Sounds of Dar

Realizing that my idea of fun might seem a bit odd, I have, for fun, been collecting a variety of sounds that I have encountered in the city.  Especially since returning from the States, it has struck me how different Tanzanian life sounds from American life.  There are of course fresh, new noises to the ear, such as the language.  There are also subtle noises that don’t seem particularly noticeable at first, but once a pattern is recognized, it forms the background for all other things sensed.  And then there are the missing sounds, such as emergency vehicles that require months before their absence is realized.

So here is a short (2:00, audio only) compilation of noteworthy sounds.  For “fun,” you might listen to soundbite before scrolling down to read the description.

In order of hearing:

Morning walk with Rutledge down a semi-paved road – Most of our neighbors raise their own chickens.  Unfortunately, I had to edit out the bleating goat.

What I hear from my living room on Sunday afternoons, Ramadan, and most other Tanzanian holidays – This is the sound of a party at Coco Beach, about two blocks away.  It is also known at the evil arch-nemesis of naptime.  There are no noise ordinances in Dar es Salaam, but our neighbors are threatening to fight for one.  By the way, the decibel level is about the same whether you are standing outside the house or inside.

Downtown Dar es Salaam –  

  • The first few are a series of noises made by roving street vendors to get your attention:  stacks of coins being shuffled one-handed, kissing noise (not meant to signify a kiss), “maji, maji” (which means, “water, water”).
  • A man is speaking on his cell phone in Swahili.  A bike goes by and sounds his bell.  The breaks of a dala dala sweak (dala dalas are bus-like vehicles that dominate the streets in Dar).  I love this short bit because it was perfectly composed on it’s own without any editing by me.

“Shakedown City” – This statement is made almost every time I get in a car, either by someone out loud or just in my head.  It’s what we say whenever we spot police pulling cars over, presumably to take a bribe.  The toddler heard in this clip picked up on it pretty quickly.

Seriously, heard over the wall dividing me from my neighbor’s house – We came home one evening to these amazing African sounds next door.  It sounded like an impromptu gathering of a professional choir, if that is even possible.  A party, a wedding?  Not sure, but we weren’t invited.  It was a beautiful noise and the recorder did not do it justice.  I listened outside until the mosquitoes drove me away.  You can also hear the chirp of crickets singing along slightly offbeat.

If I had more time, I would have included a few more prominent sounds.  Missing from the above soundbite is the steady hum of the generator.  Almost like white noise, it took me a while to notice the generator, but I slowly figured out that it cranks up shortly before the power cuts out.  When the generator comes on, I count to 3, at which time, the internet goes down and the lights flicker off.  By the way, 3 seconds is just enough time to tell the person you are talking to on skype goodbye.

Another sound might be the early morning horn honk of the dala dala picking up our neighbor across the street.  He’s never out there on time, so the dala dala honks.  Then honks again.  Then honks again.  And again.  By the time my neighbor makes it out there, I am fully awake.

And lastly perhaps, I would include the sound of a hatchet chopping down a 20″ diameter tree.  Yes, I said 20″.  A tree fell in our driveway over a month ago.  I thought it would be an easy fix to have someone come out with a chainsaw and cart the tree away.  Instead, 5 guys show up with 1 hatchet.  They each took turns slowly chopping away at the tree.  I imagine we’ll have a couple more days of this before the tree is in small enough pieces to carry off.

For my next post, I considered how I might write about the smells of Dar, but I couldn’t figure out how to convey that over the internet.  I guess that is where technology fails me.  In the mean time, I’ll be thinking of something equally fun.