I am sitting on a balcony in Banos, obstinately with the goal of ‘working’. Instead I will count the sounds happening on the street below me. A world of activity just out of view.
- High pitched hum of a little Suzuki motorbike
- Happy Trumpet notes from a salsa song on the radio
- “Dona Moooni – ya esta” – as one neighbor shouts to another (Mrs Moni – its ready)
- The clatter of blue gas tanks being loaded and unloaded from the truck. I cant see that they are blue. But I know they are blue, because all gas tanks are blue.
- “Aguacate” shouted by a street vendor (avocado)
- Neighbors dogs barking, mostly just to say ‘I’m here! I’m here!’ I think. Sort like we all do, just wanting to be remembered, acknowledged.
- Short, sharp beep of a car alarm being activated
- “Zapallo” (pumpkin-gourd) being shouted by another street vendor. Many fruits and vegetables are sold on the street in Ecuador, but pumpkin-gourd is an unusual offer.
- More salsa notes.
- Now an angry car alarm
- Now the gas tank truck is pulling away, all the blue tanks clanking in the back against the metal bars which hold them in like caged tigers
- “Un dollar, un dollar” – Something else being sold for only 1 dollar, but I can’t make out exactly what.
- the distant buzz of a rotary saw cutting through metal
- I really wish I could make out what is being sold for dollar. I strain my ears, curiosity burning them from the insides.
- The wind and heat rattled the tin roofs of the surrounding houses and ours as well
- A push car rattles by
- Salsa song from this distance seems un-ending, A continuous serious of repeated notes.
- Murmur of voices passing by talking.
- High pitched tinkle tinkle of a chain against cement going by, but what its attached to I can not imagine.
- My curiosity finally gets the best of me, and I ask my friend what the dollar man is selling – she informs me that they are kitchen aprons, bright red. I feel I haven’t cheated, since I wasn’t the one who looked.
- A kid throwing a tantrum, screaming angry
- The rattle of a shop metal gate being opened up for day – quite late given that its almost 11am
- “Dale, DAAAle CUIDADO” yells the helpers helping the large truck park. Now the engine is revving as it tries to maneuver around a tight corner.
I have often wondered if there is a certain unexpected blessing to being blind, unable to judge and pre-judge people on the basis of their physical appearance. Although, maybe, as humans are still humans no matter their ability to see clearly, one would just find other things to superficially judge others on, such as one’s particular smell and the exact pitch of their voice or, even as we do now, judge by the accent they carry.
Its remarkable how our brains are trained to tune out the background noises, unless we chose to tune in to them intentionally. I recently had to spend some time trying to explain to a friend whose English is quite advanced, but there is always still more to perfect, the difference between hearing and listening. You’ll listen to song I sent you, but hear the cars on the street. The internet helped clarify for me what was already intuitive: hearing is passive, listening is intentional. Are you listening to me?? The passive aggressive question – yes, yes , I hear you dear, responds the annoyed listener. I cant really prevent myself from hearing you, but I can chose not to pay attention.
Where do we chose to focus on attention? Recently read a book on applying the principles of positive psychology to relationships. It made the parallel observation – in every moment our brains are taking in so much information (the feel of the clothing on your skin, the temperature of the room, yes, the background noises), but we are choosing where to focus our attention and tune out the rest. So we can do the same with relationships – chose to either focus all our attention on the negative qualities of our partner or the positive. Its not that they aren’t both there, but we chose where to give the majority of our attention. Are you gazing into the eyes of your lover, or are you annoyed that the refrigerator is so infuriatingly loud?
Sometimes I try to make it a semi-practice, to make myself more aware of these little immediate, situational details around me including all these little background sounds. For much of my life I was always trying to live in the future – whatever the next big thing I was looking forward to. But so often, even when I was living I the moment of that big thing, I would already be projecting my mind onto the next big thing, never even stopping to appreciate or even fully experience the thing I was in in that moment. Years went by like this, until I realized, that years were going by. One particularly beautiful summer spent camping in the woods in rural Pennsylvania, surrounded by fireflies helped bring me back into the present moment. But still I so often forget.
My favorite sound is the lazy breeze blowing through the summer leaves of trees overhead. It reminds me of unending summer days as a kid, laying in the grass reading a book for hours, sunlight sprinkling my face as the branches move back and forth. Loosing myself in the story I stop noticing any of my surroundings for hours, but that also is part of the amazing experience of being human, the ability to transport yourself somewhere totally different – into the body and life of another, in a different country or world I may never see in person.
Now I am back in my apartment in Quito, listening to the very familiar sounds of traffic flying by on the busy street below, of the neighbors opening and closing doors. I am not particularly an auditory- focused person (which is probably why my iphone memory is full of podcasts rather than music), but I once fell in love with a boy I had never met, based only on the sound of his voice in my messages.