Unequivocally Ambiguous

Humorous Stories on Parenting, Culture and Life

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, Suitcases of Scents

by | Apr 16, 2024 | Relationships | 0 comments

Clothes in the United States Have a Different Smell

I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if, along with fluoride, there are also nanoparticles of detergent scents in our water that are activated once clothes leave the United States.

Ask any person living here with family somewhere else in the world. Whenever they visit their countries of origin, they open their bags, and the smell of the United States impregnates the space — that’s right, impregnates, as in these tiny particles of cleanliness have babies with the tiny particles of the air around the suitcase to expand and conquer that space. Talk about imperialism.

My earliest memory of this is being five and holding on to a gate to watch my grandfather’s plane land on the runway.

We were at Rafael Nuñez International, the Cartagena airport, and I was standing on this little fence that even I, at five, could’ve climbed over. Back then, that was the only thing separating us from the runaway, that tiny gate rusted under the salty sea breeze. Now, airports are nothing short of fortresses protecting airplanes, cappuccino robots, and vending machines with neck pillows.

We watched as everyone got off the plane until we saw my grandfather, who, at 6’2′, was a towering figure and had to crouch to get out of the airplane exit door. My grandfather’s height might be commonplace here in the US with all the growth hormones in the chicken, sodas, and sparkling water.

But in Colombia, where plantains and yucca are grown without synthetics, 6’2″ is very tall. To make it more impressive, he always carries himself upright, a result of exercising his posture at five in the morning daily.

A few decades later, when he came to my wedding, all our guests commented on my grandfather’s presence. Some of them lost their mind when they saw him posing for pictures. He didn’t smile. He would just look straight at the camera and raise his index finger as if barely acknowledging the photographer.

My friends and I stole this gesture for a couple of years after my wedding.

Back in Cartagena, in the early 90s, once we saw him exit the plane, we would rush from the fence to the airport entrance and wait for him.
We waited for him to come out and walk toward us with his gray suit jacket neatly hanging from his arm and the other arm pulling on his hard-shell burgundy Samsonite.

To say we were excited is to say your view on barbecue won’t change after having brisket at Black’s Barbecue Lockhart, Texas — an understatement or even a bald-faced lie.

And it wasn’t so much about my grandfather, although it was nice that he was back. What we wanted to see was what was in his Samsonite.

Back at his house, after each lock had been clicked off and he opened the suitcase, we were immediately hit with the smell of the United States.

These rituals weren’t observed only for him; everyone anticipated the return of anyone returning from the States. The smell was just one thing we looked forward to. Sure, it was nice to see people you haven’t seen for many years.

But more importantly, there were also toys that didn’t exist in Colombia, the T-shirts that would change with the sun’s light, and the little tiny squares of Snickers.

What was the deal with this mysterious land that could encapsulate into a one-inch snack so much chocolate, nougat, and joy?

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