Monday, June 17, 2013

The sound of silence

In the last 60 seconds....

- Concrete is being extracted within 20 yards-- below my office window by a jackhammer
- 35 buses per minute are flying by at 65 miles per hour within jumping distance from my office
- No fewer than 10 taxis are honking
- Construction workers are welding, sanding and grating and doing stuff I don't know what, but it is loud
- TWO car alarms are going off
- A backhoe is backing up beeping its"reverse" beeping thing
- Construction workers are yelling and whistling out at each other constantly
- An ambulance is going by, sirens blaring
- One of those motorcycles, I don't know what they're called, but they're loud - is flying by at full speed

Just another day in the city of Lima.

The first week I was here I thought, Oh - so we work next to a construction site, no big deal.  What I didn't know is that the whole city of Lima is a construction site.  24/7.... 365.

Noise Noise Noise.  It is probably the only thing that I just can't get used to.  It isn't just the office, it is every restaurant, taxicab, street, public building, bank, pharmacy....everywhere.  All restaurants have a television BLARING for the patrons.  Taxi drivers turn the music or talk radio up LOUD every time I get in their cab, for my entertainment pleasure I'm sure.  Banks and waiting areas always have TVs with "You're on Candid Camera" videos on repeat.  In the bus stations, the auto-repeat for "please do not leave baggage unattended" or "Bus 6 for Ica is departing now" is DEAFENING.  

I usually resist using all caps.  But it is the only way to describe the constant barrage of noise, and at ridiculously high decibels.  It puts me on absolute edge all the time.  I've never wanted to punch a baby in the face until I moved to Peru.

When I hear something like the serenade of a car alarm at 5:00 am right under my bedroom window, I jump out of my skin.  When I'm walking along the street and a jackhammer starts its pounding one meter from my head, I feel like my insides are vibrating.  Remember that episode of the Simpsons?  "Mr. Spritz goes to Washington" where the airplanes kept flying over the Simpson's home and they had to get legislation passed to change it?  There is a scene where Marge and Homer are sitting on their couch and just can't handle the noise anymore.  That is how I feel.
I think this is what I look like.
I swear that I now have noise sensitivity, otherwise known as Hyperacusis.  What a stupid thing, no?  I just want quiet.  Davis, poor thing, all he wants to do is practice his skateboarding tricks outside our front door, but I just can't handle it.  The sound of his wheels on the concrete send me spinning.  He wants to practice the drums.  No way.  I'm depriving him of his little boy rights!

When I travel into the field, it is so much better.  I've written before about Soto Island and the complete absence of man-made noises.  That was the first time I have rested, like for real.  Like my brain didn't have to process any other sounds and I could just chill. 

I don't know why this is so important to me.  But it really is.  City living is tough on me.  It isn't just noise, but smog and lots of people.  People are everywhere, like 9 million of them.  I was crammed so tightly into a public bus once that the only respite I could get was to finally wiggle my arm out the window, face smashed against the glass, one arm dangling out going 70 miles an hour and me just praying that I didn't lose the arm to either another bus, random road sign, or pole.  

And the traffic.  Lordhavemercythetraffic.  Getting  into a Lima taxi takes a leap of faith all on its own.  They all drive with two feet.  Whiplash all day.  The road signs and lines on the road and red lights are all merely suggestions.  Pedestrians and bicyclists are on their own; my husband has a metal plate in his collarbone to prove it.  There have been multiple times that I was certain I was going to die.  My tactic for surviving this is simply to pray.  And accept that if it is my time to go, it is my time to go. 

Sometimes it’s fun.  In a sick and twisted sort of way.  Like "I might die today!" kind of fun.  I don't understand why there aren't dead bodies piled on the sides of the roads.  

Part of me really embraced the chaos at first.  And still do to a certain extent.  I know that this place has its own sense of order and structure and while I can fit in to survive - my body and brain just haven't found contentment in the madness of this beautiful city.  And it is.  It is beautiful.  Don't hear me wrong.  Lima is full of history and has people making-out everywhere and everyone is usually so nice and the food is delicious and I could go on and on.....  

But they've either been born and raised in the noise, or become accustomed to it and I simply have not.  I respect you, people of Lima.  You have all my respect.  

I guess I'm just ready to get back to my corner of the world where the loudest thing I hear on most days is the cheer of Davis' baseball team when he hits a home run. 


  1. Jessica, this is so good. Might look at publishing in something somewhere. The frustration from everyday sound annoyances is so vivid it screams at me. We have all heard some of these sounds but not collectively...good job.

  2. Girl. I. Feel. You! So I am sure that you have heard me go on and on about the "white noise" in the building at HQ. I feel like you have felt this past year EVERY day I step in the building to work. Why in heavens name would anyone in their right mind pay thousands and thousands of dollars to artificially produce noise in order to cover up noise. I mean the logic of it is unbelievably dumb to me. D.U.M.B. And it isn't even soothing noise we are paying for. It is like "continuous fingernails on the chalkboard" noise, or the tv stuck on "static" noise, or the "someone blowing in your left ear for eight hours a day" noise. I don't mind noise in general per se.....but I feel your pain of having no control over the continuous and distracting white noise in the the environment I work in for 40 hours a week.