The pigeons are cooing incessantly, people are shouting across the swamp. I hear one child wailing while the another is screeching. Motorcycles are shrieking and honking, the roosters are crowing and pigs and squealing, the generator is grumbling, the church is blasting something out of their crackly old speakers and the video club next door is cranking their bass music to compete. The grinder is churning, the flies are buzzing around my face, someone’s phone has been ringing in the hallway for 3 minutes, students are knocking on my door, and dogs are barking….all at 3pm on a Friday afternoon.
I want to put my hands over my ears and run upstairs and lock myself in my room and close all the windows…but then I would be hot….really really hot and even more miserable. Somehow the noises are even louder up there in our room? I don’t know why…
There is nowhere to go and hide and get some peace! I want to scream, maybe that will at least drown out all the rest of it. I’m about to and then I’m reminded of something I saw on Facebook earlier that week. It was a “30 Days of Gratitude Challenge” with prompts each day to help you think of something you are grateful for, besides the typical ones we usually think of like house, family, food, etc. One of the days asked participants to ponder “what sound are you grateful for today?”
Haha ironic…I laughed…are there actually any sounds I am grateful for in this crazy noisy country right now?!? I rolled my eyes, looked up at the ceiling, and thought to myself… “I would have something to be thankful for God if you could just give me a little peace and quiet every now and then! How about that?”
After I calmed down a little though, I got to thinking more about the idea of being “thankful for sounds.” It seemed a little weird to me, given that I am a very noise-sensitive person and it feels like 90% of sounds in this world just bother me to my wits end. But I tried to sit and think about it in a different light…God gave me the ability to hear sounds and God created all these things that make sounds…so there must be a little more good or meaning in all this noise than I have been realizing.
I grabbed my journal and started listing out the sounds of Liberia…all the sounds I could think of…good, bad, ugly, boring, stressful, peaceful, and everything in between. The sounds that made me smile, squirm, laugh, and the sounds that made my skin crawl and heart break.
The high-pitched squeaks of the wheelbarrow as it passes by on the street, somebody shouting as they sell heaps of used clothing…bras, underwear, t-shirts, socks.. anything you could possible need, but none of which I actually need. I have been given so much more than I need, none of it was earned.
The constant tired grumbling of the generator on those days (or weeks) when we lose power and the ticking of the voltage regular box every 2 seconds as it tries to keep up with the ever-changing volts that are coming into the house, making my eyes twitch. But I have electricity AND a form of back-up electricity in a country where more than half the people here have none.
The gurgling and sucking of the water faucet as it struggles to pull water out of an empty tank, telling me that for the third time today we are out of water and it’s time to go start the pump. The distant shout of “col wata” somewhere in the busy market, beckoning me to chase after whoever it is that made that sound so I can quench my thirst with an ice-cold water sachet. I am able to afford to drink clean cold water whenever I want, what an insane luxury!
The deep agonizing almost daily sound of a woman screaming in the town across the swamp as someone beats her yet again, just as the sun peeks its way into the swamp. And then there is the higher pitched but just as agonizing sound of a child wailing as someone whips a palm switch over their bare bottom. My heart twists and rages inside my chest and I wonder how God can possibly be good. I remember it’s okay to cry out to God when I don’t have the answers and I lift my hands in acknowledgement of my helplessness in these situations and I am reminded to pray and speak up more for all the women and children in this country and world who have been sexually assaulted and physically abused.
The loud slap of my sandal as it comes down hard on a cockroach’s back and the subsequent squeal of joy that escapes my mouth as I congratulate myself on another job well done. I remember to thank God for even the littlest of victories, no matter how stupid they may seem.
The distinct joyful trill of my friend Konah’s daily laughter. The screeching of the trampoline as the neighborhood children jump on it all afternoon, never tiring or slowing down at all. Life is too short to worry like I do, remember to have fun!
The crashing of the waves as I lie on a totally isolated beach with my husband. The sound of the breeze gently rustling the leaves on the palm tree before the rains come in, strong and heavy on the tin roofs. I am in awe that such a “big big” God who made the wind and the waves could love such a “small small” thing like me.
The aggravating screeching of the parrots and the chatter of the monkeys as I try to teach. The deafening ribbits of the thousands of frogs in the swamp as I try to sleep. All creatures in heaven and earth shall bow down to worship Him our Lord.
The annoying echo of my own words as they bounce around the walls of the concrete classroom. But then again, there is also the beautiful sound of acoustic worship bouncing off those same walls as it makes its way up to the heavens…one of the purest and most beautiful sounds in the world, all in a language that I do not understand but that speaks to my heart anyways. We are all one Body.
The sound of somebody’s phone going off in class, church, or any other important meeting, I think it is impossible to have any type of meeting without this happening in Liberia lol. I used to get so mad, now I’ve just accepted it. There are many things out of my control.
The “ya ellooo ma” greetings from teeny little neighborhood children peeping out behind brick walls and the satisfying snap as two hands release from the classic Liberian handshake which is used to greet friends and strangers alike. It makes me smile, reminds me that I have family here.
The honking of the motorcycle horns as they buzz all around you in the city streets, threatening to knock you down of your face if you don’t pay attention. I never used to take it seriously when people said “pray for safe travels.” I do know, I’ve seen way too many people die from accidents here.
The bubbling of thick red palm butter soup on a coal pot or the sizzling of the scorching hot oil as the “ol ma” drops wet dough into the pot…my mouth waters in anticipation. I am grateful for my daily bread and reminded of the so many around me do not have enough to eat….reminded of why I am here in the first place.
The whirling sound of the cutlass and whipper as the farmers bend down to manually cut the grass or weeds before preparing their fields for planting, it is backbreaking work. I am reminded that though we plant the seeds, God causes the growth. How dependent we are on Him.
The constant buzzing of mosquitoes all around my ears as dusk begins to fall and I try to soak up the last few minutes outside with the cool breeze before retreating into my stuffy room for the night. I have a house with screens to protect me from the mosquito that carry malaria, a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year on this continent.
The distinct pinging sound of a call or text coming in from sponsors/partners/friends back home that makes my heart leap with joy every single time. Though I often feel alone, I am not alone. I am part of a community through this ministry and we are all in this together.
The soft sound of my mom’s voice as she gently quiets my sobs after another hard day in Liberia. My mom is alive and healthy and technology is amazing because it allows me to hear sounds from thousands of miles away.
The familiar sound of country music as I dance with my husband in our room, reminiscing deeply about home. I am so thankful for this man, he is my home away from home.
The hollow wailing of the village women crying out to God in agony as they throw their bodies on the ground around the grave as they mourn the loss of a life taken way too soon from this earth. I am reminded that God hears our cries and of his call to mourn with those who mourn….most days I’d rather turn away because I don’t know how to hold it all together.
The sound of clothes being pounded and stretched on the washboards every Saturday morning. The thud of the hook as it hits dry dirt while we attempt to dig up our potatoes during dry season. The sound of water being dumped after dishes have been washed. God is present in the small everyday things of this world, whether I hear him or not.
The swooshing sound of women sweeping the bare soil around their houses, a sound heard millions of times a day in this country. Ashamedly, I used to think it was such a funny/strange/pointless thing to do. That was before I heard and saw it for what it really was… a daily act of love for their families, a daily act of restoring order and creating beauty in their homes, a daily act of reclaiming dignity in a hard and unforgiving world that has tried to snatch it away from them. And perhaps, if they are believers, it may also be a daily act of giving thanks to God their Provider, an act of stewardship over all that God has given them the honor to care for, whether big or small.
I can choose to throw my hands over my head and scream at God for not giving me any “peace” or I can choose to listen and allow the sounds, every single one of them, the chance to speak to my soul and draw me in…reminding me to pray, to call out, to beg, to thank, to worship, and to rely on God for all that I am and have. While the lightness and beauty of the wind and the waves, the laughing and the songs, remind us that our Creator exists; it is the heaviness and uncomfortableness of the wailing, the screeching, the honking, the buzzing, the tears, and sobs that force us deeper into His arms and remind us of our innate need for a Creator in the first place.
It is because of this that I will choose to be grateful for the noise, ALL the noise.
Are there any sounds that are you grateful for??? Any sounds that maybe you can learn to be grateful for?