The smell of the market

Laura Curkendall | December 22, 2016

This photo of me was taking outside Pike Place Market on the day before my wedding in 2011. We bought all of my wedding flowers at the market!

This photo of me was taken outside Pike Place Market on the day before my wedding in 2011. We bought all of my wedding flowers at the market! Photo: courtesy Laura Curkendall

Pike Place Market is one of the crown jewels of the tourist scene here in Seattle.

When friends visit from out of town, my husband and I make sure we take them to Pike Place. We brave the crowds – very rarely is the market anything other than shoulder-to-shoulder tourists – so that our guests can experience the fish throwing, bronze pig statue, original Starbucks, gum wall and amazing, inexpensive flowers.

There’s a distinct smell when you’re in the market. It’s a mix of fish, vegetables, people and concrete. I have a strong sense of smell, and the smell of Pike Place is how I know I’m back in that quintessentially Pacific Northwest tourist hub.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I smelled that same smell on the other side of the world.

The sun rises outside the market in Maubin, Myanmar. Photo: Laura Curkendall / CWS

The sun rises outside the market in Maubin, Myanmar. Photo: Laura Curkendall / CWS

I was in the market in the city of Maubin in Myanmar (Burma), in the middle of visiting villages in which CWS works. For many families in these villages, fishing is a key source of their income for at least part of the year. Their fish often end up in the market in Maubin. We had almost finished walking through the market when I smelled that unmistakable smell. For a moment I was transported back to Seattle.

It definitely wasn’t the same market. The vegetables were different. There were vendors selling plucked chickens alongside the fish merchants. And, for that matter, the fish were different. There were clothing vendors and stalls selling fine china and plastic dishes. But there were fish, vegetables, people and concrete. It was that same smell.

It was a strange connection to make so far from home.

My theory is that when we are in situations that are new or different, our instinct is to look for the familiar. By that point, I had spent a lot of time and energy looking for things that I could relate to, both consciously and unconsciously. As I learned about communities that partner with CWS for Disaster Risk Reduction – preparing for and mitigating natural disasters, which affect the region all too often – my own occasional experiences with hurricanes, earthquakes or tornadoes allowed me to relate to the avid young volunteers who were intent on reaching everyone in their community with their precious new knowledge, awareness and skills. As I watched an assertive community organizer get her team of volunteers set up for interviews with myself and other CWS staff, I recognized a kindred spirit. I know the feeling of wanting to put your best foot forward and to make a good first impression (and they certainly did!).

My mind was constantly searching for connections. Something to ground me. That morning in the market, though, as the sun was just rising in the sky, I didn’t have to search. Suddenly, in a distant land, a piece of home.

Laura Curkendall is the Associate Director of Communications at CWS.