I’ve always been sensitive to excess noise. Outside of a monotonous droning (ie fans, jet engines, rain on a tin roof), I cannot concentrate on anything other than what I hear. Background noise on even the smallest scale makes studying and reading an impossibility. I hate having any noise whatsoever competing with my music or television. Silence is an absolute must for sleep. In America, noise pollution was rarely a problem. Loud weekend parties of course take place, but even on college campuses, most problems are quickly taken care of by common courtesy and the invention of the government sanctioned noise citation. There were always exceptions (“ARGHH! I can’t believe the guy my landlord is paying to mow my lawn came at 8:30 on a Saturday morning!”), but my point is these exceptions are rare.
Not the case in Kisoga, Uganda. Between the preacher(s) with the PA systems who start at 5:30 AM sharp, my neighbors own stereo systems, the local cinema halls with their giant speakers inexplicably outside of the hall blasting away not into the viewers but to the town without, the constant aura of reggae-tone remakes of American songs, and the ever present whacking of rubber flip flop on bare ass followed by children’s wailing, a moment of peace and quiet is a rare treat indeed. Asking people to keep it down is out of the question here. The fact that it’s outside of local norms to do so has not stopped me from trying, but it has probably had a hand in the complete lack of results achieved by such requests. I just typed out and deleted a sentence that explained that the only time my house is quiet is when the rain is hammering on my tin roof. I was thinking that this is the only time I cannot hear noise from the town and my neighbors, but after a second’s consideration it became apparent to me that loud drumming is, in fact, the exact opposite of quiet.
A particularly upsetting development in the noise pollution saga has been the arrival of my newest neighbor. Henry recently moved in to the one room duuka (shop) in front of my own apartment. Our places were originally designed as one unit so that a shopkeeper could run his or her business in the front room and live in the two back rooms. When Peace Corps informed my landlady that requirements for Volunteer housing included just two rooms, the front was partitioned off with a wooden door in order to rent out the third room separately. The original door was just a shoddy wooden contraption, and when my friend and Peace Corps driver, Khasim, laid eyes on it, he immediately deemed it unacceptable. He told me that the door had empty gaps over an inch thick between the rotting planks. The drivers are notorious amongst Volunteers for being the most reliable staff for looking out for our needs, and true to this, Khasim insisted that the door be replaced. He wasn’t there when I moved in, but a cursory glance at the door told me that his demands had been met.
I want to say in his defense Henry is not at all a noisy neighbor compared to every other homes in my compound. He’s rarely there, he plays his music sparingly and at a reasonable volume, and has no screaming children. Despite all of this, I can hear everything Henry does when he’s at home. Literally everything. “Sounds like you just talked to your mom on the phone, Henry. Hope she’s recovering from that bout of malaria.” “Hey Henry! Once you’re done washing those dishes, maybe we could go for a game of pool.” “Hold up Henry. Did I just hear a woman’s footsteps in your place? Let me get my ear plugs…”
This went on for a while. I wasn’t sure exactly why I could hear Henry so well. He was my only neighbor which I shared a tin roof with. Maybe the tin caused something sciencey to happen (possibly through stuff involving “sound waves”, “reverberation”, and “amplification”). It could have been anything. I just didn’t know. I didn’t know, that is, until last week. I was making myself dinner, listening to my current favorite tune (The White Stripe’s Ball & Biscuit) when Henry came home for the day. I glanced at our shared door, wondering for the first time if it could be the party responsible for my noisey misery. It had always seemed solid enough to me. New paint, solid throughout, boards nailed across the frame to provide extra safety during a zombie outbreak. But now, as I looked closely at this door, it didn’t look so new after all. The fresh paint was already peeling to reveal rot. A quick push illustrated shoddy construction work. Most distressing however, was where the peeling paint did not reveal rotting wood, but newsprint. I saw clearly now the massive gaps between the planks. I have no conclusive proof of this, but I don’t think it’s a stretch for me to say that this was, in fact, the same door Khasim had deemed unfit. The gaps had been filled with a single layer of unwadded newspaper and the whole thing had been freshly painted to deceive any quick inspections. Now call me a perfectionist, but if you are going to seal a door with newspaper, you should at least have the courtesy to wad it up! Fold it over or something. A single layer of newspaper?! C’mon.
After discovering the root cause of mine and my neighbor’s intimate knowledge of one another, I feel like I should have been pretty upset. My organization and I had been hoodwinked by my landlady to save a few bucks and it had severely affected the quality of my life inside my own home. After almost two years, though, I’m past this point. I could stomp around and bitch and complain. I could lay into my landlady. Call Peace Corps. Who knows? The problem might even get fixed before I close my service. Probably not, but stranger things have happened. Now, however, I just have to laugh. Newspaper? My door is made up of about 10% newspaper? That’s hysterical. How can I not laugh?