The other day, a friend back home inquired about falling asleep in the village. “What kind of sounds do you hear?” he asked. “Is it like falling asleep in New Hampshire?”
While I desperately wished to erupt into a wild, romanticized description filled with lion roars and tribal chanting, I refrained. Instead, I thought about what actually happens each night while trying to fall asleep.
The first noise almost always comes from from the kitchen. I hear a cup fall onto the cement floor, a pot rattle, or a plastic bag crinkle. When I first moved in, these noises were certainly a source of fear and anxiety. Is it possible that someone has broken in? What do they want? #@&$, are they looking for my chocolate stash? But now, these sounds are a source of anger. I’m angry because I know its that motha-lickin mouse that I already spent 15 minutes trying to kill that night. That same mouse that is going to spend all night traipsing around my kitchen while I lay in the next room, being tormented by its late-night shenanigans.
The next noise I hear comes the roof. It’s loud. It sounds like someone is sitting above my head cleaning the tin roof with a metal sponge. This clumsy scratching noise ensues for a few seconds, then stops. It’s succeeded by piercing squeaks that are so high-pitched that I question how my eardrums are still functioning. I usually retort by yelling something back or doing my best to imitate the obnoxious squeaking, but my efforts are in vain. The roof rasping and creature creaking continues.
Meanwhile, outside my window, there are plenty more sounds to be heard. Right now, it seems to be wedding season in Malawi, which means there is a deluge of all-night dance parties. These dances are held directly outside various families’ homes, where huge loudspeakers are positioned to blast music all night long. (Literally all night; you can still hear music playing at 5:00am). There’s actually a word in Chichewa to describe the action of staying up all night: kuchezera. Therefore, many of my nights are spent trying to fall asleep over the music of the kuchezera-ers. (How the bride manages to dance all night long and then look presentable for her wedding the next day is an enigma).
Another lovely, mellifluous village sound is that of blasted drunk men aimlessly wandering the streets, attempting to survive the walk home to their hardworking wives and hungry children. (More on the drinking habits of some Malawian men later). Slurred words, irregular footsteps, and abrupt bouts of shouting or laughing come drifting into my window, reminding me why I don’t leave the house after dark.
On certain evenings, melancholic hymns are added to the array of sounds I hear while falling asleep. The beautiful voices of a choir, interwoven with gentle sobbing, announce the occurrence of a funeral the next day which are sadly not so uncommon here in Malawi.
Taken together, this orchestra of diverse sounds compose my Malawian nights. As lay in bed staring up at my mosquito net, I hear squeaking from the mice and god-knows-what else that reside in my house, a drunk man’s chortle, dogs barking, Malawian hits playing from a loudspeaker, a baby wailing, the wind crashing against my windows, and sometimes, the mysterious beating of drums. These noises contrive an amusing lullaby; certainly not what I expected when I envisioned my nights here, but regardless, another quirky aspect of everyday life in Malawi.
Nighttime in my house: