08 August 2010

See Through Sound

Sounds of the city in Nuku'alofa...

6:30 The air is cool, breezy and peacefully silent. From far away two roosters crow in a contest of bravado, but from home it only sounds distant and home-like. Most homes in the city have pigs and chickens in their yard, but we’re close enough to downtown that no one around keeps any.

8:00 Car noise gradually escalates as everyone drives to work, and this really does mean everyone. Some take busses from further out, but the only adults to be seen walking or biking are foreigners. Driving is also a status symbol and convenience much like in the US, so where any one can drive, walking is out of the question. We start to hear kids leaving for school, calling dispirited good-byes and sleepily walking to school or boarding busses.
11:00 I’m at work, and the cell phone company has set out their promotional booth yet again, blaring the same soundtrack in repeat consisting Shakira, Akon, and other pop songs throughout the day. The music cuts off and a wailing karaoke singer takes over the loudspeaker, belting out what can partially be identified as Cher. Setting up a booth with loud music is the two cell phone companies’ main advertising technique. Akon is particularly popular, along with repetitive polka-beat Tongan dance songs, always good choices for blaring from cars, blasting at clubs, broadcasting from speakers at feasts, or roaring from sound systems at fundraiser concerts. Our personal insidious favorite repetitively sings a phrase that sounds like "Go next to my choo-choo." Maybe the composer was a fan of trains?
16:00 At home, it is the loudest hour of the day; cars idle and stall outside, trucks motor by, and jubilant kids coming home from school stroll along to their bus stops, shouting to each other and laughing. Many families from outer islands send their kids in to Nuku’alofa to live with relatives in order to attend a good school, so the kid population in town is huge. They stroll along in their coloured jumpers and tupenu formal male wrap skirts, each different according to the school. If all the kids in Tonga got mixed up in a giant stadium, they could be put back in their rightful school within minutes because of what colour they were wearing. The brass band across the street starts warming up.
17:00 The brass band group, practicing on fold out chairs behind a shipping container, is now in full swing, playing familiar classics, which we truly enjoy as we read, write, cook, and play on the computer. Bands are more common than we expected, and are mostly groups of young male musicians who play at feasts and perform to raise money for their school or community. The picture at left is a school band on 'Eua who raised a considerable sum of money with their playing at the beginning of the school year. They're wearing royal blue, the Wesleyan school system colour.
18:00 Dusk begins to fall and young adult voices float up from the street as they ‘eva, or “wander,” a time for strolling and socializing that most often is done at twilight when the sun is fading. Most young women try to avoid walking alone at any time, as it is generally viewed to be inviting and improper, but with a friend, she can walk all she wants.
20:00 The street is silent, devoid of cars or people, as the city dogs start roaming about, challenging each other and barking at the local fauna. Along with pigs, the dogs everywhere in Tonga serve as a natural composting system; we never throw organic waste in the trash. Their far-away barks echo as night falls and the city sleeps.

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