It is intensive and draining.

Or, to avoid all this hard work (and time) throw everything into a washing machine and walk away.

This is the great privilege we have in the West, which is to have the money to buy technology to save us work, time, and effort with daily tasks. It allows us time to do other things, like further our education, earn more money through working, or have spare time to exercise and enjoy life. It’s easy to forget how labor intensive an activity would be if you’ve never had to try it, as many Westerners have been able to with laundry.

Hans Rosling (in his TED Talk embedded below) beautifully describes the power of the washing machine in opening up opportunities for the women and girls who would other have to do laundry by hand. I have to agree with him and say that the washing machine is truly an invention difficult to give up.