SMELL HEAR SEE TOUCH TASTE
All at once, pleasant and repulsive, appealing and annoying. Too much. Want more. Probably everyone who has written about Africa has included descriptions of the sensory assault that takes place from smoky gray dawn through the thick black night. Especially in the crazy busy cities of West Africa.
Smells of dust, exhaust, sweat, roasting meat, impromptu toilet, baking bread, clothes dried too slowly, overripe mangoes ease and ooze around a hullabaloo of horns, clamor of vendors, never-ceasing roar of generators, quarreling shouting blessing greeting protesting humanity.
In and out, over and under, a musical phrase of Afro-pop, a drum beat of Afro-traditional, will sweeten the moment and always lure you back.
You touch each other in tightly packed vehicles; you touch the sticky white pounded yam ball, the spoon/fork of everyday eating, as you pull it apart to scoop up hot meaty stew. You feel the sweat that is always running tickling salting your skin.
Seeing the turmoil that is Accra, Lomé, Cotonou, Lagos without the aid of the other senses would be a disappointing experience since the cities’ beauties are not easily beheld—not with expectations of grand buildings and lush green spaces. For beauty, you must see the people, and Africans in general are strikingly handsome. Spending time in Africa confirms the suspicion that white people are the least impressive in appearance of all of the races and groupings and categories of humanity. The truth is Africans and Asians make the rest of us ‘pale’ in comparison.
Markets are where it all happens and they occupy every side street, roadway, public space. They are African eye candy. Of course every city has at least one giant mall and luxury shops exist in rich Euro/African neighborhoods but nothing of interest happens there as they are identical in every city in the world. Just extra large/extra pricey duty free shops that have escaped their airport confines.
The markets on the other hand are same different odd ordinary enticing exhausting across Africa (and Asia too). Never never never dull. There is always warm meat hanging somewhere and stacks of tires dominating whole streets. But the cloth of many colors and circles squares dots flowers gilt embroidery that most women and men still wear sell sew is the background scenery of all activity.
And then there are the cleverly arranged stacks of mangos and tomatoes and gum and shampoo and shoes in Technicolor bits and pieces occupying every nook and cranny, the very opposite of ‘big box’ stores so beloved of Americans.
About taste. The favorite sense of most travelers. I am a foodie failure…mostly subsisting on bread. I can vouch for the soft yeasty sweetish bread of Nigeria and the Philippines and the good solid bread of central Europe and, best of all, the baguettes of France but beyond that I cannot comment. Four of the senses must suffice.