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Thursday, July 21, 2011

empty noises

The countryside is a beautiful place but maybe its because warm memories and good experiences leach away the dullness and greyness of any destination and make it seem at least in mind awash with colour and beauty and life. But countrysides can really be beautiful places. Am a city brat, I never lived anywhere else for any appreciable period of time, unless boarding school counts but assuming it doesn't the longest continuous period I was away from Nairobi was a 7 week stint last year and even then I still got out to see cities and explore them before I returned to my then home, a semi-rural part of Uganda called Mityana.

I like cities. I suppose have to, they're all I have ever known, the hustle and the bustle of the busy people as they try their best to get or keep busy, the push and pull of the crowds this way and that, the kind of movement that you could get lost in, a current of people that could carry you away from your destination towards wherever they were going unless you find a way to move through the holes in the sea. It makes me think about how most things are made of holes. Electrons swirl around atoms at distances that if they were the size of planets would be the distance to the sun and atoms move around each other warily, wearily like little galaxies not coming to close because gravity spells disaster for all of us. And in between these electrons and the atoms there are spaces and in between the atoms and the other atoms there are spaces, the most solid substance, gold, diamond, lead is made of these tiny little spaces and if you could find a way to move through them you can get anywhere. Cities and their traffic are like that, they seem insurmountable, try crossing Waiyaki way or Thika road and you'll see, the cars whoosh past so fast that you don't think there's any way to get to the other side and in no time at all people are asking you questions meant for chickens. That's what city traffic makes me think of especially the human kind, a stampede of spaces between people that you have to find if you want to go anywhere.

But a city is also sound, incessant, annoying, screeching sound, the kind you can't get away from. There is a bubble of conversation as everywhere words are discarded to the air. Numerous words, thousands maybe millions of words in a short window of time, diffusing to a point where they are indistinguishable but never really disappearing. See that's the thing about diffusion of anything, it doesn't stop, it just gets less and less till its practically imperceptible to human senses, a blood hound can smell a trace of a human being long after all the scent has diffused to us, so that sound and all those words they hang in the air, making it heavy and pregnant with the possibility of language. Travelling to and fro, colliding with each other making it so that the sounds are just sounds and not words, you see without individualism nothing matters, if a word cannot be heard as a word then it isn't, it's just a bunch of sounds collected and held in the air forever lost to humanity and all the possibilities it has diffuse to outer space and this happens to things that had the potential to be so beautiful. Words of love and happiness, words spoken in poetry and prose, words of motivation and inspiration, genuine joy at seeing an old friend, a squeal of delight at finding just what you looked for. All these sounds beautiful in themselves mix with words of anger and cries of betrayal, with the rash words of the hastily jostled, with words spoken with malice and meant to bring harm and pain, all these mix in the air of the city until the emotions become confused and all you hear is noise,

The countryside has quiet, there exists in the world many different types of silence, remember the old saying silence is golden, well sometimes it's only gold-plated and underneath that plate there lies another metal toxic in the awkwardness it produces between two people or more. And the awkwardness leaks out staining any conversation and making it difficult, making it a struggle and the silver of conversation isn't strong enough to break through it but this is not the kind of silence you will find in the countryside. There it is pure gold. It takes a while for a city dweller to come into this rhythm because it takes a while before you can appreciate that this silence of the country isn't just an absence of noise. It's not just that there aren't crowds of people pushing you around, just daring you to miss the spaces between, it isn't just that there isn't a constant stream of cars coming this way and that threatening to splatter you with more than just mud. At first it can be uncomfortable, even boring. But after a while it gets so peaceful, a silence of the soul. Have you ever been to a village where even the daily news of the country seems inconsequential? What do you care about what happens to the rest of the world when life is happening right then, right before your eyes and you can feel it and touch it and hear it and taste it. When life is as simple as waking up and waiting for the sun to rise so you can read, or when brushing shoes seems to hold the fullness of philosophy in the simple task of keeping yourself busy as you prepare for another day of toil. A point reaches where a meal is an event not just a prelude or an interlude. It's not something you do as you watch television or as you read, it's definitely not something you do as you text or surf, it can even become a solitary affair you and your food. You attacking mounds and mounds of nutrition without a distraction having devoted yourself entirely to the task at hand. To put it in your mouth to chew, to feel the taste as it passes up and goes down your taste buds, a little salty here a little peppery there, oh even some sweet and then you swallow and you take another spoonful. That moment when you devote yourself entirely to a task that was always harried that's when you can properly hear the silence of the countryside. Things fade away till its just you and maybe then you can come to realise that the silence over here isn't just a lack of noise but a lack of distraction, a lack of too much. Communing with yourself and your food or your work. Actually taking the time out of your night to go look at stars and think about things, to actually think about big things. It seems city dwellers have the strangest dreams, the brain trying to sort out the jumble of emotions, feelings, interests, commitments, things done, things not done, the urgent and the important as the brain filters out all of these it has no time to rest so even as you sleep you think of your day. You think of the people you saw and the things you did and you have these strange dreams that make no sense just like life. But in the country even waking moments can be devoted to thought and not just immediate thought about what you did today and what you need to do tomorrow, who you need to call and who you need to call you, but actual things, things like life and the way you should lead it, god and your relationship with him, your place in society and the place of society in making you into something you may not be but never had a chance to explore.

After a while the quiet can descend on you and take you over so completely. A feeling of contentment can spread from your bones to your toes but city dwellers can't let that last. You see after a while you think you're missing out on life. As if life is the pursuit of money or friends or sex, as if knowing what's happening internationally, economically, politically is more important than knowing what's happening inside you. And a tug comes, there’s a pull, a certain kind of gravity you can't deny that asks you back and you think you should leave. Its like noise fills our lives and we're so used to it doing that that silence feels empty. Its like you can't live forever without that bubble of noise above your head, forever expanding and contracting and then you come back and so many of the lessons you learn are left by the roadside, fodder for when you have more time. But there’s never more time. Not in the city.