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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Something Stinks in Here


Like most upper-middle class east coast girls, I was first introduced to the heinousness of really bad BO in the tunnels of the Paris metro. If you recall, back in the 80’s a hairy female armpit wasn’t the semi-chic statement it is often interpreted as today (in American circles, that is) and many of the French were not yet initiated to underarm deodorant.

In fact, I don’t think I had ever seen a woman with long straight underarm hair before venturing into metro at St. Michel my first day in Paris. Of course, the men had hairy armpits, too. It just wasn’t the fashion for them to share it.

But oh boy, could you smell it.

Summer stank like all hell down there. But alas, I thought it a small price to pay for being an American wandering around the City of Lights.

Since those years, I’ve become a connoisseur of sorts – of BO. During my many years of travel I’ve noted those places where BO doesn’t seem to be much of an issue, and those places where you really have to be careful who you are sitting downwind from. While the French may have largely changed their ways and started using deodorant, most of the rest of the world clearly hasn’t, yet.

Among the worst places were Greece and Spain (back in the 80s) and Kenya and Mali. But the absolute worst I’ve ever experienced was in Rwanda where I couldn’t get in a car with an FHI driver without sticking my head out the window, and where the American visitors would nearly come to blows over who got stuck sitting in the seat directly behind the driver.

It was deadly. Trust me.

Bad BO can, of course, be exacerbated by two important factors. 1) The local diet. 2) The naturalness of the fibers in the clothes one is wearing.

BO in India, Egypt, and Thailand all had their very own special smells... because of the spices that people cooked with. Frankly, sometimes people just smelled because they were excreting garlic or whatever their wife made them for lunch, rather than BO per say. But you will have to forgive me since it can be difficult to separate out the complexities when food and body functions are mixed to create the ultimate olfactory experience.

In my opinion, the worst BO is found in people wearing polyester and other “unnatural” fibers. For example, back in 1998 there was a lovely research fellow at FHI’s North Carolina office (during my NC years) who was from Kenya. He really was an interesting and intelligent man, but he was living away from his wife for the first time ever, and clearly no one was washing his clothes. – or the polyester suits that he brought with him from Kenya were so smelly already that there was no chance they could hold up in the NC sun. Nobody wanted to go near the guy and the people who had offices within a 40 foot vicinity were suffering badly. It wasn’t the first or the last time in my career at FHI that one of the poor staffers who were also unlucky enough to be MDs were dispatched to have “the talk” about hygiene and cleanliness with a visitor from overseas.

Soon after that experience, FHI added cultural expectations of cleanliness and body order to the general orientation that Fellows and other long term overseas visitors got. My understanding is that often it is accompanied by a site visit to a drug store for an introduction into the various products on the market.

I guess you could call being around BO an occupational hazard for someone like me. I should add it to my CV.

“Has experience handling difficult body order situations while maintaining a high level of professionalism.”

Actually… I just breathe through my mouth.

You may be asking yourself, “Where is she going with this posting?”

To tell you the truth, I don’t remember anymore.

I just know that I got into the car with Paul this afternoon and it was bloody friggin hot outside and Paul (who is usually pretty cleanly and dressed everyday in different clothes) stunk. Over the past 6 months I’ve been cognizant of the fact that Tanzania has not been among the stinkiest places I’ve worked, but it is not stink-free either.

And I thought, I should blog about this. I need to share.

And so I have.

5 Comments:

Blogger Mom101 said...

I am both laughing and gagging - quite a feat, I should say!

this reminds me of the time my dad (you can picture this) admonished an Indian cab driver, getting out of the cab as fast as he got in, saying, "You must bathe!"

The driver answered, "I do!"

My father said, "And use soap."

Silence.

Meanwhile...a blogroll? Really? You're the queen, Haline. Proud to be a part of such a veddy veddy exclusive list.

4:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and you can't forget our Nigerian friends in Belgium back in '89!

lisa

7:38 AM  
Blogger Queen Haline said...

Oh my gosh, Lisa. How could I forget? Those were good times - in Antwerp in the late 80s - drinking cherry flavored beer in that disco and dancing with the Nigerian dudes Joseph and XXXX (do you remember the second guy's name?)

They danced with their arms in the air and oh boy did they stink in their acrillic sweaters! And we wondered why we had the dance floor to ourselves!

Those are among the best BO memories ever!

9:06 AM  
Blogger Mothering Mini said...

I like the new and improved look of your blog Hally! And I'm so proud to be on the friends list! This means I have to keep up with my entries so your visitors don't see stale postings on my blog!

4:53 AM  
Anonymous Mauryn said...

Yeah, they're pretty stinky in Zambia too.

Think pungent, acidic, desintegrate-the- hairs-inside-your-nostrils BO.

I agree with mom 101 though about the cab drivers in NYC. As stupid tourists, we wondered why all the rear windows were down even though it was 30 below outside. As soon as we got in and shut the door, we figured it out.

5:59 PM  

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