Sunday, 31 March 2013

The Sounds I Heard

Today Karen was ill. Ill enough not to go out. Consequently I spent the day in our apartment, reading, chatting, mixing ORS (oral rehydrating salts), and listening, hearing the sounds of the many things that shape Gambia and what it has become.

The birds are quite noisy here. There aren't many cats and there are many trees throughout the city. Birds, insects, small rustling animals and larger monitor lizards all make themselves heard. They are the oldest and longest established sounds one hears.

Last night and throughout the day at different times, in fact going down the street right now, are groups of children and young adults beating drums and plastic bottles, imitating the tribal sounds of many centuries. They walk the streets with a "djinn" (tribal spirit) dancing amongst them chanting, singing, posing for photos and hassling tourists. Originally it had some ceremonial significance, now it is to raise money for their football club or for sweets. Although a Muslim country, Animism is still a strong force, and traditional African culture still strong.

Five times a day, every day, the Mosques start calling the faithful to prayer. Probably not as many faithful as they may like. Gambia, as I have said, is Muslim but there aren't many obvious signs. Women may dress somewhat modestly, but that would be compared to traditional African dress (or lack of!) and not Middle Eastern standards. You see some Arabic script around but mostly English - the traditional languages haven't been historically written so English became the lingua franca of all written texts. There is polygamy but that is more cultural than religious. Still, though, the Mullas shout in optimism.

This morning as I was drinking tea I heard something I had never heard before in a live act of worship: a group of nuns singing latin plainchant. Behind our apartment is a convent and being Easter morning the nuns were in the garden singing. It was beautiful. Later some more of the congregation joined in. Later again we heard a Pentecostal church singing with great gusto. The sounds of Christian celebration of the One Risen From the Grave were shouted with enthusiasm for all to hear, in Gambia and throughout the world. Hallelujah!

As I write this and continually throughout the day there have been the sounds of traffic, radio, news programmes off the internet, the sounds of modernity. Loud, intrusive, less pleasant than all the other sounds I heard today, but still not loud enough to drown out the more primitive and pervasive noises: I can still hear the crickets and the buzz of a mosquito. 

Good night.

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