I’m in the middle of the bush in south east Nigeria. Lying in bed staring at the ceiling with my arms over my head I catch a whiff of something completely human. Not acrid or putrid or rank, just very strong. And human. It takes me a second to realise that its me. I forgot what I smelled like, the I before deodorant, body spray and expensive french perfume.
Its not an unpleasant smell and people aren’t moving away from me or holding their noses but I am of course completely outraged!
“Smell? B.O.? Me keh?!! This is not acceptable!” screams my inner prima donna raised on Cosmo and Vogue.
But I’m in the middle of the bush in eastern Nigeria and I’ve run out of deodorant so whether I find it acceptable or not, whether its below minimum standards of civilisation or whether its an infringement of my fundamental human right to smell good is completely irrelevant right now. I have to face the Beast! The Woman in the Mirror! Whose that smell?
I take a deeper whiff. I’m not used to it so its a bit of a shock. I expect it to be unpleasant because all my life I heard that body smells are unpleasant and should be masked with all the vigour of a military occupation. But its not unpleasant, it smells earthy like the first rains or nzu or freshly turned soil. I take another whiff. I like this smell.
Of course this smelly incident is just a metaphor for what happens when you hide the real you somewhere behind layers of civility, responsibility and respectability – like perfume and deodorant. You’re told you should be like this, not like that and so you come to hate and deny that other you that you hide behind plastic smiles and glazed eyes.
I had to smell myself, literally and figuratively, to find out who I really am and that I love the person that I am. And I had to be in the middle of the African bush and run out of deodorant to come to the realisation that – THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ME.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to stop using deodorant or perfume. You don’t have to experience how I REALLY smell. Its very personal. Animals identify each other through smell you know. And some people smell so repulsive there should be a law against them. Their negative impact on me motivates me to smell good more than Cosmo and Vogue – which I stopped reading long ago.
When I lost my job I lost more than just a job. I lost what I thought at the time as the purpose of my life – service through a distinguished career in the non profit sector. But truth is unless you are a rigid religionist or a fundamentalist your purpose can change and evolve. Just like you.
(Warning – repulsive or unpleasant BO could be a sign of ill health, bad diet or poor lifestyle)