The smells of Africa

A comment made on my posting about Don’t let’s go to the dogs tonight got me thinking about smells. The commenter notes that Fuller always talks about the smells of a place. This didn’t really strike me, but the comment reminded me of the smells of Africa. The smell of the Nairobi City Market: the fish mongers, the wonderful dust/sweat/wood smell of the wooden carvings, the smell of the flower vendors and the fruit vendors. The smell of Biashara street, with the spice stores.

And the smell of Dagoretti.

Dagoretti is a little town that you go through if you catch the bus going the wrong direction at the Rhino Park Road bus stop. The bus still gets you to the same place, but instead of going through Karen, it goes through Dagoretti.

Dagoretti is the place where the herders bring their cattle to be butchered. You can smell it a couple miles away – the thick stench of rotting carcasses that almost gets stuck in your throat. As you drive into Dagoretti and past the abattoirs, you see skulls and vultures. Wooden pens, perhaps 2 or 3 meters on each side, and stretching up about the same height, stand in front of and beside each abattoir, all along the side of the road. Each one is filled with skulls, in various stages of decomposition. Vultures cluster thickly around each, picking at those skulls that still have enough on them to be worth it.

As the bus toils through Dagoretti, you struggle to hold your breath for the 6 or 7 minutes when the stench is the strongest, and, when that fails, you try desperately to think of something else so that you don’t start gagging.

As the bus finally pulls out of Dagoretti, you deeply inhale the dust and diesel coming up from the road, in an effort to purge your nose and lungs, but the smell will linger in your clothes all day.

Of course, if you happen to get there on slaughter day, the smell is entirely different, and the trip much slower. The streets are clogged with thousands of dusty, skinny, bawling brahmans. (Although I assure you they don’t look anywhere near as good as the ones at that link!) Usually young boys will be driving them, smacking them with little sticks and yelling at them to move along. Then the smell is one of dust and manure and excitement. The cows stumble along unprotestingly, and you can almost imagine that, in their emaciated state, the slaughterhouse is looking like a pretty good thing for them.

My brother and his wife are in Kenya this week, and I’m *ssooooooo* jealous.