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Natural Awakenings Central New Jersey

Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa: Resonance

Within the first months of my time in Uganda, a friend asked me, “What does it sound like at night?” That is a great question and I have pondered it ever since. I think about it nearly every night, as the sun sets, as I’m trying to get to sleep, and even throughout the daylight hours.

Close your eyes and imagine you’re in an aviary (or a Petco). That’s the background music of my life and it runs in a loop practically around the clock. Toss in what you think of as chimpanzee chatter (it’s not, it’s a bird that sounds something else entirely). As dusk approaches the crickets begin to sing, crescendo-ing to a scream. The chorus continues all night, frequently from inside the house.

Often I’m awakened by a hideous snorting and shuffling outside my bedroom window. The first time this happened, in my groggy, petrified state, I immediately assumed some human swine had escaped from the pen. After my heart rate slowed to merely rapid I was “calm” enough to realize it was only a clever porcine swine who has tricked its human servant into thinking it can’t get out of its enclosure at will.

Occasionally, my neighbor ties up her Billy Goat Gruff on the slope between our houses. I don’t pretend to have much experience with livestock, but this animal must hold some record for mean and ornery. In fact, in the dictionary under the word petulant I believe there is a photo of this goat and a reference to the word ogre. This boisterous Billy is deafening and insistent and adds cacophony to the nocturnal symphony. His vocalizations sound like a lecherous human, and he goes on and on, all night long.

At some point just after dark the roosters stop their incessant, all day long cock-a-doodle-do rehearsal. You see they have to rest up for the first pronouncement of “I’m the king of the world, not you, you pompous chicken” long before the first hint of a new day. I’m sure each soon to be capon is in constant communication with God regarding the official instant of daybreak.

Sometimes there is a human contribution to the sound track. Before, during, or after a religious observance there is music and singing at any hour of the day or night. It’s not usually near enough to disturb sleep but once in a while I can feel the base throbbing like a souped up car stereo. Events are sometimes advertised over a public address system from the bed of a pick-up truck and announcement of the gala must be broadcast at top volume so that everyone feels invited. Or, following a football match there is the requisite celebration – also sufficiently loud so that all are included.

Finally, here within my own piece of heaven, my favorite background music is listening to my neighbors at the close of day. Stella and her brood sit on the verandah singing, reading, and laughing together in several musical languages. When George comes home the children hear his motorcycle approach and chant “Daddy’s home” until his base tones add to the laughter and high spirits. Now, that’s music to fall asleep by!

Questions and comments welcome at [email protected]

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