Whenever I smell a particular cement smell, I’m transported back to Africa. Why this smell has such a powerful deja vu for me is a mystery.
When we went to Africa, there was no housing for us, so the US Government hired local contractors to build us a house with servants’ quarters out back.
Until the house was finished, we lived in a flat. I remember visiting the building site of the house and walking through the cement-wall hallways, and this is the smell that’s lingered in my brain for all of these years.
I lived only one year in Africa, but it was a transitional year for my life in many ways. For the previous year, we lived without my father. Africa was all about getting to know my father again. He was a complete stranger to 5-year-old me at that time. Africa was where I began learning that my father was a strict disciplinarian.
My memory of Africa was of being sick and my mother bringing me crunchy bacon as a treat. Fireworks crackled and popped in our patio for some sort of celebration and I complained that the fireworks made my feet itch. I was afraid of the Africans who looked like lepers, staring at me because they’d never seen an Asian before.
I hid behind my younger brother as our older brother was bullied by the African kids in our school. My older brother was eventually home schooled. The explanation was that there was no schooling for his grade, but I do remember the awful bullying of him in school.
A woman with pastries that tasted like sugared donuts would come to the school and sell them. She wore the long, patterned robe of an African woman. I loved those pastries.
Once I spent the night with a British friend. Her father told us stories about the dolls on the shelves and how they come alive at night, and I believed him. I thought about those dolls for many years after that. In the morning we had liver for breakfast. In spite of hating liver, I ate it.
We had servants for everything — cleaning, cooking, yard work. The servant who served us dinner let the grownups scoop their own food, but he scooped my food. One time we watched him butcher a chicken bought from a local vendor. The chicken was running around without its head. My brother lead a strike against eating a duck that was butchered in the same way. He had begged for mercy for the poor duck and failed, so all of us children refused to eat the duck that night.
I’ve never had the desire to go back to Africa. The thought fills me with fear, I suppose it’s because I was sick so much and had so many bad experiences there. I got deathly car sick riding around touring the neighboring villages. One time the car stopped, and we discovered the road had fallen away and just a cliff was in front of us. The fear of cliffs on roads filled me for a long time after that.
Daily Prompt: Tell us about a sensation — a taste, a smell, a piece of music — that transports you back to childhood.