Friday, October 21, 2016

The Smells of “Home”

As many of you may have heard, or may not have heard, I am now back home in Alabama.  I have been medically evacuated for a series of issues ranging from security problems to my physical health to emotional health. To say the least, it’s been a rough few months. But rest assured, I am home safe and sound, and working to get back to Cameroon if my doctors, Peace Corps people, and myself decide that that’d be the right choice for me. 
            It’s been a whirlwind of changes over the last week.  They only decided to evacuate me the Friday before last, that Saturday I took the GRE test in Yaounde, then Sunday I went home, spent a wonderful last night in my house in Bamena, surrounded by some of my closest volunteer friends, who helped me get my house to an unknowing state of disorder and rest, we had a last spaghetti omelet in my village, where we were harassed and bothered by a very drunk old man who made me feel very sure that Peace Corps’ decision to send me home for a bit was the right one, and then Monday morning I travelled back to Yaounde to fly home on Tuesday. 

I got into Birmingham after 30 hours (not including the time it took to get from Bamena to Yaounde) of airport terminals, too small airplane seats, and reheated meals coming in paper or tin boxes “elegantly” spattered on to plastic trays.   Needless to say, it was a huge relief to finally arrive in the once familiar Birmingham airport.  My parents picked me up, and, following an old family tradition, we went straight to one of my favorite Birmingham Breweries: Avondale Brewing Company.  There I saw my good friend Dallas, who became a father in the time I’ve been gone! And I had my first on tap IPA on American soil in a year and a half. I deliriously sipped my beer and tried to focus on my parents’ faces as we chatted about something that I can’t remember.  I responded to all the questions I was asked, I think.  But I was, and have been since getting back, lost in sensations. 

          The upwards view from the patio in my backyard in Birmingham, Alabama 

It is incredibly bizarre to feel like you are coming home to a place not because the sights and people are the same, because many of those have changed over the time I’ve been gone, but because the smells are the same.  Alabama will forever hold the smell of humidity, and pine trees wrapped in warmth.  Vague wafts of barbeque and red clay, brewing hops, and green grass, and something that I don’t think I will ever be able to describe as anything more than just “that Birmingham smell”.  After so long away, I’d forgotten how wonderful those smells are. 
            Cameroon is a very pungent place, but in general I wouldn’t describe the smells of Cameroon as being particularly enticing.  I think that if I came from Cameroon I would find the smell of fufu and legumes, red palm oil, body heat, the giant jealousy flowers, , as welcoming as I suddenly found the smells in Birmingham, but of all the things I grew to love in Cameroon, the smells were never one of them. 

Adora: the "thing" from Cameroon I miss the most. 
Someone who often smelled like cheap soap, dirty clothes, mud, and smiles.
And the person I'm most scared I'll never see again.

            It has been so long since I’ve been constantly surrounded by thoroughly cleaned clothes smelling of dryer sheets, women with body spray and perfume, constant smells of shampoo and conditioner, and not to mention the smell of trees. Trees were everywhere in my village, but I never once distinguished their smells from the mass of dust, mud, and over-ripe guavas. My family keeps laughing at my over sensitive nose (this makes me a super smeller right?), but each person I walk by holds a different “scent” often somewhat chemical, with bits of flower or spice or something to it, as opposed to the varying degrees of body odor that my village friends sported. It is so wonderful to walk into my house in Birmingham and be greeted by the smells of my mother’s garden, roasted coffee, and an underlying smell of rosemary, mint, and basil.

My dog Bacchus staring off our back porch

            In the last week, I feel as though my eyes and mind have been lying to me.  With how quickly I made it home, I can’t quite convince myself that it’s real. Even with my mom’s arms wrapped around me, it seems like an elaborate dream.  The only thing that is keeping me from discounting it completely is the smell. When I start to panic about where I am, what I’m doing, whether or not I’ll ever make it back to say goodbye to Adora, or my friends, I need only take a deep breathe through my nose, and instantly I feel more at ease.
            I am sure this sensation will fade, and I will eventually readjust myself to the smells and sensation that make up home in Birmingham, but for the moment, I’m taking every smell as it comes.