Island life is not hermetically sealed. Excluding those wealthy enough to blast the AC year round, most island residents live with windows open most of the time. Life here has a campy, indoor/outdoor vibe. Generally speaking, people who choose to live on a rock appreciate this aspect of island life. Myself included. Oh, how I longed for open windows and fresh breezes during the upper Midwest’s annual six month hibernation. Always the holdout among roommates over closing windows and turning on the stuffy AC, I only shutter-up now when desperate for some privacy from my home/work.
This means I’m subject to all neighborhood noises. In addition to the sound-scape of birds and tree frogs that you might expect to enjoy in the tropics, the following make up the discordant symphony of life surrounding my Love City abode:
Roosters Crowing. My recent bout with insomnia allowed the opportunity to log the day’s first crow. Yesterday was 3:17 am. This morning a bit earlier at 3. Crowing continues in surround sound, growing more boisterous until somewhere between 8 and 9 am. Then they lay off for a few hours until mid-afternoon. Not that there is any official schedule. My mom listened to a cock doodle-doo all night once and swore that by dawn it was hoarse.
Hens Laying. Have I yet mentioned that families of free-range chickens roam the island? Despite growing up in farm country, I somehow managed to avoid familiarizing myself with the sound of a hen laying an egg. Now that I live on a Caribbean island, I experience this wretched ear-pollution at least once a week. It’s probably not so dissimilar to what you or I would sound like mid egg-lay, except that the horrific bawwwks of pain are separated with clucks instead of curses.
Heavy Equipment. Two houses and one resort monstrosity are being built up the hill, bringing all sorts of loud construction machines to the ‘hood. During excavation, we’re tortured with the percussion of jackhammers throughout the entire work day. One guest suggested they might refrain from jack-hammering until 9am, so as not to disturb those on vacation. It would be nice, indeed, but I chose not to march my white ass up the hill and ask the construction crew to postpone their workday by an hour.
Cat Yowls. I can never tell if I’m overhearing a stand-off or a sex-off. Either way, I’m disturbed and embarrassed.
West Indian Neighbor’s Soundtrack. Up the hill lives a local gentleman whose taste in music vacillates between two extremes. He mostly favors Calypso and its sub-genre, Soca. With song titles like,”Big Banana,” “Bring de Kitty,” and “Cherry Garden”, it’s some of the raunchiest, most innuendo-filled music I’ve encountered. But a good chunk of the time he’s in a more pious state, favoring Christian and Gospel. For the first year, I could stomach the Jesus songs only because they were in the calypso style, so I could extract some charm from their uninvited presence in my home. But then came the Lenten mix. Played over and over again. Daily. And songs like,”He Liivvveess….He Liiivvveesss…..He Lives Inside My Heart!,” started to loop in my head. The seasonal nadir being the day a guest returned from church singing the same song. It was like having the black version coming out of my right speaker while the inferior white version blared from the left.
White Neighbor’s Love Mix. I know when the white neighbors up the hill are feeling amorous because I am suddenly assaulted with early 90’s ballads from the likes of Celine Dionne and Whitney Houston.
Neighbor Sneezes. Different neighbor? Same one? Not sure. But someone sneezes so violently and in such rapid succession that I was initially concerned a vital blood vessel might rupture. I’m told by a predecessor that this sneezing has gone on for over a decade, which tells me there are no immediate health concerns.
Sunday Funday, Santo Style. Maybe the least annoying track on this tape is the Spanish music played by the Santos down the hill. (Santo is local nomenclature for people from Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.) I learned immediately upon arrival that Sunday is their day to relax with the family, have fun, and party. Their music adds exotic spice to the neighborhood. Their laughter adds zest for life. The few times it has devolved into fighting, I could do without.
Iguana Falls. Iguanas are known for falling out of trees. Especially during summer when the flamboyants are in bloom. Sometimes they’ve fallen asleep. Sometimes they’re clumsily trying to reach a precarious bloom. But it’s a frequent occurrence to hear a loud THUMP in the yard, followed a few seconds later by the crunch of twigs and leaves as the iguana works its way back to the base of the tree. Twice I’ve been startled awake from the sound of one hitting my bedroom roof. Last year, I came upon a dead one inches from the building. It gave me quite a start. My only guess as to how he found this fate was by hitting his head during a fall from the roof. Most of the time, however, these prehistoric critters are amazingly resilient.
Car Barge. Some communities have clock or bell towers marking the hours. I have the screeching car barge ramps. Whenever I hear the nails-on-chalkboard sound of the gate going up, I know it’s either the top or bottom of the hour. A good friend who works on one of the barges was shocked to hear it from my house. I asked if bringing a can of WD-40 down the hill and offering to oil the hinges might help, but he claims the problem requires more than a routine lube job.
Tarzan Calls. I can’t be certain, but I think this is the same fellow with the schizophrenic music mix. At least once, but sometimes several times a day, he emits what I can honestly best describe as a Tarzan yell. At first, I thought I was hearing an orgasm noise, and was again, a bit embarrassed. Then someone told me they thought he was a Calypso singer, and maybe these were vocal exercises. This made sense, especially considering his predilection for the genre. But then a few weeks ago, I was at a group meditation where we were taught how to scream into towels as a means of releasing stress and other negative emotions. There were several pros at this group, and once the meditation began and the towel-screaming commenced around me, I couldn’t help but think this sounds exactly like my neighbor. So maybe it’s just a primal scream sort of activity to purge frustrations.
Property Noises. And so I can always be reminded that I’m at work even when I’m at home, I am intimate with all of the property’s noises: gravel crunching in parking lots and on paths, the distinct sound of each condo’s door, the pool pump turning on and off, guests talking and sliding lounge chairs. I’m most grateful for being keenly in touch with the slam of the gate closing when someone approaches my cottage. The only time I’ve stood watching the clock, waiting for it to chime 10pm so I could enforce the noise rule, was when a lovely, extended Korean family visited for a wedding. And brought along, all the way from Canada, their karoake machine. Even my AC and headphones couldn’t drown out the sound of my favorite Elvis ballad, “I Can’t Help Farring in Rove with You.”
No surprise then, that I burn through a couple pairs of padded ear-encompassing headphones a year. If anyone is planning to get me a 30th birthday present in June, I’d love a set of the Bose noise-cancelling variety. Thanks.