Home » A Visit From the Laundry Fairy, June 2004

A Visit From the Laundry Fairy, June 2004

Inside Makola Market, Accra, Ghana

I haven’t been sleeping well on this trip – I get to bed around midnight and wake up, unprompted, around 5am. I’d guess that it’s unfamiliar noises, but I tend to sleep with earplugs when I’m not at home. Stress, perhaps, anxiety about the unfinished paper, or the future.

But in Ghana, I haven’t been sleeping well because of Ghanaians. The first morning here, I was woken up by a new colleague (a possible partner on a new side project), who alerted me at 7:20 AM that I was welcome to Ghana. Thanks. And today, I got awoken by the laundry fairy at 6:20 AM.

I’ve taken to traveling lightly lately, taking advantage of hotel laundry services. They cost far too much, but they beat excess baggage charges, the back pain I’ve gotten from carrying huge suitcases. And last time I overpacked suitcases, I paid the price, losing items from my bags when luggage inspectors couldn’t repack my bags. So ten pairs of boxers for a 17 day trip this time, and a reliance on hotel laundry.

(Nicholas Negroponte tells a story about hotel laundry and Federal Express. Nick likes travelling really, really light, and he carries only a briefcase. When he checks into hotels, there’s a fedex package waiting for him with a clear shirt and underwear, as well as a return envelope. In the morning, when he checks out, he sends his worn shirt and drawers to his secretary, who washes them and sends him another set. Secretaries will evidently do this for you when you are far more rich and famous than I am. Nick claims it’s cheaper than hotel laundry, and in the US, it might be.)

The laundry fairy is a big, intimidating guy, roughly my size, and a fast talker. He called at 6:20 to tell me my laundry was ready. While this was very nice to hear, I didn’t see the point in delivering my laundry this early, and told him so. He explained that it was critical for him to deliver my laundry RIGHT NOW. Who am I to argue?

The laundry was very nicely done, and predictably cost a freaking fortune to get done – $63 at official hotel rates. The laundry fairy was there to negotiate with me – if I paid him $40 directly, he wouldn’t report my laundry to the hotel, and he and his buddies in the laundry room would take the money. If I’d been awake, I might have either a) argued with him about the fairness of said activity or b) negotiated a better deal. But I was half asleep, and happened to have a pair of US $20s in my wallet and thought, “What the fuck. If the hotel tries to charge me anyway, I’ll do my best to get the guy fired for soliciting a bribe. Or maybe I’ll save $23 on laundry.” And I was awake enough to make sure I took the receipt from him… and he was bright enough to make sure I ripped it up.

There’s a parable in here about how corruption implicates both parties, how even those of us with good intentions are corrupted by Africa, or some other crap like that. But I just admired my neatly folded boxers and went back to bed, wondering who will wake me at 6am tomorrow.

Some of my photos from Ghana

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