Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Smell of South Africa

Have you ever notice that countries have smells? When you travel to another country and get off the plane, there is definitely an unfamiliar smell in the air. I'll never forget the smell of New Zealand - Dan and I had flown all night, rented a car upon landing in Auckland (can you believe they let us rent a car even though we had never driven on the left side of the road?), stopped by a petrol station in Hamilton to get a cup of coffee, and... (breathe)... what an incredible smell! To this day, every time I see a certain shade of green, I think of the smell of the air in New Zealand. But this is a blog about living in South Africa, so...

What does South Africa smell like? Or more to the point, what does Pretoria smell like?

In the winter it smells like a campfire. You can always see a plume of smoke rising in the distance from a veld fire.

In the spring it smells like flowers. There is a tree with little yellow puffballs on it, and the smell is so sweet it perfumes the air all around it.

In the summer it smells like rain. The good sort of "wet dog" smell. The thunderstorms wash away the dirt in the air - the sweat and smog and hard work of the day- and we are left breathing in fresh clean air. In the cool of the morning after a thunderstorm... that is my favourite South Africa smell.

One can always always smell the diesel fumes and black exhaust smoke from cars that are in desperate need of servicing. I call it the "Third World Traffic" smell, the smell of dirty pale blue buses and beat up taxis.

I would be chastised severely if I failed to mention the smell of the braai - there is nothing like walking out of a shop or walking through your neighbourhood and having the smell of wors waft past your nose.

It's funny how smells affect us, remind us of a long-ago memory, cause us to feel nostalgic. What does your country smell like?


Chris said...

I agree; I think our sense of smell might be our strongest sense . . . and when I think about how the Bible talks about our praises being as sweet incense to the Lord or the aromas of the sacrifices in the old testament I see how important they really are. Blessings.

ROSIE said...

I know exactly what you mean about how powerfully smells trigger a flood of memories, emotions, and imapact our sense of being.

Today, Mississippi smells like red clay dust, fall leaves, and there's a smoky tinge to the crisp fall morning air. When it rains, we have the greenest, freshest smell...and even 30 miles inland, a hint of salt air in the morning fog.


An American in Pretoria said...

Chris - I hadn't thought about that. Thanks for the insight!

Sis - I'd like to come to Mississippi for the day! Those smells sound (sound?) wonderful! Wish I could share a cup of coffee and enjoy the autumn weather with you!

Becky said...

I totally know what you mean. Every once in awhile I will catch a wiff of a smell that reminds me of being in South Africa/Mozambique. It's that firey coal/ dirt/dump kind of smell. It reminds me of the smell when we would go visit the families that lived in the dump which is always burning. Not the most pleasant of smells, but it brings back the greatest memories!

Petra said...


I am a South African from Pretoria that lives in California now, I've been reading your blog for quite a while now and I must say, the more I read it the more I get home sick! Especially this one about the smells, I miss the smell of a braai or the smell of the dirty air, weird I know. I am so glad I found your blog, it brings back so many memories of home.

have a good one
God bless


An American in Pretoria said...

Petra, you should start a blog about living in California, because now I'M homesick!!