She is scrubbing her cooking pots…,
… which is something she has done for a large part of her life. The soft scuffle of the steel wool on the aluminum surface. The slight heat caused by the friction of her hand moving back and forth on a stubborn dark spot. The sweat that will eventually accumulate on her forehead. And the satisfaction of rinsing the shinning clean pot out. These were rhythms so familiar that they could have been soundtracks to her life.
“You can tell a lot about a woman by the state of her cooking pots”, her grandmama used to say.
Grandmama had grown up in a close-knit village where privacy was an alien word. She had told them stories of her girlhood where she rose with the sun and met the other village girls by the small road near the graveyard. The girls then walked together to the lake and filled their buckets with clear water before the boys disturbed the surface with their swimming. They would then walk back home balancing the water on their heads and continue their morning chores. They cleaned, washed, and cooked. After a family meal, the girls would wash their dishes and hang them outside on a kichanja to dry. The kichanja standing outside could be seen by every passerby. And thus, the careless girls who spared their pans a scrubbing would be judged by the lack of sparkle on the drying pans.
“A girl should never choose her own hands over her reputation, you see!”
And Grandmama had the shiniest pots in her village, she said. She took it upon herself to make sure her daughters and granddaughters paid attention to their cooking pots. And so, as years moved, and life changed so much that no house had a kichanja to show or and only a few households used basins and buckets to wash. When her daughters got married, built houses with running water and washing sinks. When dishes were now set to dry in the privacy of the kitchen. The daughters still taught their daughters to scrub their pots and keep them shiny. Even when they started using gas and electric burners that left no soot cover on the pans.
This is why Staha is now standing on the sink scrubbing her cooking pots.
She scrubs as she remembers the house she grew up in and her grandmama’s insistence on the girls waking up with the sun even though there was no need to fetch water and collect firewood. She recalls the many womanhood talks about being a good woman and ideal wife which included all the women in her mother’s family. These talks gave her guidelines on what womanhood entails. And even after leaving her mother’s house, long after grandmama died, she remembered to clean her pots. She carried her sparkling pots all through living alone in a new world where boys mopped the floor and women carried bricks. She went ahead to study far and wide. She learned to express herself, she learned to lead. She earned the respect of her peers and above all the men she had served her whole life. She was a successful, bright, promising, modern woman.
With time she met him who will become her husband. And they lived through the blissful first years of marriage as equal partners. She marveled at this new-found freedom and saw a new world where her children will be free to be whoever they wanted. She almost forgot the womanhood talks and lessons, until small instances would remind her of her previous spot. These reminders haunted her even after she’d learned to look big, important men in the eye in business meetings while shaking their hands firmly. She did that with the shadow of a little girl who was once told to lower her gaze when addressed.
She would succeed and would learn new ways until something popped up. The misalignment of her childbearing with her career path compared to that of her partner for example. Or when she learned that a clean house alone will not keep her man satisfied and that newly awakened part of her wondered why it was up to her to keep the house clean. She struggled to hold two ends of ropes that seemed to pull towards opposite directions.
And so, months pile into years where she worries about the questions that are yet to come from her daughters. She wonders what use scrubbing would be to non-stick, ceramic pots that her daughters will opt to cook with. Her daughters, who may even opt for dishwashers. The daughters who will not need to memorize grandmama’s recipes because they will have YouTube tutorials and takeout. The daughters who may even decide cooking is not their “thing” and God knows what their thing will be when their time comes. She sees her misgivings and insecurities shadowing her and wonders what she can give to them to hold on to when their stand is shaken.
What does she bring to the next generation of women? She wonders… maybe womanhood talks? Still, she wonders what the womanhood talks with her nieces who want to have long acrylic nails and drink hard liquor before 5 pm would entail. She feels a slight knot of discomfort in her stomach until nothing makes sense anymore. And that’s why when her husband walks in from a long day at work, he finds her barefoot on the kitchen sink, with her work jacket still buttoned. her hands were moving with furious determination. she was muttering about freedom and mothers, her front soaking wet:
She is scrubbing her cooking pots.