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How to Capture the Smells of Nairobi’s Slums in a Rose-Scented Perfume

A recent study of how people associate certain smells could end up changing the scent of Nairobi.  Coltrane McDowell, a Canadian Master’s student has compiled his thesis based on the impact of smell on social dynamics in Kenya. What he found is that people perceive certain aromas as either clean or dirty, and it influences the way that they treat people. In the process, he also identified a way to convert the output of one local industry so that it’s smelling like roses. “In present day Nairobi smell is linked to class,” explains McDowell. “It distinguishes those who can access hygiene versus those who can’t; the sort of industries you are involved in to earn your living; and if the work you do is perceived as illegal or immoral.” McDowell began to make maps of smells across the city and found that there were two areas in particular that were defined by the smell of Nairobi’s home-brewed chang’aa, a very strong liquor that is made by fermenting grains. His fascination with smell began when he looked into why certain environments (and by extension the people who occupy them) are perceived as being “clean” while others are perceived as “dirty”, and how manufacturers of industrial cleaning products are able to influence this perception with the scents that were add to the products they sold.