Dispatch from the field: The Sounds of Bria

"Sometimes, it’s a tiny, adorable baby goat yelling for its mother and, if you can’t see it, you might think it’s a child crying."

This morning, I awoke to the sounds of a Sunday service just down the road from the house.  It is the same every Sunday around 8:00am.  A group of strong male voices singing with several African drums accompanying followed by the powerful voices of women in children responding in 3-part harmony.  Their songs last around 10 minutes and happen about 3 times each service.  This music is combined with the children next door, talking, playing, crying, yelling in Songo.  Behind the house was the sound of someone hammering a nail and then in the distance, I heard a motorcycle drive by.

We have 2 mosques within earshot of the house and the call to prayer starts every morning at 4:30am.  Usually I only hear the call from the big, beautiful mosque right up the street from us but sometimes I can also hear another mosque’s call to prayer.  2 men singing from different places and sometimes their voices are in harmony.  It’s really amazing.  Some of the men who sing the call to prayer over the mosque’s loudspeaker have really beautiful voices.  I just have to stop, listen and enjoy.

Bria has goats, sheep and chickens walking around all the time seemingly without their owner.  As in any small town in Africa, everyone knows who owns these animals.  And, apparently the animals know where they live.  With all these goats, I hear the loud baaaaaah sound every day.  Sometimes, it’s a tiny, adorable baby goat yelling for its mother and, if you can’t see it, you might think it’s a child crying.  Just yesterday, I was giving a presentation to the staff and a baby goat with an exceptionally loud voice was running back and forth just on the other side of the wall and I listened trying to decide if it was a child or a goat.  I’ve heard goats’ voices so much that I can now distinguish between different types of calls – bored vs. hungry vs. panicked.  There were 3 babies born recently – one all black, one black with white spots and one grey.  They were so cute I wanted to hug them but I figured that wouldn’t be a good idea for a number of reasons.  Not the least of which being the owner might assume I was stealing it!

Things I hear all the time at the office:  the constant hum of the giant generator that provides our power (I can hear the one at the house right now but fortunately, my room is on the other side of the house).  The staticy sound of the long-range radio from Bangui, the guards talking on the walkie-talkie’s, kids running by my office after school.  The Admin office is right next to a blue metal door that we never use and for some reason, children love to knock on that door as they walk by.  Some days it’s a lot more often than others and I yell out the window “Arretez-vous!” – Stop!

Everyone lives in small mud huts with mud floors and no electricity.  So, they are outside during the day.  This means, you can always hear people talking and laughing.  Everyone in the neighborhood knows my name and when I walk to work, people see me coming and start shouting, “Lexie!” and children come sprinting from every corner to shake my hand.  Or, they just start yelling “Munju!!  Munju!!” (white person).  People love shaking hands here.  If I’ve never seen the person before, I’ll say “Balamo”, Hello in Songo, and they always respond with “Merci!”.  No one has figured out why everyone responds with “merci” when greeted but I’ve seen it happen among Centrafricans as well – not just with foreigners.  The regular greeting in CAR when you first see someone is, “Hi.  Did you sleep well last night?”  I’ve learned how to say this in Songo as well and to respond with, “Yes I slept well, thank you”.  So funny.

Every night around 10pm, all the dogs in town start howling at once.  Some have a more forlorn howl while others are just barking.  They all stop at the same time.  How do they know when to stop?  It is so crazy.

Living in community as I am, means there is always someone else in the house.  So, the other sounds of my life here include soccer on the television, people laughing and talking on the front terrace with their beers, the MedRef singing in Swahili in his room right next to mine in a high-pitched voice, doors constantly opening and closing, people walking around in flip-flops and the lovely high-pitched squeal of the bats that live in the roof.  LOL!

Ah life in the field!