My first night in Hagley Gap, the mountains seemed incredibly quiet and still compared to the rush of Kingston (and Sydney). But now that I’ve been here for a month (surely its been longer?) I realise there is pretty much constant noise echoing around, often loud enough to prevent sleep or even talking on the phone.
There are surround-sound roosters announcing dawn (and one that announces 3am, just to keep things interesting). The wings of the tiny hummingbirds whirring and brown vireos tweeting. The goats constantly bleating, especially after the rain when they complain loudly about being cold and wet. Several days a week there are the shouts and screams of sermons and ‘healing’ at one of the churches, and the singing of out-of-tune hymns being broadcast to the entire neighbourhood through an epic microphone.
The drone of a motorcycle and the rumble of a car over the uneven dirt road (locals call it a road but to me it’s a dirt track that happens to be used as a road). And with any kind of vehicle comes a lot of horn honking. Here you don’t just honk when someone cuts you off. You also honk to tell someone you’re coming around a sharp corner, you honk to tell someone you want to overtake them, you honk to say “thankyou” and most importantly you honk when you see someone just to say “hello”. It is still a little baffling to hear people complaining about not being beeped at: “He didn’t even honk me, man! That is just rudeness.”
A sound that often makes me smile as I climb the mountain up to the schools or walk down to the water, is the music. It is also my least favourite sound on weeknights as the music blares on into the early morning. I’m learning that if there is a party going on anywhere in the village you may as well go to it because sleep is not an option. There are three main types of music to be heard in the Gap – gospel, dance hall and of course, reggae – and they are a constant wherever you go. Although occasionally the locals do mix it up. On one very happy occasion I heard a mash-ups of 80s and 90s ballads: Celine, Mariah, Whitney… Generally each song is played for around thirty seconds, “Jamaica-style”. It blares out from houses, churches, cars, mobile phones, laptops, or is simply sung with enthusiasm as people bathe or wash their car or cook or lead their donkey up the mountain. Generally one house or shop blares their choice of music for a few hours, while everyone in the Gap grooves along, and then someone else has a turn. It’s like a continuous house party spanning the entire village. Music is life here, and even if it comes with regular sleep-depravation, it’s a philosophy I’m totally on board with.
And underneath it all is the steady rush of the river, sustaining not just the village but several others beyond. It is always there but in order to hear it you must wait for those rare quiet moments when all the music and the motorbikes and the animals and the preaching subsides, and the sound of the water surges up to greet you like a long lost friend.