Thursday, January 1, 2009

One man’s noise pollution

Put thirty people in room about the size of a three-car garage with concrete floors, and ceiling. Enter the song leader and the keyboard player, crank up the four-foot tall speakers and get to worshipping. Gladys and I had gone to this particular Sunday morning service because we had heard it wasn’t quite as loud as most of the protestant churches. It was still painful. In Guatemala, Julie and I once heard a retired missionary tell the story of a group who had approached him wanting financial help building a new church. “We have everything we need”, they said, “the land, the sound system, everything!” Colombian churches seem to be much the same.

But the sound of life in urban Columbia has an added dimension. Julie had spoken to me about how different it is on the streets of Barranca in the evening compared to Guatemala City. Folks are out walking, sitting in front of their houses or having a beer at one of the many, many little stores and bars that are open into the evening hours. Recorded music, loud music, music for dancing is everywhere. Right now, New Year’s afternoon, our neighbors two doors down are sitting out in front of the house having a beer. (See photo above) You can see the speakers by the door, and I can hear the music still, a block away in the office, as I write this. The music filters in along with overlapping music from other houses in the neighborhood.

The piece of this that has really surprised and delighted me is the amount of singing along that happens with this recorded music. Last week, neighbors on one side of the street had their speakers going, and the folks across the street had a party singing along almost as loud as the speakers. This went on for more than an hour!

It is difficult for me to imagine my neighbors in the states having this much fun together in any place I’ve ever lived. Yeah, there is probably some risk of hearing loss, and as far as I am concerned, the churches are probably the worst culprits. Still, this is a country that enjoys its musical heritage and thrives on the company and playfulness of gathered friends. How sterile and lonely many of our US neighborhoods are in comparison.

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