Monday, July 22, 2013

nosy in (& about) rwanda

Kigali as seen from St. Paul's

Nosy friends! Two weeks from now, I'll be back in Rwanda. I'm headed there for ten months this time, and I imagine my already erratic schedule for posting Nosy Interviews will grow even more so. But I'm eager to gather new Nosy Interviews while in Rwanda, and excited to say I'll be collaborating with the way-cool Institute for Art and Olfaction to showcase the responses I collect in a meaningful way. 

So much fun, fragrant, & innovative work is happening at The Institute for Art and Olfaction.

My fondest smell memories of my last visit to Rwanda include the smoky green tomato leaf scent I wrote about here; the damp, resinous air on our hike to see the mountain gorillas, who were feasting on huge strips of eucalyptus tree bark; and the steaming veggie roundels served at Zaaffran. My least favorite smell memory is of the intense automobile exhaust in Kigali. Another strong smell memory that defies such categorization is that of the bodies preserved in lime at the Murambi Genocide Memorial Centre. That is a smell I will never forget, but should I mention it? Is it wrong to describe what it was like to stand in those rooms, windows wide open to the hills surrounding us, a song carried in on the slow breeze from the church on a neighboring mountain? What can I say? For the same reason it feels wrong to post a photograph, devoid of context, it feels wrong to say this one thing, what the rooms smelled like, and nothing else.

On our way to Volcanoes National Park to see the mountain gorillas

But it feels wrong to leave it out, too, to write only about how much I loved the tree tomatoes, how even the gorilla's shit smelled pretty good (all that eucalyptus) and not say also that there was a smell in those terrible rooms, and I stood there inhaling it, trying not to think about what it meant. It feels somehow depraved to speak of certain things in smell terms, but I don't think that's because it's disrespectful. Maybe a smell detail gives too much life to the things we wish to distance ourselves from: wounds, rot, death. 

Here's a Kinyarwanda (the language of Rwanda) word I learned (from my anthropologist husband, whose PhD fieldwork is driving our trip) today: 
guhumura: to smell good, to stay calm, to be consoled or comforted, to not be afraid

If a word can be a talisman for travel, for this project, I can't think of a better one. I hope to smell good, to smell deeply and well (even when my nose resists). I hope to stay calm in the face of challenges that arise from living outside of my comfort zone, like when I inevitably and inadvertently look/act a fool in my attempts to connect, and to not let fear--of seeming foolish, of being sad or uncomfortable, of threats real or imagined--keep me from staying open, asking questions, and sharing what I can with the people I meet, and with you.