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Female-run laundry service in Quito survives as relic of the past

By Susana Madera

Quito, Jun 9 (EFE).- Nestled in the heart of an Ecuadorian capital neighborhood, a relic of the past refuses to disappear.

There, in a district of south-central Quito, a group of women at the La Magdalena municipal laundry – some of them now elderly – continue to scrape out a living washing other people’s clothes by hand and thus preserve a tradition that dates back many decades.

One long-time worker is Maria Transito Manobanda, who at the age of 12 was already accompanying her mother at one of the dozen washing stones at that locale, considered the gateway to southern Quito.

She told Efe she began working there herself more than a half century ago – “to have enough to eat, to pay the rent, water, the electricity.”

The work of scrubbing other people’s clothes also enabled her to afford the cost of putting her 10 children through elementary school, the woman said shyly but proudly.

“My parents didn’t put me in school. There were eight of us (five boys and three girls), but they didn’t put the women in school. I don’t know why,” said Maria Transito, who still is unable to read or write.

She said her income ranges from $5-$15 a day, adding that she receives extra pay for items such as blankets and thick trousers.

A grandmother of five – one of whom was born in Madrid and another in London, since one of her daughters emigrated to Europe several years ago – the 77-year-old woman has thus far ignored her family’s pleas for her to stop working.

“I’ll stay here as long as I can,” she said.

Life taught her not to complain, and perhaps that keeps her from weighing the repercussions of standing all day long scrubbing clothes and bending down to draw bitingly cold water from a basin.

“God is still keeping me strong,” she said.

Although Maria Transito has reluctantly agreed to use work gloves, neither she nor her co-workers have allowed washing machines to be installed.

“They don’t wash well,” she said.

Rosa Guerra, an 82-year-old mother of three, has been washing clothes for more than 50 years and is one of the women who on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays receives loads of laundry from customers and, after washing them by hand, hangs them out to dry in the sun in an adjacent patio.

A woman of few words, her back is hunched over from standing for so many decades before a washing stone.

Marcia Vega recalled in remarks to Efe that Maria Transito, her mother, has spent long hours washing clothes for much of her life but that she and her sisters have not emulated that lifestyle.

Neither will her children or their cousins, “all of whom are studying,” that nursing assistant said.

After their mother funded the cost of their primary school, each child ended up finishing high school of their own accord and then took up different occupations.

But since their mother doesn’t want to stop working, Marcia said she and her sisters take turns helping her with the clothes washing.

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