Have you ever been in a crowded place waiting, like a hospital or bank, and all of a sudden been keenly aware of a pungent odor that sort of turns your stomach but you can’t find the smelly source?

In the United States, you don’t run into that many people who smell bad. Americans have been convinced/brainwashed/conned into bathing everyday, wearing deodorant, putting on cologne, wearing their clothes only for brief amounts of time before washing to the degree that unless you are 5’3″ and stuck on a crowded subway next to the guy who just finished a double-header basketball game holding onto the safety handle above his head, you probably aren’t going to run into anyone who truly stinks.

In the rest of the world, people don’t usually change clothes as frequently as we do in the US. In the Middle East for example, we wear pajamas or sweats in the house all the time and only wear our “going out clothes” when we actually go out. And if you wear them for only an hour or two, it’s a waste of water, soap, electricity and time to wash them unless you’ve spilled something on them or you’ve gotten really sweaty. I’ve lived in Egypt for 11 years now, and when in Rome….

So, as a woman who wears hijab, I usually go out in a pair of pants and a t-shirt but cover with a loose-fitting overdress called an abaya and then wear a scarf on my head. Over the last 2 years, with all of the errands I’ve been running, I’ve managed to tear the crap out of 2 different abayas and I’m down to my last two. One is dark blue with burgundy trim and it’s lightweight but it’s also 100% some kind of  polyester and I hate wearing it because the sleeves stick to me. The other is black with beige and burgundy and gold and while it’s heavier fabric (some kind of rayon blend,) I’m actually not as hot in it as I am in the blue one. Sooo, because I’m wearing a cotton t-shirt for maximum sweat absorption, I can usually wear my abaya for at least 3 days before washing it. Also, I’m still American enough that I still shower everyday and wear deodorant and all that so it’s not as gross as it sounds.

Two days ago, I put on the black abaya fresh off the clothesline and went out to pick up a few things. I was gone all of 20 minutes. When I got home, I hung it up on the hook on my bedroom door for easy access for the next time I needed to go out. Yesterday, I wore it again for an extremely long outing from 8am until around 2pm. This outing required a lot of public transportation, walking around in heavy traffic areas and whether the calendar says AUTUMN or not, here it’s still pretty hot. The last place on our list was the dentist’s office and it was air-conditioned and I cooled off and had a nice rest in the waiting area and since it was just a short walk from there to our apartment, I was comfortable and seemingly dry by the time we got home.

Now due to all of this running about, I’ve been kind of behind in my duties at home. I’m grateful the 4 teens and tweens that stayed at home all day didn’t kill one another or break anything so I sort of blew off the fact that they’d been walking around the dirty pile of clothes waiting to be shoved into the washer next. So I threw them in the washer and fell asleep.

This morning I remembered that I needed desperately to go to the bank. Only when I awoke from my nap I had totally forgotten that my blue abaya was in the washer and had sat all night wadded up and wet in the machine so I had to re-run the load. I figured….eh, it’s only been one day plus 20 minutes in the other abaya. How bad could it be? I did a  “sniff-test” on the scarf and it smelled okay, so I threw it on, “scarfed up,” tied up my tennis shoes and hustled on over to the bank.

So I got my number out of the “hurry up and wait till we call you” machine and found an empty seat. They were on number 50 and I was number 66. I pulled out my recent purchase; a yellowed old copy of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickins that is so old that it doesn’t even have a copyright date in it. I started to read and by page 2, the smell of hairy butt sweat hit me. I gave the woman sitting next to me the stink-eye.
“Gross. Really? That’s like middle school boy smell….Why would she smell like that?” I asked myself.

I looked around me. There was a man who had what looked like dry cement stains on his clothes. It had to be him. But when his number was called and he walked past, all I could smell was cheap cologne. Not even cheap cologne covering sweat…just cheap cologne. I went back to my book. I finished the third page and turned to page four. “Ball funk!” I thought to myself. “That’s what I’m smelling! Man alive! What is that?”
I noticed the door to the bathroom down the hall was open and figured maybe that’s where it was coming from. I sniffed my scarf but it smelled like shampoo from this morning’s shower.

I looked at my sleeve and noticed what looked like white paint had brushed onto it when I walked past. But I hadn’t bumped into any white walls at all so far. I couldn’t focus on my book. I closed it and put in into my purse. I tried to zip it closed but realized I was sitting on the strap. As I maneuvered to pull it out from under my leg without accidentally breaking the strap, the smell I’d been trying to pinpoint punched me right in the face. I put my sleeve to my face and breathed in. “OH. DEAR. GOD. It’s ME!! I smell like hairy gorilla ass! WHY??!”

“Now serving customer number 66 at window 5.”

I did my business and raced home to take another shower and burn the abaya. 

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