I’ve often wondered what makes some people early-morning risers while others can’t function until later in the day. My mother tells me I’ve always been of the early-bird variety, waking chipper and ready to go at the crack of dawn.
Living abroad has made rising early to work a necessity as the noise level in the Mexican, Costa Rican and Chinese cities I lived in made it impossible to write after midmorning. The first couple of hours are pretty quiet with just the roosters crowing in the background and the occasional dog barking. Doves coo, birds chirp and the only constant sound is the melodic tapping on my keyboard.
After a while, I hear the neighbors start stirring; kids in bed moaning they don’t want to get up. I smell the coffee brewing and sweet pastries baking. The early workers stomp down the stairs of our calejon (a small, narrow street) letting gravity carry them to the street without resistance. Below, the commuting noise begins with drivers tooting their horns in stopped traffic while further away diesel buses and trucks grind their gears climbing the hill.
By eight, the water man walks the streets advertising his product at the top of his voice, while the gas man does the same. In China, men and women pulling wooden wagons call for residents to bring down their cardboard, glass, plastic—any used products they can take away and sell. Costa Rica is known for its vendors of eggs, fruits and vegetables at the back of pick-up trucks or station wagons with a similar sing song—just different products.
Many a time I’ve thought of the line from Monty Python and The Holy Grail: “Bring out your dead.”
All of this morning noise becomes part of the routine and is most pleasant.
How Loud Can It Get?
Later in the day, and especially on weekends, the noise level becomes excruciatingly loud. In China, neighbors were all working so there was no problem with radios and televisions. There, the issue was street traffic below us and the noisy card players at outdoor tables across the street.
In Costa Rica, it was the adjoining neighbors’ kids playing extremely loud music (the Thriller CD for a week when Michael Jackson died). And in Mexico it’s another kid playing the exact, same CD three or four times each afternoon, very loudly.
This weekend was the winner, though. Not only did I have all of the daytime noise, but the evenings were filled with a festival at the nearby St. Sebastian church. We had half a dozen carnival rides with loud music and sirens every time one started running, loads of people screaming in fear, traffic backed up half a mile, and drivers tooting their horns: oh what fun we had!
And this until 10:30 at night. In a residential neighborhood. On a street, not a park, for four nights. I could have strangled the idiot who gave the carnival rides a permit for this. And what, pray tell, do carnival rides have to do with Saint Sebastian? Huh?
And all day Sunday the church shot loud cannons—well, that’s what it sounds like to this gringa—as they usually do on Mexican saints days. It was annoying to me but frightening for the dog and five cats I’m caring for. They spent much of the day under the desk where I was working wondering what were those stupid humans up to now?
This is when I really miss houses that are well insulated, with double-paned glass windows: haven’t been in too many of those in the five years I’ve been traveling.Â Instead, I make do with getting up early in the morning, writing as much as I can while it’s quiet, and using ear plugs when it the noise becomes too much. Like everything else when living the expat life, you learn to adapt to the circumstances you have to live with.
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