Most Puerto Ricans have gone without power for more than a month. Some lucky ones have kept the lights on with expensive—and noisy—diesel generators. The rest are making do without the usual comforts of air conditioning, ice, and washing machines.
But where many see a cumbersome chore, others see opportunity.
Entrepreneurs across the island are bringing back the washboard. In pharmacies and supermarkets, and in car trunks along the sides of roads, you can see them peddling their old-school wares. Some are fabricated in wood, others in composite materials. One version in the town of Guayama, which remains completely off the grid, appealed to patriotic fervor awakened by hurricane Maria. It was emblazoned with the post-Maria slogan “Puerto Rico Se Levanta,” or Puerto Rico Rises.
“Take this one for $15,” its vendor offered. “It’ll last you a lifetime.” Hopefully, Puerto Ricans won’t be in the dark for that long. In the meantime, the washboard is making an easier task of everyday laundry.
Others are taking human-powered washing technology to the next level. Witness this homemade washing machine, made with two buckets—one of them perforated and inside the other—and a toilet plunger. The sister of its fabricator, a clerk at a pastry shop, proudly shared with me how it operates on a video.
It even has a spin cycle achieved by hanging it from a tree with a rope, and giving it a good twist.