The Contest

Check out Ellen Sandbeck's papercuts of the Buddha on the Facebook page "A Buddha A Day." Choose your favorite image, then send a wonderful piece of your writing, one page or less, on any topic, to You may win the original papercut of your choice!

Winning entries will be posted on this page.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Winning entry from Patricia Ohmans

This is from a record I kept of ten months spent in Cochabamba, Bolivia's third largest city. While it is not specifically about Buddhism or the Buddha, it is about paying this case, to smells.


A while ago, in a strange reaction to sinus medication, a friend of ours lost her sense of smell almost completely. Although Bonnie has since recovered, months of not being able to sense either fragrance or odor affected her deeply. She’s is a great cook and an avid gardener, but both of those pleasures shriveled along with her ability to—literally—stop and smell the roses.

Almost the inverse has happened to me, since moving to Cochabamba. Here, from dawn to dusk, one’s nose is alternately seduced, soothed, ambushed, intrigued or assaulted. 

In the morning, there are the smells of breakfast: fresh-ground Caranavi coffee beans; a whiff of peaches ripening in the fruit bowl (it’s peach season); my daughter Anna’s shower-clean hair; and through the open window, last night’s rain, already drying on the clay tile steps.

At the #3 micro-bus stop I smell: potatoes sauteeing in an oily pan (lunch for the drivers, cooked up outdoors under a plastic tarp, alongside the idling buses, which chuff exhaust); sweat, dirt and soapy water in the buckets wielded by the ragged, deaf-mute man who swabs the buses clean after each run; cologne from the slick-haired, diamond-earringed college boy climbing aboard ahead of me.

The Saturday market is overwhelming in its smells: wheels of stinky cheeses; bunches of lilac-y nardos (ubiquitous white flowers that people buy to offer up to church saint statues); dry seed hulls from the dusty, caged birds for sale: sticky blood glistening on piles of chicken, beef, and fish.

Of course, there’s always the jolt of urine, or even shit, if you breathe too deeply when you’re picking your way on a narrow sidewalk downtown.

But far more often, when I’m walking down a Cochabamba street inhaling dust and ozone, I’ve simply got to whip around, stop short, and breathe deep, and try to pinpoint which flowering tree or bush (behind which thick, stucco wall) is wafting that  elusive, siren scent.

Jasmîn? Gardenia? Eucalipto? Retamo? Something I cannot name in either Spanish or English, but am deeply grateful for, nonetheless?

Patricia Ohmans

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