As I think I mentioned in my first post upon arriving in Africa, the smell was the first thing that hit me. That first night it was a general spicy, smokiness in the air that caught my attention. It was just so clearly NOT Salem, Oregon or Amsterdam or anywhere else for that matter. It was a tiny intimation of what was to come. There were many treats in store for my olfactory sense in the eleven days that followed.
Some were sweet: The delicate smell of some hidden flower as we drove through the vegetation; the clean, fresh smell of the air right before and after it rained; the smell of all of the wonderful juices we had at our meals (speaking of which see the next post: Taste, Part II).
Some were pungent: The smell of the hippo wallow on our very first day on the road.
Some were almost stomach turning: The smell of many vehicles belching out great, black clouds of diesally smoke in Arusha; the smell of the Sterno under the jillion chafing dishes from which we selected our breakfast items.
Some were unsettling: The smell of animal carcasses in the heat as the vultures and storks did their clean up work.
Some were smokey: The strong smell of smoke inside the claustrophobic huts at the Masai boma; the faint, sweet smell of smoke from our own campfires; the diffuse, pervasive, but not unpleasant, smell of smoke as we drove into Arusha.
Some were human: The smell of unwashed bodies and clothes . . . easy to react with mild revulsion, right up to the point that you realized it was yourself (or loved one) you were smelling; the sunshiney smell of freshly laundered clothes on someone as he passed by!
Some were delectable: The smell of the fabulous Tanzanian coffee that we had on most mornings; the smell of a basket of toast made from freshly baked bread at our camp in Ndutu.
Some were herbal: The green smell of vegetation when we drove off road in Ndutu and crushed some shruby plant; the astringent smell of juniper in the gin and tonics that I had each evening; the smell of the lemongrass tea that welcomed our arrival at one of our lodges.
Some were dry: The smell of the dust on the road diversion on the way from Tarangire to Arusha.
But for all of their divergent qualities, the one thing that all of these smells have in common is their ability to make an impression on one’s mind. I think I read somewhere and sometime that the sense of smell forms our most long lasting, most evocative memories.
I think that must be true because how else can I account for the fact that I just have to think of a great aunt and uncle’s home in Washington to have the smell of cedar smack me in the face? Or, when thinking about the china cupboard at our family cabin in the Sierra Nevada to be overcome by the deliciousness of its smell and the wonderfulness of my grandmother and grandfather?
And, now, I have another entire panoply of smells to trigger wonderful memories of Tanzania and the incredible people and things I encountered.