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Cleaning Wasn’t Going to Floor Me!

Sawyer, Maia’s ‘chief advisor’ . . .

The most delightful thing about being a new immigrant is that it awakens our sense of wonder. We receive the gift of a second childhood, where every new learning experience offers the joy of discovery.

Well … almost every new learning experience offers joy. Washing my floor, of all things, presented my most difficult challenge.

The day I move into my Tel Aviv apartment, I notice a stick attached to what looks like a blue and orange window wiper with two orange "mini-sticks". My Israeli friend Hana is surprised that I had no idea what this device is. "It's for washing the floor," she says. She points to a pile of big, heavy rags. "You take a rag, you put it in a bucket of soap and water, you put it on the stick and you clean."

What seemed self-evident to her makes no sense to me.

Within a few days, my apartment is filling with dust, sand and dog hair. Suffering from the stress of Dog Aliyah, Sawyer now sheds more in one day than his entire previous life.

Another learning experience! This is what happens when you move a human-with-dog to a desert near a beach.

Figuring that I'd better advance the schedule for floor-washing, I go to the store to buy a bucket and broom. Since I don't yet understand Hebrew, I search for a bottle that has a picture of a floor on its label.

Back home, I'm ready to start. I put the rag in the soapy water and wonder how one wraps it around a stick. I try every possibility: I wrap it around the wiper. Scrub, scrub, scrub. It falls off. I wrap it around the orange mini-sticks and the wiper. Scrub, scrub, scrub. It falls off.
I wrap it vertically; then horizontally. With each attempt the water gets dirtier, the floor gets soaked, but nothing is getting clean. I'm faced with sticky piles of dust, sand and dog hair everywhere. I'm also soaked from dealing with the big, heavy, dirty and saturated rag. It takes a whole roll of paper towels to clean it up; it takes a shower to clean me up.

I'm becoming obsessed as I stare at this simple, little object that's getting the better of me. It shouldn't be so hard. I'm a high-IQ professional who's mastered seven careers! And I'm living in a high-tech country! I search in vain on the stick for a Bluetooth icon that would allow me to operate it from my phone.

OK, what would my husband have done? Of course! I go to YouTube.

Out of over a thousand videos on floor cleaning there's exactly one that shows an Israeli stick and rag. And I am in shock as I watch it. There is nothing about the crucial wrapping technique. All it shows is a woman pushing dirty water out her front door. For the first time, possibly in history, YouTube has no answers.

The next day I buy an I-Robot, a little round vacuum that cleans by itself, just to keep up with the daily dirt. I pay twice as much as I would in the U.S. This is definitely not something my husband would have done. But he understood triage, so maybe he would forgive me.

Week three of aliyah. Back to the store. I can't stand the thought of the big, wet, filthy rag, so I buy a bag of disposables. Hey, they have a hole in the middle! So, maybe that's how they stay on! And they're pre-soaped so if I pour clean water on the floor, I won't need to deal with the bucket full of dirty water.

I don't believe it – or "what a movie" in the Hebrew idiom I'm learning: Even the disposables with holes in the middle keep crumpling and falling off. They become as filthy as the old rags, but at least I can throw them away. Four hours later, I've managed to clean the living room; I've used the entire bag of disposables plus a whole roll of paper towels to soak up the water.

Now I'm really obsessed. But truthfully, maybe there's more at work here than just trying to clean the floor.

It's been a tough year. My older dog died. Then my husband died in Jerusalem on our pre-aliyah trip. I buried him here, returned to New York, sold our house, left our possessions and made aliyah with Sawyer. Now I find myself trying to make order and it dawns on me that I'm no longer sure what "order" even means.

Microfiber! The thought of microfiber jolts me into action once again. Maybe a microfiber rag would be better. Back to the store at the start of week four.

I need a new water technique to avoid another flood. I put clean water and washing liquid in my salad dressing bottle and shake it up. I pour a dainty little amount on the floor. Scrub, scrub, scrub. The microfiber rag stays on the stick longer. I take great comfort in the fact that I seem to be making progress. I rinse it in the sink with clean water, an improvement over the bucket. Scrub, scrub, scrub. Half the day disappears and I still need paper towels to absorb the water and clean the puddle marks, footprints and paw prints.

If this is as good as it gets it's not good. But I seem to be out of alternatives.

Week five. My friend Amir and his nine-year-old daughter, Jasmine, come to visit. I pour my heart out to them about my failure to clean the floor. I take out the stick and the microfiber rag. "A Spongy!" they exclaim together.
To demonstrate my difficulty, I begin wrapping the microfiber around the blue wiper and orange mini-sticks. They try very hard not to laugh.
Amir points out the problem: The rag is not intended to be wrapped around the wiper and the orange mini-sticks, it's supposed to be folded over the wiper, allowing the user to wash the floor with a fully extended rag.

Jasmine shows me that the mini-sticks are clips designed to hold the rag in place, but that my clips are broken. "See the tape wrapped around them?" she asks.

Of course, I see the tape. I just assumed that people who choose such primitive tools would also need tape.

Amir tells me that he never even used the clip. "In the old days, there was just a wiper," he says.

Salt in the wound. Someone way younger than me is talking about the old days before the invention of the clip.

Week Six. I do not go out to buy a clip-enhanced stick; I use Amir and Jasmine's training and it takes me only two hours to wash my entire apartment. No flood because I'm using less water. And only a quarter roll of paper towels to clean up the dirt the microfiber leaves on the floor. I did it! I feel the sense of wonder.

Suddenly I have a vision. I see my mechanically-minded husband, who could make anything work, looking at me with the stick and the rag and shaking with laughter. I laugh with him, shrug in resignation, and have my first thought in Hebrew: "y'hieh beseder".

Yes, Herb. My lifelong soulmate. It will be okay. 

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