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Sunday, April 3, 2011

the sound of silence

A while back as I was walking in town I saw a most interesting thing happen right in front of me. There was this group of people in their early 20's, 2 guys one girl and they were talking to each other. That in itself is pretty unremarkable but they were signing all they said which led me to think they were deaf because not one sound escaped their lips, the conversation had all the peaks and valleys of a normal conversation but the lack of sound made it oh so beautiful. I began following them(we were walking in the same direction anyway) and I just watched them talk. The strangest thing is town was really noisy at that time, that probably had no bearing on their conversation but it did on me. The sounds around me, the people talking, the cars hooting, the touts screaming, my foot on the pavement, everything else faded in when I watched them talk. It got really quiet for me, I could still hear the sounds but as if from a distance like I was not really there. And for a couple of minutes we walked like that me in a near trance state and them oblivious to everything that was not the movement of each other's hands. I was entranced by the way they drew their words literally pulling them out of thin air and using their hands to construct meaning. I was touched by the sight, how something so ordinary to them, just a walk and talk could seem so special



later I saw some fish in an aquarium, I was at the UN compound and they have this aquarium near the conference halls, a really swanky get-up. Its at the floor level or a little below itand it runs the whole perimetre of the floor. The water is clear, this being the world headquarters of UNEP this is to be expected. The effect of this is that you can see the little fish in there moving around, head bobbing and floating in the water. I had never noticed how graceful fish are before right then. They look stuck in the middle of the air, it helped that the water wasn't murky cos the fish seemed to almost fly. I couldn't see how they moved or even make sense of it once they did. The word slither is completely onomatopoeic in its description for whatever it is that fish do. They seem o find the wholes in the atoms of water and work their way through it. Not so much moving through water as making the water move through them. And that whole scene also struck me by how quiet it all was. The fish made not a peep, their movements if translated to music would have been that quietest of music the kind you would hear at a very tasteful funeral service, not intruding on the mourners while at the same time setting the right type of mood. And I just stood and watched feeling more at peace with every moment that passed.

Later that week we had gone o a club in town to celebrate, it's not exactly a club because the ambience seems to ask you to sit and talk rather than dance and shout. The kind of place you could have a conversation over drinks not punctuated by pleas for pardon. it's a place called level 4 on the fourth floor of chester house which means it is blessed with a view of the city at night. At one point I walked to the edge of the building so I could look out over the city. Nairobi at night is beautiful. I love the orange glow of the street lights which seems to reach only halfway down the length of the post before diffusing into scattered specks of light. I like the way the streets look at that time empty and peaceful . I love the pull of the competing beauties, the stars sparkling and shining light years away and the human equivalent of lost lights meant to keep us safe and to prove their determination never blinking.. I could see this lady walking so through jeevanjee gardens, it was probably one of the homeless people who hang around there, but in every direction around her there was nothing. I felt like a hawk watching as she made her journey at that time of the night to wherever. At that moment I remember thinking how could this place be unsafe. There was not a fleck of danger in any direction, there probably was, a hidden menace waiting in the shadows to jump out at anyone foolish enough not to see it And again I was struck by the silence. There was a light breeze blowing. The kind of breeze you feel only at night. The kind that makes that sound in between your ears like you have stuck your head in a shell. For a while that's all I could hear, more accurately it was the first line of noise between me and the world. All other sounds had to be filtered through this whistle of air that currently existed. And I couldn't figure out what made me feel so peaceful about the night, whether it was the quiet and the dark or that wind that I never felt any other time that wind that seemed to find it's way through every cavern of my ears as if time itself were whispering to me. Maybe that was it, the sound of silence.