I think it must be very difficult to go through life without equating current smells to those of memories from our childhood. Often at the oddest times or places a smell will hit me and I find myself digging into the recesses of my mind looking for the memory that the smell has evoked. There are times on occasion were the memory eludes me and I am stuck wondering.
As I previously said, often these smells come at times and in places one wouldn’t expect, Haiti for instance. Haiti is a country full of smells, many of them foreign to me, but with under tones of familiarity.
Driving down route 1 national between Port Au Prince to Guiton, is an experience all on its own, without putting the smells into it. The tap tap, a truck with a metal domed roof over the back with two benches running along the inside of the truck bed, rattles and bangs it way along the route. Avoiding motorcycles, pedestrians and wandering animals. The dust laden air on Route 1 National, the only major paved road on this side of Haiti and the closest thing they have to an interstate, does nothing to dissipate the smells. In fact, though not scientifically proven the smells seem to stick to the dust particles, sending the smells shooting right up the very orifice you are trying to keep them from. The smell along this route is of burning trash. The smell is overwhelmingly that of plastics burned on the road sides in large heaps. Mixed in with the plastics are cloths, metal and tires. There is generally an adult mingling around the fire, and on occasion I see children there as well. I sometimes think that people are looking for items that others may have thrown away. I have never seen anyone dropping the trash off, so I am not sure how it gets there or who determines where the trash should be dumped. These fumes hit you off and on at odd times, you can be riding along in the tap tap trying not to hit your head on the roof or end up in your neighbors lap and bam you get hit upside the head with the smells of burning rubber and plastic; a smell that evokes memories of a car accident I saw as a child. The smell of burning upholstery, plastics along with metal and rubber. The fear associated with this childhood memory causes me to have an even further heightened awareness at a time were my awareness is already at its peak.
Also along a section of Route 1 National, is an area between the road and the ocean is a very lush looking marsh. This lushness is deceiving! The smell of raw and composting sewage, is gut wrenching. The smell is so over powering that I worry that I will throw up and though the view of the crystal blue waters is amazing, I know longer take the time to look at the very beautiful view. But rather, spend my time controlling the urge to call a septic system company.
For a majority of my childhood I was around my father’s excavation construction company. I learned to drive a dump truck in a hay-field, run an excavator and bulldozer. I spent a lot of time around this equipment both inside and out. When on any of the roads in Haiti I encounter a strong smell from my childhood that of diesel fuel and exhaust fumes. I smell these smells and think of my father, this gives me strength. I draw on this strength, my father’s strengths. His strength in being able to make something out of nothing, out of what is available. His ability to listen, ask questions, and to think through things before moving on what he has heard. His steadfastness in doing what needs to be done and working at it until the job is done. Good memories.
About an hour before dawn the people of Bercy begin to stir, rising before the heat of the sun descends upon them. By mid day people are work worn and sweating from the heat of the day. The smell of the human body odor mingles in the air. Though I must admit this is not a bad smell, The body odor is a sweat smell, not an acrid smell; maybe the Haitian’s body chemistry is different. This odor points to hard work and even harder living, that of people who are truly living.
More to come…