Oscar Ikinya, 44, from Kilifi, has had to endure decades of name-calling, hurtful comments, and isolation that come with unpleasant body odour.
For more than 24 years Oscar has been living in isolation as he battles trimethylaminuria (TMAU), a rare condition which prevents his body from breaking down materials found in certain foods.
TMAU is an uncommon condition that causes an unpleasant, fishy smell. This condition is historically known as ‘fish body odour’, but most complain of other bad smells such as faecal, garbage, rotten egg and more.
“I moved to a different area in the country and for years now I have not visited my home country in Meru. I try to avoid crowded places because people have this disdain look when they smell the air around me,” he said.
On August 7, 1998, Oscar Ikinya was among five people from the Cooperative Merchant Bank who survived the terror attack on the American embassy.
Oscar links his condition to the aftermath of the infamous 1998 bombing. According to him, it took him three months before he could return to work and that’s when he noticed something was wrong with him.
“At first, I would only catch a whiff, I always wondered where that smell was coming from, then the transfers started happening, I got more transfers compared to my colleagues and eventually I was fired,” he said.
Today, Oscar lives alone- no wife, no children “ I used to go to church and people would relocate every time they sat near me. I had an active dating life, but they became brief and fewer and now I just have no one,” he said.
“When I’m in public I hear comments like ‘oh that smells like a toilet’ open sewer and rotten rat. I have heard it all, I am always constantly thinking of how not to offend people but I have little control over it and that’s why I choose to isolate,” he adds.
Oscar started smoking to musk the odour and when he was employed he visited doctors in hope of finding a cure for his condition. The condition has seen Oscar try extreme remedies like fasting…
This condition has left Oscar traumatized, It has denied him the relationship and companionship he once desired. Oscar notes over time the condition can begin to take over your thoughts hence developing severe hyper-vigilance over people’s reaction to the smell “I decided not to have children because I would hate to pass the gene to my child because I don’t think I can live with that,” he said
“I can’t even go to church, I smell bad people generally don’t like to confront body odour issues head-on they would rather avoid you and that can be disheartening,” he adds.
Oscar notes something good has come out of the isolation. He has managed to help people with similar conditions face their fears. He runs MEBO Africa ( Metabolic Body Ordour) an NGO that raises awareness to the public about trimethylaminuria (TMAU)
“In isolation, you get to think a lot, I help others with similar conditions. I want to give a voice to my fellow sufferers, who suffer in silence because of the stigma attached to this condition. People are generally scared to speak up for fear of being ridiculed. I am also planning to sell my home and seek treatment,” he said.