The Smell of a Memory

They say that smells are a powerful trigger for memories. If this is the case, I can’t say that I am terribly excited about recalling my time here. This is not to say that I will not have good memories, I am just not particularly fond of the smells that might encourage them- the acrid smoke of burning trash, overwhelming body odors that seem to linger, even in the absence of bodies, acidic smell of overripe fruit stings as I to breathe in. I am certain that there are more pleasant scents that greet me throughout the day, but they seem to be snuffed out by the present tense.

Nothing, however, can compete with my walk to work.

Our office is located in the Natural Science Research Center- a hauntingly beautiful memory of colonization, consisting of several simplistic yet imposing buildings linked together by long arching corridors that cluster around small, open-air patios. Despite the obvious state of decay, it is a huge source of pride for the locals and attracts visitors and high-level officials from all over the country. It truly is a beautiful place to walk to every morning…until you hit the hallway leading to our office.

Being a ‘research center’ in a remote area of a developing country necessitates a certain collage of accompanying smells that seems to be as much as part of the building as its white-washed walls. Most of the time all of the doors that line the halls are locked, (the government has still not agreed to pay their workers in full, thus the workers are not working) but every once in a while a door is left ajar and you get a peek at why you have opted to stop breathing out of your nose; various animal appendages and skeletons decorate the walls, piles of stuffed furry creatures cover the shelves with jars of what is most likely their former contents scattered throughout. A jolting combination of old fur, mothballs, decaying flesh and formaldehyde mock any admirable attempts of fresh air to pass through the dark, musty hallways.

Luckily, six months of daily exposure has rendered this aromatic concoction as normal to my senses as the screams of chimps that fly through the window of my office. There is, however, one final component that has proven a bit more difficult to embrace; our office is located right next to the bathroom. In normal circumstances, this would seem to be a convenient perk, except that this bathroom has no running water. To ‘flush’ one has to walk over to the neighboring office, fill up a bucket with water, walk back to the bathroom and drowned out the contents. That is the process. No one does it. I will leave the resulting odor to your imagination.

Interestingly enough, my path home is a welcomed journey back to one of my favorite adventures. I have yet to figure out the source, but there is a long stretch of bushes that fills the air with the smell of orange blossoms. I am instantly transported to Sevilla, Spain in the Spring of 1998- Flamenco music spilling into the streets, the taste of Manzanilla wine on my tongue and the sweet scent of orange blossoms making sure that I never forget.
Maybe my next trip to Spain will take me back to the fall of 2013 in Lwiro, DRC.

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