Friday, May 8, 2009

Sleepless in Syria

My room-mate and I have been having trouble sleeping. This is partly due to the fact that we go to bed at 8:30 on a full stomach, in an insect-infested room. However, there are other, worse, impediments to a good night’s rest. The worst of these is the call to prayer. Now, the call to prayer can be a beautiful and genuinely moving experience. On top of the Aleppo citadel at dusk, with the heat of the day dissolving into a gentle breeze, and the sussuration of the city awaking from its siesta, it’s truly magnificent. A lone voice of plaintive beauty rises from far in the distance, then others join in from scattered minarets, until it reaches a glorious crescendo of a hundred harmonised voices. It is as though the city itself is singing.

In the village it is not like this.

Clearly the local muezzins are drawn from those that couldn’t cut it in the big smoke. During the day they are variable, ranging from loud and slightly off-key, to mumbly and keen to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. One favorite is the old man who taps three times on the microphone to make sure it's on, clears his throat, then embarks on his delightful song. The real talent, though, is saved for the middle of the night.

Imagine Jimmy Barnes. Now remove any sense of melody, and imagine he's both deaf and trying to make himself heard over a mitre saw that is cutting through a car. And the car is full of cats. And the cats aren't happy. Now take this voice and put it in an angry twelve year-old.

The call starts with a blood-curdling scream. This sets off the village dogs, so the rest of the caterwauling is accompanied by terrified and pleading howling. Of course, it is difficult to hear this because the two of us are laughing so hard. When it's all over, and the last of the tears have been wiped from our eyes, we're wide awake. And need to pee. But like all adults that are otherwise intelligent and rational during the day, we think that if we lie very quietly and position ourselves very carefully the need will pass. And we lie awake like this until dawn.

1 comment:

  1. When we were staying with my brother in his 20th floor flat in Zamalek we noticed (OK, while we were watching Shaun of the Dead) that the combined call to prayer in Cairo sounded like zombies. Which made us giggle the rest of the trip.

    Your call to prayer though? The zombies are obviously being tortured.


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