Training the Ears

More than any other sense, I’ve noticed that my sense of hearing has gotten more “tuned” since I’ve been in Jamaica. Listening and discerning sounds has become more important for both enjoyment and survival here.

On my daily walk to the school, where the shoulder of the road is slim to none, and where the sides are getting overgrown with long grass, I rely less on visual cues sometimes than I do on the auditory warning of an approaching vehicle. In some ways it’s good that the undetectable hum of the Toyota Prius has not yet made its way to Jamaica. Its only when cars are not around that the road is tranquil, making it easy to discern where the next car is coming from and how far away it is. Plus, the drivers love to honk- both as a general greeting and to let you know that now is not a good time to step into the road, just in case you were crazy enough to think about it. It’s safer than it may sound, as drivers are accustomed to people on the roads and having to constantly maneuver around all kinds of obstacles.

Farmers, like my host father back in training, recognize how far away the rain is by its sound so they know how much time they have to take cover. Jedd and I have also begun the practice of discerning whether the rumble we hear from our living room during a storm is a really big truck out on the main road or a very drawn out roll of thunder. One of our new favorite past-times at our house is to sit, watch, and listen to the powerful torrents of a good rain storm.

Every day at school was also full of sound. I would hear the echoes of the students at school through the slat windows and the space between my wall and the roof. Based on the volume level of the class next door, I could easily tell when the teacher had left them unattended, and the volume grew steadily the longer the teacher was away.

I also use sounds to estimate the time when I wake up in the morning. In the night, we hear the drone of crickets or cicadas along with a rhythmic whistling from the toads. But as the dawn comes, around 5am, these sounds fade out. The rooster starts to crow (usually and thankfully, starting in the distance, although he has been known to come to our window around 5:30a.m.); and eventually the chickens come out to scavenge followed by a trail of chirping baby chicks.

Most Jamaicans have an almost miraculous ability to hear things. Having attended enough church services where I had to sneak in earplugs just to keep from getting a volume-overload headache, it’s a wonder some people can still hear at all. But they seem to have this amazing ability to understand what someone is saying from across the road, even while a mac truck plows by and blasts its horn. They can discern the tiniest, timid voices of first grades, afraid to speak up with hands in their mouths. And they can hold conversations in the midst of a booming concert without appearing to strain.

Anyway, we hope to capture some of these sounds to share with everyone in the future. Until then…

-M

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