The Impossibility of Silence

March 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

Before coming to Honduras, my friend Lauren suggested that I buy earplugs. She used to live in Uganda and recommended earplugs as a good thing to go armed with when living in a developing country.

Rarely ever one to question Lauren’s judgment, I ended up doing the least logical thing I could possibly do – I ignored her advice completely. Time wasn’t the issue. I even happened upon bag of earplugs at CVS just before leaving that cost over $10 (which can get me four plates of fried fish in Honduras). I wasn’t willing to fork over the money, not to mention that I still don’t know how people manage to get the orange, pylon-shaped pieces of foam to stay in their ears. I was also certain that noise pollution wouldn’t be as much of a problem in Honduras as in Uganda. Even if it was, I could easily fall back on my supernatural ability of falling asleep at will in any place at any time despite the circumstances. Surely Honduras would be no different.

That said, the following is glimpse of a typical day of sound in El Progreso.

4am: Evangelical churchgoers trek to Iglesia Luz del Mundo across the street for early morning services. If they aren’t singing at the top of their lungs, they are crying in mass. In mass in mass. (Not just in mass, you know?). You understand.

5am: Thanks to my superpower, I normally I manage to fall back asleep after a few minutes of singing/crying. However, at 5 in the morning the roosters crow, which in turn wakes up all of the dogs in the neighborhood. The dogs proceed to engage in a contest to see who can bark the loudest. They do this for absolutely no reason except to be annoying, like teenagers on a school bus who compete to see who can shout out curse words or private body parts the loudest.

6am: This is when I typically get up, but I’m often woken up before my alarm by a visitor of the winged variety. I haven’t been able to identify what kind of creature it is exactly (perhaps a vulture or a pterodactyl) but whatever it is it lands on top of my tin roof with a stunning thud each morning. Shortly thereafter, the creature proceeds to clack what sound like massive talons on the tin roof as it walks around in circles without the slightest idea of where it needs to go. After a few seconds the creature begins to make noises that don’t sound like a bird, or any living creature for that matter. It is a mixture of sound, usually starting with the snapping noise a camera makes while taking a picture, followed by a series of robotic clicks, and then a few more camera snaps. Is this a giant dinosaur bird or creepy android from an alternate universe? Take your pick.

6pm: The workday goes about as normal, whatever normal is at OYE, and in the afternoon I’m ready to listen to a whole new set of sounds. Usually the afternoon starts with a visit from Ana Ruth, the 28-year-old Honduran host sister who lives on the first floor of our house. Ana Ruth often surprises my roommates (A’ra, Shanee, Shawnay, and Felicia) and me by entering our door on the second level uninvited. She also likes to eat our food, and my roommates have caught her eating from my jar raisins without asking on more than one occasion.

Ana Ruth is mentally challenged, and according to her parents, her sense of right and wrong has not advanced beyond the first grade level. We learned this the other day when Shanee’s 100 Lempira bill went missing after she had taken it out of her jeans to do her laundry. Ana Ruth denied stealing the bill when we spoke with her and her parents about it, but the bill miraculously appeared 15 minutes later underneath one of our cutting boards. I hate when my Lempiras do that.

What I like about Ana Ruth is her confidence. No matter where she goes, she is absolutely certain that she belongs there. She does this when she slips through our door without knocking, sticks her hand into my jar of raisins, or stares at our food until we give her some. She also does this every afternoon when she practices singing downstairs. Ana is tone deaf, but she sings the songs she learns in church about Jesus and God, belting as loud as she possibly can without any regard for the ears of others. Often times she simply sustains a note for as long as she can hold it, allowing her pitchless voice to ring through the house and neighborhood.

7pm – 10pm: Noises from the housemates. The walls of the house are paper thin, so we can hear absolutely everything we do say and do. Favorite sound: when the girls yell at each other or say an emphatic “Dammmmmmn!” Least favorite sound: bowel movements.

10pm: A skinny black cat normally drops by the house at this hour. If we’ve happened to leave any of the doors open, it enters the house and scares us. If it can’t get inside, it sits outside and cries. For weeks the girls and I were unsure whether or not the crying was coming from a cat or a human baby. It was only after we spotted the cat outside of the apartment that we were certain of what it was.

11pm: Karaoke! Our male Honduran neighbor turns up his karaoke machine and sings Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Katy Perry songs until he wears himself out. Regrettably, he is nearly as tone deaf as Ana Ruth. He reminds me of the people you might find on the first episode of a new American Idol season.

12am: Midnight. Though I am often asleep by midnight, some nights I wake up to drops of rain splattering against the tin roof. Before long, the drops turn into a chorus of small slaps that bang loudly against the metal. The rain lasts throughout the night and washes all other sounds away, including the laughter of my roommates, the crying black cat, the singing churchgoers, the fighting dogs, our Karaoke-loving neighbor, and Ana Ruth as she sustains her one proud chord.

I love when the rain comes, even though it is louder and more intense than all of the other sounds combined. Its capacity to erase so many sounds and simultaneously bring a sense of clarity to my living situation is incredible. It also makes me wonder how I’d view the rain if I had the earplugs to begin with. Would it be the perfect respite from the medley of cries, barks, slaps, laughs, and songs, or would it be just another noise that fills my ears?

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