Jeffrey Black | Middle East Diaries

Noise: Cairo, 28th February 2008
February 28, 2008, 11:32 pm
Filed under: Egypt


In my small apartment in the centre of Cairo, enveloped by multitudinous noise in this most furious of cities, I feel like I am in some kind enormous inner ear. An impossible volume of sound is being produced, processed, recycled.

It’s late, and I can’t sleep, so: I’ll enumerate, from the general to the specific: A mid-range hum, a roar, a far away dispensation of sonic force. What is it? A trillion combustions venting kinesis on the turbulent air: Traffic. An endless, oceanic movement that is both above, below and driving madly through all waking life.

Then the angry murmurings of the beings in that wave: Horns. Claxons. Protesting tires. Sirens, both necessary and misused. Rapid decelerations. Furious, spurting accelerations. Crashes. Shouts from windows. Expletives hurled in many declining arcs. Lewd comments, heard briefly from a blurred source.

Then the banal explosions of normal voice and necessary sound. Directions given. Directions repeated. Taxis hailed. Destinations announced, sources demurred. Fares negotiated. Quranic recitations of various kinds. Pious incantations by the reciting commuter. Obscure static, crackle and pop from a mistuned transistor. Bellows from a leaning minaret of a nondescript mosque. Backfirings and kickstarts. Bronchial motors failing, and then catching. The waft and drift of rubbish being thrown to the ground. Ungracious shouts. Yawls. A million Mohammeds being hailed lazily from across the street. Catfights. Dogfights. Ratfights. Children unbidden by bedtime. Collapsing masonry. Arguments and pleas. Protestations. Swearing up corridors and through stairwells. Repetitions. Protestations. Notice being given of goods delivered or services rendered. Bekiya. The shuffledrift of strolling feet not properly lifted. The multiplied tapping of a cane. Unreasonable laughter. Notice given of goods for sale. Plaintive songs from an earlier age. Less plaintive songs from a newer age. The repititorium of impatience, beep beep. Banking, dipping, queuing aircraft. Leave being taken and arrivals announced. Love spoken of to a disco beat. Desperation and enthusiasm. Tiredness. Life. Tinnitus. A storm of spent energy.


6 Comments so far
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Comment by ash-shakkak

Dear Mr. Black.
I’m extremely fascinated by what you wrote. I have a few questions, if I may.
I read in an article that people are leaving downtown to live in the more quiet suburbs if they can afford it. Is that true? And who moves into the center then, who jumps into the noise?
Do you perhaps know if the downtown buildings get adjusted to protect against these noises?

It would be very helpfull if you could answer these questions for me. Thanks in advance!

Regards, Jelle

Comment by Jelle

Dear Jelle, yes as far as I am aware, there is a trend for those who can afford it to relocate to new-built suburbs. This process has been going on for some years, and in fact has taken place in several waves. The current downtown area has not been a fashionable address since perhaps the 1960s. The people now living there are predominantly lower-middle class, who have no capital to move on from apartments occupied decades ago, and increasingly the rural poor. There is little protection from noise. Best, Jeff

Comment by Jeff Black

Thank you very much for the reply!
I am aware of the fact that the people living in the noisy areas are not the wealthy ones, and that they can probably only live there thanks to the regulations of rental prices. That also explains the condition the buildings are in.

For my graduation project I am fascinated by the influence that the sound, or noise, influences buildings, the city, and maybe even the social system. I am actually in Cairo right now to investigate that. So far I think most of the people are just ignoring the noise, allthough I did see some windows get closed during the call of prayer. On the streets it seems to be a system or a tool to attract attention, and walking through the city the differing sound sources are navigating me from one place to the next.
What I really would like to see on the level of buildings is for example if bedrooms are being moved away from the facade; or when the shops close by lowering the shutters in the afternoon, if the shopkeepers stay in their shops to have a sleep or a dinner. So far I have not really seen this happening, so maybe people are just used to it and ignore it.
What are your ideas on those things?
Thanks in advance.

Comment by Jelle

I would very cautiously suggest that “noise” is not necessarily viewed everywhere negatively, as it might be in Western Europe. Sometimes the more noise you make, the more alive you are.

Comment by Jeff Black

I agree, the discourse is a negative yyone, while it is also very fascinating, maybe even beautifull.

Comment by Jelle

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