Haitians use toothpaste, herbs to block stench

Mon Jan 18, 2010 1:03pm EST
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By Catherine Bremer

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haitians in the devastated capital of Port-au-Prince are using anything they can lay their hands on to block out the nauseating aromas hanging in the air since last week's earthquake.

Residents walking through the rubble-strewn capital past sprawling tent cities of homeless quake victims and collapsed buildings with dead bodies still inside are subjected to an olfactory cocktail of rotting and burning garbage, urine, excrement and putrefying corpses, all baked in the strong sun, on top of the usual dust, grime and roadside fried plantains.

Surgical face masks have become a status symbol. Foreigners are constantly asked if they have any to spare, and youths sporting rapper-style baseball caps, shades and gold jewelry are treating them as one more fashion accessory.

People without masks tie scarves or T-shirts over their faces, or simply hold a piece of clothing in front of their face as they walk about town. A sticky white mustache has become commonplace in recent days as many paint a stripe of toothpaste across their top lip to block out the stench.

Several people on Monday had gone a step further and stuck a plastic tube of menthol nasal decongestant up one nostril. Others simply had tissue or bits of rag stuffed up their noses.

In the Croix de Bossales food market near already acrid-smelling slums on the sea's edge, a young man wearing mirror shades and a black baseball cap had taken advantage of the piles of fresh herbs on sale and stuck a sprig of greenery up each nostril.

"It's basil," he told Reuters with a shrug. "It works."

(Editing by Jane Sutton and Claudia Parsons)