African Black Soap

“Clean Room”

This particular African Black Soap isn't black at all, but kind of marbled, textured, multi-shade brown—looking like nothing so much as a hippie bread you'd by at a farmer's market, which contains lots of oats, nuts, seeds, dates, maybe other dried fruits, and is probably pretty sweet and tasty. I did not, however, stick it my mouth just to see. It came in a little ziplock plastic bag, no label, nothing official. I did not, however, attempt to smoke it. I was pretty confident that what I had on my hands was not nut bread, and not drugs, because it was given to me by friends, handed to me by people I trust, and who in turn most likely received it the same way. I am pretty sure they said it was from Ghana. I wonder what the rules are for packing Ghanaian African Black Soap in your suitcase, or otherwise shipping it? I know you can buy it online, in unmarked, unlabeled quantities, and it looks, in pictures, exactly like this one I received. This internet says this soap is made with maybe plantain skins, or leaves, or pods, dried, and burned to create ash, then mixed with maybe palm oil or shea butter, in the soap making process. Why it ends up so uneven and textured, I don't know. Also, that's kind of general. I guess this particular bar is a mystery.

People say that African Black Soap is good for your skin. I use so many different soaps at one time, it's hard for me to really do a controlled experiment, but I found it pleasant on my skin—it's got a nice lather, very soapy and soft. The most interesting thing, though, was my reaction to its subtle presentation of fragrance. There almost is none—definitely no perfumes or added fragrance—but of course, there is a smell. My initial reaction—the first word that came to me, when trying to take in its olfactory essence was: “natatorium.” And it's not nearly that harsh—it's very subtle, but not particularly pleasant, either. (Time passes.) I've lived comfortably with this soap and now it's sometime later, so I'll focus on one more impression of the smell: Can't put my finger on it—it definitely has a smell, but I just don't know what it reminds me of —just some far-off smell of maybe a cleaner, or a clean room, or a swimming pool. I'm just not sure. The funny thing is that it always fools me—I look at it, and it looks like a piece of delicious fruit and nut bread, but I know it's not. Why are there these things that you know intellectually is one thing, but because of some strength of appearance, or a repeated reliving of the initial impression, you just ever get over that tragically mistaken impression. It fools you and just keeps fooling you. Never mind the haunting, almost non-fragrance, or the lush, comforting, soapy lather—you just keep getting fooled. But then, we're nothing if not fools.

Soap Review No. 66