I awoke yesterday morning to an unusual sound – it was birdsong. Lots of it. In fact it sounded like all the birds in Sri Lanka were outside my bedroom windows waiting to serenade me and welcome me to the new morning. The noise was incredible and beautiful and I knew then that my next post would have to be about the noise in Sri Lanka.
I live at the top of an unpaved road set back from the main street. For miles all you can see are lush green trees interspersed with rust red rooftops and the occasional place of worship peeking through the tops of the foliage. It’s beautiful and peaceful looking. It’s rural but it’s not quiet. Not in any way. Not ever. From dawn to dusk and beyond, the cacophony of sound is, as I’ve said before, like an assault on your senses.
Perhaps the birdsong surprised me because my wake up call normally comes minutes before 5am. (Sunday, of course, being the Sinhala and Tamil New Year’s Day, I guess a lie in on Monday could be expected.) I found an entry in my paper journal once – it said this:
4.52am – the mosque is calling all muslims to prayer very loudly over a PA system.
4.53am – the local dogs have joined in, doing their best to harmonise.
4.54am – every dog in Galle has cottoned on and they are now howling at the moon and drowning out the mosque. Let me sleep!!
It was an off day (which wasn’t supposed to have started yet) – I love that collection of noises normally. I am a sound but intermittent sleeper. I wake up at least half a dozen times a night but generally get back to sleep right away so to be woken by something that makes me laugh out loud and then drift back to sleep is fine by me. It happens again in the evening and many’s the time myself and my housemate Julia have laughed out loud at the dogs – at the cheek of them, at their awful caterwauling and at their absolute predictability.
I once mentioned it to our landlord, Saman who lives behind us. At that time I thought it was the Buddhist temple making all the racket but “no, no” insisted Saman, “the dogs not bark at Buddhist, they bark at muslims”! Perhaps that’s because the temple is far more tuneful and perhaps it’s because they start at a more civilised hour.
We get back to sleep shortly after 5am and I think we’re safe then until the temple starts at around 7am. I say safe but what I mean is we only have the animal noises to contend with. They are non stop but I remember the first time I was lying in bed and I heard monkeys nearby, I nearly cried I was so happy. I also remember the first time a family of them ran across the roof in the middle of the night – I thought we were all about to be kidnapped by some dissident group employing James Bond style methods which involved swinging from the roof and in through the holes in the chicken wire above the bedroom doors. (Amazing the detail you can imagine in approximately 3 seconds isn’t it?) I had never noticed until then how noisy our roof is but that was possibly because prior to that night I tended to have my ceiling fan on full blast – now, I can cope with the heat a little better, the fan is quieter and I’m aware that our roof is a very busy and noisy thoroughfare of a night time!
There are many screeching noises that I haven’t yet identified and as I write I am listening to one now. It may be a mongoose, who knows? Oh, and live from the roof of 33/8 Wijayanande Mawatha, a deep and persistent scratching has just started. I’m probably best not to investigate! I was surprised to make a new discovery last week as I walked to work. We have dozens of palm squirrels here and I got a bit confused as I watched one of them ‘mimic’ the local birds. I stopped to watch. A nearby (but invisible to me) bird was emitting a high pitched tweet over and over and each time he did, the palm squirrel in the tree above opened his mouth and mimed. I was quite impressed but, as I say, confused by this until I realised that there was no cheeky impersonation going on and this is, in fact, the noise the little rascals make all day long.
So we have the birdsong squirrels, we have a woodpecker heralding in the new year, we have real birds (not just bird impersonators), we have the screeching of goodness knows what, the howling of the many dogs, the jibbering of the monkeys and in the centre of town the greatest animal noise of all comes in one particular tree just before you turn onto Main St. I have never walked past that tree without being absolutely convinced that there are at least a thousand birds hidden in its branches. I’ve never heard anything like it. It’s absolutely deafening and lovely as it is, I often cover my ears because it’s just TOO loud.
Catch an air conditioned bus in Sri Lanka and they’re generally playing music. You can sit back and close your eyes and take in the lovely Sri Lankan music and then suddenly the Sinhala version of “Going to the Chapel” comes on! That finishes and it’s back to Sri Lankan music until you find yourself listening to the Sinhala version of “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden”! All very odd!
All of that combined with the regular firecrackers (which I initially thought was gunshot) set off to frighten the monkeys away from wrecking people’s gardens, the regular thunder and lightning storms, the constant beeping of horns which I’ve talked about before and the non stop “hello, where you going?” from everyone you pass in the street, makes this a very noisy place to live. So, much as I love it you need something soothing to counteract the “assault” and that’s where the Buddhist temple comes in.
Around 7am each day, 8 or 9pm each evening and, on occasion, throughout the entire day, the temple takes to the airwaves. This is very different to the 5am alarm call where the lead vocalist at our mosque really cannot sing! This is a soothing gentle little tune – albeit always the same one - again played over a PA system throughout the area. Often the dulcit tones of a young child can be heard. The main voice we hear from the temple however, is a woman’s voice and she sounds like Doris Day to me, in fact she sounds like she’s singing Que Sera Sera and often, you can close your eyes (there’s a pattern developing here!) and tell yourself you’re back in Glasgow and it’s just some eejit having an extremely loud karaoke party!
That’s the thing, if it was Scotland, they’d all have an ASBO (anti social behaviour order) slapped on them. But it’s not Scotland. I’m a guest in another country so I have had to adjust to their way of doing things and in adjusting, I’ve found that I really love it. I remember the 3 young guys I met who each had a hearing impairment and I reckon I’m very fortunate to be able to hear at all. Perhaps it’s also a lesson in tolerance for me – maybe we can adjust to anything if we’re willing to try.
Don’t get me wrong, it will be nice to go back home to the busy city of Glasgow for some quiet but I can honestly say I will miss the dawn to dusk and overnight bombardment of noise that I’ve grown so used to in this lovely town that has been my home for 3 short but wonderful months.