Chapter 4: The Goats Here, They Burp

Perhaps my largest intention for this trip is to focus on my personal
development and self-discovery. In order to do that, I’ve been told that it
is important to become more mindful of one’s surroundings, environment, and
self. Therefore, as part of this journey, each month I will be writing one
blog focused on one of the senses. This month, I start with the sense of
The first sound which hits my ears every morning is the call to prayer, a
melodic chanting amplified over every mosque’s speakers five times a day.
At 5:00am it is solely responsible for the waking of thousands of
Senegalese men and women with the unified purpose of prayer to Allah. Me? I
normally lay my head back down to await my next alarm clock set for around
6:30. In America, we would call this alarm a rooster. The first time my
ears were exposed to its sound, I wanted to run out and feed it a cough
drop. Little did I know that humans just ought to give roosters more credit
for reliably announcing the sunrise every morning despite a perpetually
sore or clogged throat.
When the roosters start, it’s the signal for the goats to begin their, uh,
burping contest? I’ve heard goats bleat, and sometimes these goats bleat,
but, I swear, first these goats have a burping contest all the while being
cheered on by the gobbling squawk of the turkeys. How people sleep past
6:45 is a mystery to me.
I dress, stretch, and meditate to the whirling and buzzing of my fan, an
always welcome noise against the stifling Senegal heat. As I walk to the
health post or the school for work, I’m greeted by the various syllables
which my brain is beginning to register as the dignified language of Wolof.
Every morning with the sandwich lady:
Me: Assalam maleekum
Sandwhich lady: Maalekum Salam. Nanga def?
Me: Mangi fi. Nga nelow bu baax?
Sandwhich lady: Waaw, nelownaa bu baax.
Me: Mangi dem liggeey. Ba chickanam!
At the health post I’m surrounded by crying children as infected wounds get
cleaned next to the asserting of the nurses to “noppalu” (rest, stop
crying). I acknowledge the groans of men and women entering with
dangerously high fevers, yet having to wait three hours to see the doctor.
On certain days, I listen to the amazingly powerful and constant beating of
the human heart entering through the stethoscope as I take blood pressure
or listen for irregularities.
On walks with my family or other Senegalese folk, my ears are drawn to the
sound of shoes scrapping over the ground. It is a sound that in America
would quickly get under my skin, but here appears to simply be the accustom
way of walking in sandals over a sandy surface.
One of my favorite Senegal noises occurs after lunch, if I’m lucky. We have
tea in the States, but here we have attaya. It is a process to make attaya.
One of the many steps includes pouring the tea between two small glass cups
in order to create the characteristic foam know to the drink. My yaay may
spend ten minutes doing this. The sound of pouring liquid hitting and
filling a glass cup at such a constant and steady pace calms my nerves much
like rain on a roof.
Perhaps the most beloved sound comes from the music. Senegal is a country
of people filled with song and dance. Once, after hearing of the local
soccer team’s victory, a two hour long block rave ensued. Shouting,
dancing, singing, chanting, drumming on metal bowls and plastic buckets.
The energy was palpable. After the rave slowly simmered and dissipated, a
drumming and dancing circle was arranged. It’s a type of drumming and
dancing I’ve never encountered before in a time signature foreign to most
American music. The beat arises in people the desire to jump and move their
bodies with energetic effort. The drummers went on for hours with every
bang on the drum reverberating in one’s ears.
I have come to the conclusion that the waves and vibrations making their
way through the air into your ears deserve to be noticed and listened to.
They can cause physical reactions, like being woken up. They can be
humorous, tickling your ear drums and inciting memories or past
connections. Noise can arise in oneself emotion and thought. These
vibrations and waves, although not touchable hold a tangible power.
Any fun sounds in your life?