Friday, February 11, 2011

Noise, Noise, Noise

One of my least favorite things about Peru is the noise. In the more urban areas, just like in the rest of the world, there are always horns honking. For a long time, much of this honking seemed completely random. However, with some observation and the help of one of the Peace Corps drivers during training, I have learned to differentiate some of the honks. There the ones that signify, “Hey buddy, get a move one,” when a light turns green, for example. The more forceful ones are of the, “Hey jerk, you just cut me off!” variety. Then there are the honks to acknowledge a pretty girl or to greet an acquaintance. In the countryside, the mototaxistas honk their horns going around a curve to forewarn anyone coming from the other direction. You also hear this at intersections in the city, because there is a lack of stop signs, as well as a lack of adherence to most traffic rules.

What’s worse is the music. I like most of the reggaeton, salsa, musica criolla, and other types of music in Peru. Even the American pop music is alright because it reminds me of home. However, I’m not a huge fan of cumbia, which is what they listen to most of the time out in the campo where I live. I have been told that cumbia is the most popular genre of music in Latin America right now, but that Peru has really bad cumbia. I really wouldn’t mind listening to it, except that the radio stations play the same songs over and over, and basically everyone here listens to music louder than I appreciate (I am a little bit of granny in that sense).

However, any time any one is feeling a little festive, they crank the music up louder than that. If there is some sort of fiesta (high school graduation, church reunion, town dance, baptism, etc), they have a DJ or a live band, and the speakers are turned up so loud my ears literally hurt and it takes me a day or two to hear properly again. I think this is about par for the course for any sort of concert or music festival, but at least when I would attend that sort of event in the US, I felt like I had some sort of control over where I sat/stood (i.e. how close to the speakers), and I could always leave if it was that bad. I never really feel like I have those options here.

Similarly, people usually have their TVs turned up louder than I would choose. This also goes for when I have gone to bed. There is absolutely no sense here of “Oh, someone’s trying to sleep, we should turn the music/TV down.” I guess people here just grow up with loudness from the time they are in the womb, so they have learned to sleep through it. At the parties where the music is so loud that I can’t hear the person next to me speaking, there are always babies and young children passed out in their mothers’ or other female relatives’ laps.

I was woken up recently at 6:30 in the morning to, again, music playing more loudly than I would like generally, but especially for that early in the morning. Any time of day between about 6:00 am and midnight you can hear music, if not at your own house, then at a couple of houses nearby. And if it is loud enough that you can hear it 100+ meters away, then you can imagine how loud it is at that house. However, it is interesting to note that pretty much everyone likes the same music here. In the US, young people, middle-age people, and older people usually have very different tastes in music, and those tastes vary a lot from person to person within each age group. Here, it is all cumbia all the time. Younger people might put on some reggaeton occasionally, but the parents will still listen to it. Everyone enjoys the same radio stations and the same cheesy concert DVDs of their favorite local cumbia bands. Everyone dances at all the events that have concert/dance components, which is pretty much all of them. And everyone turns up the music too loud.

In addition to horns honking and music playing, there are also the animals. I have sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and dogs living right outside my house. Throughout town, there are also goats, donkeys, horses, cows, ducks, and cats. As animals do, they are generally wandering around, looking for food, and making some sort of noise. Sometimes you will hear a rooster crowing. Growing up in the country this is a familiar noise, but that doesn’t make it any less loud and annoying, especially if you are trying to sleep. Then, occasionally you hear a donkey braying. There is no way to really describe this awful, loud, complex series of noises, but many times when one gets going, the rest of them within hearing distance will start up. This is especially annoying at night, and they have actually woken me up before.

Sometimes you will hear a dog barking, but then, similarly, many times that will set off the other dogs. What’s worse is when they start fighting. The dogs here are generally a lot more aggressive than the dogs back home, I think because they are raised to protect the house, family, and animals, not for companionship. They are also a little bit abused and neglected compared to what most people from the US think is appropriate. So, if another dog wanders into their territory, especially at night, watch out. My host family’s dog, King, was tagging along with me the other day when I had to walk to the other side of town. We walked past an area that I know has a couple of small, aggressive dogs, so I tried to walk on the other side of the street. Before I know it, there are like 6 dogs attacking my poor dog. I tried to throw rocks at them, but of course I didn’t get to close, and I was too flustered to have any sort of aim. Luckily, King managed to escape after a couple of minutes and run off toward the house without any real injuries. I hear this sound of yelping, snarling, barking, and scrabbling around in the dirt far too often.

Then, there are the bugs. I grew with the sounds of crickets and other insects during the summer. However, I never really had to deal with them in my bedroom. Here, I have a door to the main living area and a large outside door in my room. Both of them have cracks around the edges of sufficient size to let in all manner of insects. Right now, we are in the middle of a June bug infestation. As soon as it starts to get dark, they start swarming inside by the hundreds, especially if the lights are on. I have taken to just lighting a candle in my room to do my work in the evenings, and that helps a little bit. Depending on the how recently it has rained, there are also lots of mosquitoes. I get a few crickets, moths, katydids, and other random insects. Luckily, my mosquito net protects me from most of these bugs, but I can still hear them all in my room. For the most part, they are not loud, the they just make those creepy scraping, flapping noises that bugs make. It is surprisingly distracting when you are trying to sleep.

So, thank goodness I came to Peru with my I-pod and my ear plugs. I always like to have music around, but I was never of fan of ear plugs. I don’t like how they feel, they always fall out at night and I’m afraid they’re going to get lost, or I’m afraid I won’t hear my alarm, etc. However, I had just a simple pair of foam ear plugs that I came across when I was packing, and decided to throw them in (along with an eye mask, which I also never really like but have used here on several occasions). Boy am I glad that I did. They aren’t great, but they block out the quiet noises and take the edge off the loud ones. Between the music, the host family talking, the animals outside, and the bugs inside, I use either my I-pod or my ear plugs pretty much every night. Should any of you ever visit me, make sure you bring your ear plugs, and get ready for the noise!


  1. That sounds like it could be pretty frustrating and take some getting used to. I had to look up cumbia, and I can see how that would start to wear after a while. How much music did you take with you? Have any requests? I hope everything else is going well, its good to hear how you are doing.

    - Allen Egley

  2. Hey!

    It does get a little frustrating, but it's just part of life here. I had a decent-sized music collection, and luckily I have been able to get music from some of the other volunteers. However, I will think on it and let you know if I have any requests. And in terms of cumbia...I will have to post a video on facebook one of these days. :)