Saturday, June 13, 2009

Desert Notes: The Sound of Abu Dhabi

All cities have soundtracks. The noises that show they are alive and awake. Abu Dhabi does too.

Sitting here, writing this article, I can hear the far off hum of traffic. If I lived in the city centre, this wouldn’t be a hum it would be a constant beat of cars and people. The traffic noise is interspersed with hooters and brakes.

You seldom hear the sirens of emergency vehicles, even though we are close to a fire station and a large police complex. They tend to run swiftly, with lights flashing, and very seldom the wail of sirens. They are around, but much quieter than their South African counterparts.

Where I live, my morning sounds are very different from my night sounds. In the morning I hear the jangling of the bell as the gas track slowly drives down the street, reminding people that they can get their gas canisters exchanged. Or the bright ding-dong of the doorbell as the Oasis water delivery man brings my 5 gallon water bottle for the cooler.
Early morning also brings the burble of birds in the gangway, which I can hear through the hum of the extractor fan in the bathroom. In the summer, the bird sounds disappear, because it is too hot.

On weekends, the streets stay quiet, with the sound of children laughing and riding bicycles in the street.

There are the ever present hens and the strutting roosters, crowing not at dawn, but whenever they feel like it. I have no idea who these chicken families belong to, but they walk the street as though it belongs to them.

During the week, my morning sounds are filled with the noise of cars and people. Our street ends up taking the overflow parking from the nearby Passport and Immigration department. There is the rush and bustle of cars, the hooting of impatient drivers and anxious parkers. Occasionally there is the crushing sound of bumper on bumper, or bumper on the “No Parking” sign, which is roundly ignored.

There is the constant chatter from the streets around, as people bustle with the paperwork need for a trip to Immigration. Cellphones ring, and the chatter is that of Babel, a thousand voices, languages, inflections. Occasionally you hear a chuckle of laughter or the hearty greeting of friends.

In the afternoon, the streets quiet, and the cars go away, leaving it free for the children to explore.

In the evening, the streets change again. Some children are still about, but its quieter. Except, like now, for the distant hum of the traffic. As I lie in bed, I will hear the sounds of the neighbourhood street cats, alternately fighting or wailing in passion. At 2am, I will hear the thump and rattle, clatter and bang of the refuse truck, coming to empty those hated dumpsters.

Then it is quiet again, until the sunrises.
For with the sun, comes the most recognisable of this city’s sounds. The call to prayer and the singing of the muezzin.

There is literally a mosque on every street corner, and where I live, there are at least five within a 2-5 minute walking distance. We have the small mosque with the cream and brown walls. There is the little mosque with its green roof. There is the mosque at the Arabic school. There is the beautiful big mosque right next to the Christian churches. There is a tiny mosque behind the far row of villas, with a little bench outside.
And those are the ones I have seen so far. There are bound to be others, of all shapes and sizes. You are never far from a mosque, so answering the call to prayer is never a burden for those wishing to pray.

The first call comes at dawn, with the rising of the sun. The first voice goes, quickly followed by the calls from the other mosques, over their loudspeakers. It is discordant at first, but becomes an unusual harmony that has come to mark the passing of time.

When I first moved here, the calls were odd, strange, a reminder that this was not my home, that I was somewhere else.

Now, as I have become used to them, it reminds me of where I am and what needs to be done.

There are six prayers held daily. The prayers are made according to the position of the sun or moon, your location and vary daily. Today (Friday, 18 February), the first prayer (known as Fajr) was at 5:34 am. I hear it as I wake, knowing that soon my alarm will go off, and I will need to get up. The next prayer (known as Shuruq) was at 6:54am, and during the week, this reminds me that it is nearly time to get my older daughter to school. The lunchtime prayer (known as Dhuhr) will be at 12:36pm. When the Asr prayer is called at 4pm, I know its time to think about cooking supper. And the Maghrib prayer (tonight at 6:19pm) tells me that its definitely supper time and that the sun is setting. The last prayer of the day (Ishaa) tells me its getting late (its 7:49pm), and that night is here.

While these sounds may remind me of my daily routine, it has recently become significant in another way.

It tells me that people are praying. Which in this chaotic world of ours, is a good thing. People are praying to be better people, for a better world. It’s a thing of peace.

I am sure that it was similar in the old days when church bells were rung to mark the Catholic prayer times. I don’t think many churches do this anymore. You’d probably hear it in Ireland, and probably in Rome. But very few places would ring out the bells to mark the Angelus (a catholic prayer). And its sad.

To me, the ritual of the regular prayers has become a symbol of hope. I may not believe the same as what they do, but I appreciate their efforts. They are trying, in their own way, to be more of themselves.

Surely we should be doing that too?

No comments: