For a long time, I thought of Africa as a quiet place.
Somehow, I’d gotten the image of wide open sandy spaces and the rough whisper of a safari guide in a Land Rover as he pointed to a nearby lion preparing to pounce on an unsuspecting zebra. It’s a clean, romantic, once-in-a-lifetime vacation, absurd view of the continent. But I’m sure there are places to find just this. And I bet those are lovely spots.
That’s not where I live. My small corner of Zambia is not one bit quiet. The roads are loud and my car is loud and the lorries hit rumble strips a half a mile away and I hear them even in my sleep. Taxis honk at all passersby. Call boys stand at bus stops and beckon you to their particular bus (probably going to the same place as all the others). Throughout the night you can hear the steady chorus of dogs howling and sometimes even the intermittent wails of a siren. Right now, there are people singing nearby and children’s voices echoing through the concrete office walls though they are outside and I am in. It’s guaranteed I will hear a rooster crow in the next 20 minutes. And he’ll continue on a cycle for an undetermined amount of time. The surrounding chickens will fill up any blank space with their squawking and pecking. Construction is happening across the street – workers often begin a 6:00 am. I’ll be yelled at a minimum of 20 times today. Most will be friendly and words I am moderately familiar with.
This is not where a lion waits in silence to pounce unsuspectingly on it’s prey.
A few months ago I spent 2 nights in Lusaka – the first with friends the next at a hotel within walking distance to the bus terminal. I’ve never loved a hotel so much. The walls were so solid. I could open my window to see one of the busiest sectors of the capital. But seated on my bed with the shades pulled- nothing.
Some days I miss the parks and the shoreline and the defined places with instituted calm and quiet. I miss the ease of the escape.
Life here seems… Different. I want to say real, but not like the difference of real and fake. Real as in reality. As in the constant challenges and struggles and trials to just live are always before your eyes and in your ears and on the news. Another fatal car accident, a new diagnosis, malaria, no water, in need of school fees, power is out- these are just a few of the daily things to deal with. If you pay any attention to the news, chances are Africa has been near the top of many-a-news-cycle. All kinds of dramatic things happen on the daily and then somehow just blend simply into the intermingled backdrops of stunning scenery and striking poverty. It’s a lot to take in, and it is loud and adds to the overall noise of this place.
And on top of all this, I don’t try to spend a lot of time in silence. I have BBC World Service in my car, NEEDTOBREATHE often playing on some device, my new West Wing obsession (10 years late to that party), people to Skype, podcasts (oh the podcasts!)… I invite in an endless amount of noise, ways to escape, alternate realities.
I’ve been in Zambia for 8 months now. I’m beginning to feel reflective over this chunk of time. So this is what I am challenged by today: what does it look like to listen for the still small voice speaking gently apart from all this preceding noise? And even more than this – what does it mean for me to actually hear it?
Maybe even most of all, what does everything sound like after the still small voice, after the preceding noise?