The smells of California are the reasons why home feel like home. The scent of driving past my favorite fast foods and the smell of my grandma’s garden in the backyard are what I remember when I try to describe Anaheim.
Accra has a series of scents that remind me I’m away from my sunshine state.
When we drive through the many streets here in Ghana, the winds will sometimes pick up some very interesting flavors along its path. The streets have open sewage systems called “guttas.” It’s pretty much a gutter without the consideration that you could fall into it. These open water routes vary in width up to a foot and go as deep as 1 ½ to 2 feet. During heavy rainstorms, these guttas can overflow and overwhelm the roads, causing hazards for drivers and homes nearby. The smell issue comes from stagnant water. During drier days here, the guttas will develop pools of water that become breeding grounds for parasites as well as mosquitoes.
Our home here in Accra is just about 15-20 minutes away from the University of Ghana campus. It is a large two-story house with an exuberant amount of space; more than enough room for 15 adults.
In front of our gated home is a moat. I call it a moat because very much like in the medieval times, a castle of sorts would surround its borders with a river of water consisting of contaminants to vicious creatures, all of which would keep intruders fearful of crossing. In a similar sense, the moat around our home is a quaint reminder of the poor sewage system, as well as the foul things that lay beneath the murky waters.
During the warmest days here, the cool breeze arriving from the open windows are the source to remaining cool. My favorite spot to sit is at the table across from the open windows. It’s a blessing and a curse. You’ll receive a gust of pleasant, cool, and refreshing air — followed by a penetrating scent of sewage. It is a scent unlike any other. I believe it is a smell that hits the tongue before it reaches the nose.
We were driving home from one of our weekend trips to the Kumasi region and many of us were tired so we tried our best to sleep. I recall sitting a row in front of the last seats in the rear. Our windows were wide open and we passed by what I can explain as a scent that could wake the dead. We had several students sitting in the last row and all of sudden a roaring laughter emerged. Apparently one of the girls was sleeping near the open window (a deep sleeper by the way) and woke up with a look of “What the hell was that??” The scent was so potent that she had risen from her deep sleep. It was a scent that brought her back to life.
I love Ghana. I’ve seen and especially smelled interesting things over the last few weeks being here. The scents here are special and I mean that in the most cliché way possible. Like a bookmark for a memory, a smell can take you back to a moment in your life. Whenever I smell pine needles, I think of Christmases back home and being with my family. I think the smell of plantains cooking on an open grill or grilled chicken coming from the street vendors will bring me back here to Ghana more than the scents of the guttas. I’ve had a wonderful and life changing experience here and I think I’ll find a way to be reminded of that through those scents.