Thursday, August 4, 2011

Life's scent

I pour hot water over my tea bag. While it steeps, I gaze at my blooming plumeria tree out my kitchen window and breathe deep, hoping for its sweetness.
But instead I smell death.

Oh, no, not again. The first time I smelled this odor, I spent an entire day searching throughout my house for the dead shrew or rat or perhaps the dirty diaper. Had something died in the ceiling? Or perhaps outside?

The smell—which becomes so strong in the afternoon heat that I can taste it—comes from the thousands of tiny fish that my neighbor dries outside. Eventually the fish will be made into a paste that is used to make hot sauce. When he dries the fish, my house with its open windows becomes saturated with the odor. No amount of candles or cookies baking or onions sautéing can cover the smell. We live nauseous, barely eating, just enduring until this round of drying is done.

I live in a small city, crowded together, on a busy road where we’ve learned to talk over the sound of traffic passing by as we eat dinner. But that same neighbor also grows crops in his backyard (and fertilizes it with smelly manure) and my other neighbor raises roosters that crow all day and night. In this jungle city, flowers bloom nonstop; bright red birds sniff at my vibrant birds of paradise plant; and my yard holds two fruit trees—banana and mango.

It’s country, but it’s not. It’s city, but not. It’s hard, but not. It’s smelly, but sometimes, yes sometimes, I can smell another neighbor’s mouth-watering cooking.

And whatever it is, or isn’t, this is my life. The good with the bad. The hard with the inspiring. The exciting with the ho-hum.

When I prepared to move to a tiny, remote island in Indonesia over six years ago, I was convinced that life would be hard—only hard. I expected to get malaria, never feel air conditioning again, have no friends, never eat pizza. None of those things have happened, though, other hard things have been part of my life. Dengue fever (husband twice, son once), nauseating pregnancies, difficult relationships, long power outages, shrews that drive me crazy and smells—oh those miserable smells.

But life has been good, too. Special relationships both inside and outside of my own culture; seeing lives change; the joy of being a mom to my adorable kids; growing closer to my husband; palm trees that edge big blue skies; watching my husband thrive in a job with purpose, serving people he loves.

Some days, to be honest, life stinks. But I am learning to breathe in the bad with the good, the rotten fish with the plumeria blooms.

What is your advice to handle life's daily scents and smells?


  1. I remember those death smells, not fun! I'm glad you are learning how to breath...It takes lots of grace, doesn't it. I'm thankful you are willing to look at both sides of the same coin. That is God's grace to you and to me as I see it active in your life. Thank you!

  2. Rebecca, I love reading your posts. We feel like we are truly sharing your journey with you.
    Cherry and Ken


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