Tuesday, January 7, 2014

new year, new smells

Mwaka Mushya, Nosy Readers! I've neglected this space lately, but I’m still experiencing all sorts of new smells in Rwanda. We’ve relocated from Kigali to Huye/Butare, where the dusty red roads, rows of semi-abandoned storefronts, and legitimate cowboys give the place a real Wild West feel. But the people are warm, and Butare is home to the best ice cream and coffee in all of Rwanda (more on both in later posts), so it’s a good move. I will be back with new Nosy Interviews soon, but in the meantime, here are some of the best and worst things I’ve smelled in the last few weeks:

The best:
Image via Mallee Native Plants

  1. Eucalyptus seeds! Have you ever seen these? They look like darling vintage buttons, bell-shaped and clustered together, their star-shaped openings secreting the stickiest rich sweet smell of their seeds. I’ve had a dried cluster on my desk for a couple of weeks, and it still yields its plummy (more in terms of the color of the smell than the actual smell), tangy, resinous scent. Let’s hope I don’t get one of these gum nuts stuck in my nostril.
    (so overwhelmed by the scent that I've gone blurry)
  2. These yellow bell flowers! Their smell is totally insane! (That’s me above, standing under them, drunk with delight. Does anyone know what these are? I must get myself a field guide.) These bloom at dusk and in the evenings and they will give you a new understanding of the word intoxicating, their sexy indolic smell enough to make you wish to become one of the bugs or birds that goes bell to bell, helping these plants propagate.
    An inyambo gets scented up 
  3. It’s been far too long since we’ve discussed manure around these parts. I recently smelled some very fine dried and burning cow dung (royal cow dung) in Nyanza, where the royal herd is kept. The herders burn a huge stack of dried dung to keep flies away from the cows, and these majestic (and smart!) creatures come over and stand inches from the fire to season their skin with the smoke, and make its fly-repellent power last.
The worst:
  1. Burning tires/garbage still holds my top-spot for smells I like least in Rwanda. On a walk, my dear friend D. mentioned how the smell reminds her of her childhood, and because of this, she likes it. People are often surprised to learn that others like smells they consider gross: manure, gasoline, skunks. This might be the first time I joined in such surprise, and even though the odor of burning tires still makes me want to gag, I do think of it a bit differently since she shared her nostalgia with me.
  2. A new contender for grossest smell in Rwanda is the sausage-like aroma that rises up from one of the toilets in our new place (Welcome/warning, future houseguests!). Yesterday I think I came closest to an accurate description when I described it as ‘hot-rot turkey carcass.’ We’re working on it (both getting rid of the smell (me & my husband) and figuring out how best to describe it (mostly me, as he doesn’t think it’s quite as bad as I do—hopefully future houseguests will find they agree with him.)).
I’ll be back soon with some recommended reading and more notes on smells, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear about the best and worst things you’ve smelled so far in 2014.