It’s probably reasonably well documented that I’m not a fan of housework, feeling it takes up time I could spend doing other things such as writing. However, there is one household task I quite enjoy. One that I find meditative and soothing. It’s ironing.
I know, right? I can hear the screams from here. But there is something about taking a basket of crinkled fabric and converting it to smooth hanging clothing that I find very satisfying.
Many years ago, just out of high school, I worked for a clothing factory as a presser. I had a really cool (well, I thought it was) ironing board that had a suction pedal, so you would lay the fabric flat, press the pedal and it would be sucked tight to the board. It then only took a few moments to move the heavy steam iron across and smooth out the wrinkles. The iron was set to one temperature only – hot – and that was what we used, whether it was silk, polyester or cotton we were ironing.
The ‘we’ I refer to is myself and two Vietnamese ladies, the three of us standing in a row on our section of the factory floor, racks of newly sewn clothing next to us waiting to be smoothed and slid into plastic wrappers, ready for delivery. We would often chat as we worked, the rhythmic motion of the iron, the hiss of the suction pedal becoming second nature, freeing our minds up to discuss whatever we felt like.
I asked the ladies about their homeland, and what they missed about it. I was an immigrant myself so I could understand the yearning for home, or so I thought. It turned out these ladies were boat people, refugees who had left their native land in search of safety after the devastating war. I don’t know about you, but I think it takes a special kind of desperation to leave your home forever, entrusting yourself and your children to a rickety boat in an unforgiving sea.
Migration is part of human history since the earliest times – it’s how we colonised this planet, after all, taking our first steps out of the Rift Valley to find more. More land, more resources, more ideas. Wars have displaced people for almost as long – after the Second World War my husband’s grandparents, scarred after all they had experienced in their native Belarus, applied to leave. When they were asked where they wanted to go my husband’s grandmother chose Australia, as it was the furthest she could go from where she was. They never went back.
And now my husband is back in the Europe his ancestors left over half a century before. And that’s the other thing about migration – just as people arrive, so too do they leave. In search of more. More work, more sunshine, more money, more culture, more lifestyle. I’ve lived in a few places myself, fortunate in that my movements across the globe were as a result of work and love, rather than war and disaster. And even though I loved so much about the places I lived, eventually I came to realise that I yearned for home. The place where I was born, the flavours and scents and sounds, the way the light fell across the sky. And that’s what the Vietnamese ladies told me they missed too. Their home.
Funny what you think about when you’re ironing.