It Smells American

It Smells American

“Elayna, what are you doing?” I asked her as we unwrapped Christmas presents from Grandma that had arrived 3 weeks late on a container from the states.

The presents were in piles around us and, per family tradition, they were being opened one by one. I was snapping pictures and hashtagging them #christmasinjanuary. Annalise had drawn a Christmas tree on a big piece of packing paper and we’d taped it to the wall above the pile of presents. It was hot and dusty and there were ants crawling on the floor beneath us but we were having Christmas with my family from across the ocean.

It Smells American

Out our windows, our sun was shining and their snow was flying. It was January. But we were christmasing. (My new word for doing Christmasy things whenever we want to.)

Elayna was sitting on the floor surrounded by a few presents, a bunch of wrapping paper and a pile of new things. She had a pair of pants grasped with both hands, holding them up to her nose.

“Oh, Mom. They smell like America!”

And they did.

Her new pants smelled like home. Like America. They smelled clean with a hint of fabric softener. They smelled like the clothing store at the mall. They smelled like fresh air. They really did smell like America.

As we all began to smell the pants, holding them close to our noses, my mom is asking through the computer, “What are you doing? Do they stink?”

“No. They do not stink… they smell like America!” we said.

We were all laughing and smelling the clothes around us. The other presents left forgotten for one moment as my little family sitting in West Africa smelled things from America.

We smelled a visit to Starbucks and lunch in the food court with Chick-fil-A waffle fries. We smelled the play place, a run in to Claire’s, a stop at the toy store and a million other happy thoughts of home. We smelled a laundry room and a cozy house without any tile.

For a moment, the events in Burkina that had happened just the day before seemed far away, the bars on the windows of our home slid from view, the dusty floor beneath me turned to soft carpet, the heat dimmed and we had a flash of America.

A #getjoy moment. An undeserved little lift from home. Something our whole family needed, taking a step back from where we were and awakening our senses with just one smell. Awakening memories of home, of known things.

And we have other moments like this. Seeing peanut butter in a random little back corner store of a market. Seeing a can of root beer stashed in someone’s cupboard for a day they really need it. A box of mac and cheese arriving in the mail. The joys of seeing an American brand, a product written in English, a t-shirt from our state back home. The moment of spying an Andes Mint in my friend’s handbag. And then the whole table spying the same thing. And, all of us drooling together over a little piece of chocolate and mint! The moment I walked into a friend’s bathroom and smelled her candle and saw her Bath and Body Works hand soap. Oh, the joy!

The little #getjoy moments that are unnecessary but so important.

Moments that make us laugh, maybe cry a happy tear and help the world feel right again.

#getjoy moments that remind us of where we come from, that home is still there and that we can enjoy little bits of that in our new corners of the world.

What kinds of #getjoy moments remind you of your home? What things remind your senses of something from home and bring back a memory or two?


  1. Jumping in late here, but just wanted to say how much I love this. It made me think of when we were 5 months into China life. I struggled to put together an apple pie. I had to try all kinds of tricks to get the apples finally soft enough. Finally we sat down to eat it. One bit and we were almost in tears. It tasted like home, like America and family and holidays. Oh, how much the senses are tied to memory!!

    Love that you shared your moment here.

  2. We live in South America now and have access to a lot more food items than when we lived in Africa. I still recall another missionary returning from a shopping trip to Kampala and sharing that they’d found several American products at one particular store. With each item she mentioned, I’d repeat it, awe in my voice. Then I stopped for a reality check. Hey, I don’t even like Pop Tarts! LOL

    It was just that reminder of “home” that caught me up in the moment. It’s almost tangible, isn’t it?

    We quit having folks send packages here because it’s such an ordeal getting anything and everything through customs. Once my daughter sent a package with a book for her dad, some nylon scrubby things for the kitchen for me, just little things, you know? And I had to spend four hours and $50 getting it out of customs. She hadn’t spent that much on all the items AND the postage! Then a few packages went MIA. Finally we just asked people not to send anything else through the mail. Whenever someone is coming down, we ask if they have room for a few things. Otherwise we wait until we’re on home assignment.

    1. We are still giving packages a try… so far we know of 2 that have not arrived. So hard! So many want to send things but for us, it is difficult to pick them up and mail is unreliable. But the ones that make it through are well-loved.

      And yes, the American things, or the things from home… precious.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *