They say that smells are a powerful trigger for memories. If this is the case, I can’t say I’m terribly excited about recalling my time here. This isn’t to say I won’t have good memories. I’m 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, the acidic smell of overripe fruit that makes it hurt to I breathe in.
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 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 seem to be as much as part of the building as its white-washed walls.
Most of the time, 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 flying through my office window.
I am certain there are more pleasant scents that greet me throughout the day, but they seem to be snuffed out by the present tense.
There is, however, one final component that has proven a bit more difficult to embrace; our office is located right next to the bathroom. Under normal circumstances, this would seem like a convenient perk…except that the 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 drown 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 my walk that is filled with the smell of orange blossoms.
I’m 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 I never forget.
Maybe my next trip to Spain will take me back to Lwiro, DRC in the fall of 2013.
You can donate directly to the sanctuary here to support and all the work that goes into protecting these amazing souls,
*In case you missed it, here’s a taste of the first few days in the Congo…