Bondowoso / Daily Life / Indonesia / Music / Peace Corps / People

Sound Pollution

Have you ever been in a room, usually at night, when everything is so quiet that you can hear a watch or, worse, a clock ticking? This used to happen to me often. When I lived in a place with actual prolonged silences, the strokes would magnify, and I would lie awake, unable to sleep, listening to the sound of my life ticking away.

In Indonesia, I have spent a lot of time being silent, and when you don’t contribute much to the noise level, it’s remarkable how much you begin to hear. It must be said that, ironically, this doesn’t make me a particularly good listener since I am more likely to focus on the sound and intonation of a voice, more than what’s actually being said. (Sorry, I’ll work on that.) I’ve realized that my auditory sense is more sensitive than ever, which makes me involuntarily focus on a lot of individual sounds, and how they work together. When I listen to something pleasant, like music, I can hear the spectrum of notes and beats composing the song and it’s truly beautiful—particularly with headphones on.

For me, life is a symphony, and as I’ve said before, Indonesia is filled with sounds. As I write this, I am in my room and this is the tonal landscape: there’s a raspy call to prayer blaring over loudspeakers at a distance, the television is on at a high volume bleating out news in Bahasa Indonesia, my ibu is cooking and the oil of whatever she’s frying is sizzling and crackling. As she does this, she yells something to my host brother in Javanese. My host brother is silent, but I can hear the scratching of his drawing pencil against thick paper on a glass table and his occasional, “yeahs” in response to the ibu. My host father’s birds flutter in their cages and sing to each other in high-pitches that steadily increase. My host father enters the house and the metal gate hacks and creaks open. The wind rustles the curtain and slaps the wooden window frame, and I tap on the keyboard.

All of this is usually very interesting for me, but lately, the high-level of external noise has been clashing with my own elevated internal noise of thoughts, to-do lists and plans for the approaching future post-Peace Corps, that I am overwhelmed by the sound pollution.

In order to reduce this—and maintain my sanity—I’ve been decreasing my exposure to noise. I’m listening to a lot more music with headphones, since it’s more controlled that the random rhapsodic creations Indonesia arranges for me, and more importantly, I’m reducing the internal noise. This has led me to the decision to get rid of Facebook for an undetermined amount of time. This is weird for me because for all of my adult life, all of my friends, family and other relationships have been long-distance and Facebook is the best way to stay connected. It’s easy and convenient. There are pictures and other data that draw you in, and make you feel like you’re part of someone’s life, when you’re barely in the margins. But it’s also a huge source of internal sound pollution, and I need silence.

The time left in Indonesia is limited and precious, and it’s regrettable that I have to spend so much of it preparing for what will come after June 10th. I’ve felt like I’m neither here nor there, suspended in between indefinite realities, and it’s unfair for the community, teachers and students who are currently in front of me. I need focus and minimal distractions. Still, I love all my family and friends, and literally, every single person that’s close to me is far away—even my PCV friends—so communicating is important. I’ve gotten a few confused emails asking where I am and why I’m not on Facebook, and this long blog post is just to say, I’m still here – so text me or Skype me or iMessage me or email melanie.m.aleman (at) I may not be the best listener, but I’m a really good reader and generally, I reply in a timely fashion.

No, I have not been kidnapped, but if I don’t get into grad school, Plan B is to become a DJ in a coconut hut in a tiny island off Flores. Job offer already received. 😉

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