Thursday, February 13, 2014

love you, stinkpots

Yow! Happy Valentine’s Day! What could be more romantic than the removal of the toilet in your home, exposing a vast waste-well that dwells just beneath the floor? It is tremendous, really, the smell of so much waste, and contrary to my hyperbolic moans and groans, and the speed with which I fled the scene, I suppose I still believe it is good to be reminded, once in a while, of the shit just beneath the antiseptic pink bathroom tiles. And this shit, forced as it is to linger in the city, underneath so much concrete, confronts with such force precisely because it is indoors, doesn’t even have the benefit of being surrounded on all sides by trees and breeze and grass and dirt and the shit of other animals, powering up the plants that fuel our future shits. [Updated to add: The source of the ongoing toilet drama turns out to be tree roots growing into, and blocking, the pipes. Know our power!, say the mighty trees, even as we rip out their roots.]

I smelled many amazing things in January. Some highlights:

Sniffin' hard
  • Early in January, my new friend Mario, who has been incredibly generous with his amazing olfactory knowledge, invited me to a cupping at the Starbucks Farmers' Training Center in Kigali. It was great fun to play around with the coffee notes kits, to sniff and slurp freshly-roasted coffee with expert cuppers, and to gain insight into how professional noses approach coffee. Mario stressed the importance of being able to differentiate between preference and description, something I struggle with when approaching complex aromas. My nose zooms right in on the notes I love (chocolate, maple syrup, and toast when it comes to the coffee I'm drinking most often these days), and I want to work on sussing out those notes that I don’t love so well.

    Mario in his element
  •  Mario, pictured above with an in-bloom coffee tree growing in his front yard, is also responsible for introducing me to the smell of a coffee flower. It was so beautiful! It smelled of jasmine and lilac, two flowers I adore, and I was swooning at the thought of encountering whole fields of these. Mario and Lucius, resident coffee geniuses, have both spent loads of time in just such fields, and their descriptions have propelled coffee-field-in-bloom to the top of my travel wishlist. 
  • I learned that the heady, crazy-making flowers in the previous post are called brugmansia, or, in Kinyarwanda, ikigogo/ikijojo, and that they can legitimately make you mad. (Thanks to Elizabeth and Diana for sharing your plant wisdom.)  
    Ice-chip-sized hail!
  • In late January, there was a freak hailstorm in Butare, amidst day after day of sunshine and near-90s weather. The ground near the National University was steaming as the huge pieces of hail melted, and this seemed to set off every fragrant plant in the area—my husband and I could smell blasts of eucalyptus and lemongrass from the car even with the windows rolled up. There was also a super-intense curry-like smell that reminded me very much of asafoetida. We found the scratchy little leaves that were giving off the hing-smell, and I'll endeavor to find out what the plant is called (when the leaves dried, they smelled much fruitier, almost plummy or currant-like. Nature is nuts!).
In spite of the hail, it's the short dry season in Rwanda, and this means the return of what I've come to think of as dusty B.O. The hot sun leads to sweatier humans, to be sure, but I think there's a particular bite to the B.O. that's mixing with so much kicked-up dust. It’s one of the first smell-changes I noticed in myself when I arrived in dusty Kigali last summer. I want to learn to embrace elements of this powerful stink, to again distinguish between preference and description, and to fight against the fact that I was, like many Americans, “born with deodorant in [my] hand.” (Click that link for great interview with Sissel Tolaas in Swallow magazine.) To understand a place, to know a person, you must smell them at their worst. Not that I think it’s possible to understand anywhere, to really know anyone, but the joy comes in the endeavor, the trek through all that shit.


Eedo said...

The first picture looks great, someone knows what she is doing! ;)

Andre Moreau said...

nice article but... "super-intense curry-like smell that reminded me very much of asafoetida" :-) it's not clear if it's a compliment !!! :-) :-) :-).

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