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Culture of Odor

Last Friday after coming home from picking the girls from school, I turned on the water pump. I do this each and every day around 4:30 pm to 5 pm. That away I know the kids have plenty of water to bathe, etc. (We have storage tanks in the back of the property. Gravity pulls water from there to a tank on the ground near the back door, from there I pump it up to a tank on a stand which provides water for the house.) While standing at the back door waiting for the water to overflow so I could turn off the pump, I noticed one of the girls washing her school bag.

This struck me as funny. First of all I can not remember ever washing a backpack in my life. Maybe a quick dusting or wiping off of a spot, but never a vigorous scrubbing with soap and water.

Second thing that struck me funny was how this particular girl, a teenage girl mind you, hardly ever washes her armpits. In fact many Kenyans don’t think twice about body odor. It’s not that they are dirty necessarily, just the natural normal sweaty armpit smell is something they do not mind.

I on the other hand cannot stand it. Since the day I was born I have been learning what is appropriate and inappropriate on the smell scale. Smelly armpits are way down on the list. Kenyans tend to not even notice bad smells that much. Which makes sense. This land is one smelly place.

You have stinky people, stinky animals, stinky open sewers, stinky animal feces all over the place, stinky rotting mounds of garbage, and little too no money to spend on smell good products. It’s no wonder our noses have grown up differently.

After almost seven years here I still cannot stand smelly armpits. However I have become more accustomed to bad smelling animals, and even an occasional open sewer. (In fact our neighbors have an open sewer stream running through their property. When the wind is right we get a nice rank whiff of sewer.) The girls after living with us for 4 years seem to be more sensitive to smells. Though armpits still seem to bother them little, a few of them at least have developed a taste for the smell of deodorant.

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