Soundcapes

My sense of time is different in Berlin. Dawn and twilight share the same silence. I can only distinguish between them by the dim morning light on the horizon or the fall ofdarkness. My sense of time back home, in Cairo, depended on me connecting with the sounds of the alley which I lived in. I used to wake up to the sound of curlew. I knew that the morning has come from its singing and from the morning call to prayer. The women who used to sell the newspapers came everyday at six o’clock exactly, calling “Ahram, Akhbar, Gomherya”.,She would call us by name if we had our window shutters closed. She knew exactly the name of everyone who used to read her newspapers and which newspaper they liked. Soon after, the bread seller passes. He would walk through the alley with the bread spread on a woven basket on his shoulder and call, “Aiwaa El Aish”. I could smell the fresh baked from my room. We used to it hot before my mother even prepared breakfast. “Bequia Bequia” the arrival of the Robabikia man, meant that the time was now 9 o’clock. He used to buy any old stuff that we didn’t need and save us more the unnecessary clutter in our homes.

The doorbell rings at exactly 10 o’clock . Mohammed the grocery man. He used to wear the same slippers through all seasons and would pull his cart himself. He had no money at the time to buy a donkey. So my mom liked him. She used to say, Mohamed is a gard working fellow and God will reward him. Indeed, after God rewarded him, he opened a store at the end of our street, but still came especially for my mother to see her needs. He was then promoted from a hard working fellow to a magnanimous one . After midday prayer, the ice cream man used to pass by in a cheerful cart, and it was enough for him to call once to make the children of the alley run to it. He always had hi radio on, which always had Umm Kulthum playing. He liked to have a good time, that man and sold ice cream with the flavor of the “Um Kalthoum”. In the afternoon, the licorice seller would pass by and call out using sajat (zills). He was a big old man with a long white beard always dressed in a white galabeyya and used to ride a bike with three wheels. He used to look like Santa Claus if the Alley with his bike and copper jug.

At the end of the day, and without looking at the sky, I know that the sunset has come from the whistling of the pigeon owners to their pigeons. They whistled and waved their flags on the roofs of the buildings to call their pigeons back. The night has come. We hear the children of the neighbors whistle for their parents after a long day of play in the alley. Every house had its own whistle. We had once a young handsone neighbor’s son whose eyes were like the blue of the sky. His whistle was one of the most beautiful in the alley. When his soul returned to its creator after a deadly car accident, the alley’s children stopped their whistling for a long time to mourn his death. The sounds of the alley were intertwined, reassuring us, that we are not alone and that there are people who share our daily lives. The presence of others and hearing their voices gives a different sense to time …

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