photo: Eddy van Wessel


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hoot, hoot! Why?

“They start hooting two seconds before the light turns green”, I predict to my visitor from Europe. 

“Never”, she says, and keeps her eye on the traffic light at the busy crossing in the center of Erbil.

The timer drops to four, three, two… Hoot, hoot! Impatient drivers must think all the others are color blind. Or sleeping, or whatever. My friends laughs a surprised laugh. “They are crazy!”

Even when a traffic light does not have a timer, the drivers around you know when the light will become green, and blow their horn. I almost admire them for the knowledge; how do they know?

When you live in Kurdistan, you get used to all this hooting, and start using the horn yourself too. But that’s because you know drivers do not use their mirrors. He’s moving, where is he going, does he see me? Hoot! But never in front of the traffic light. We’re all waiting, aren’t we?

When I get back to Amsterdam, the silence usually hits me. What? People do not use their horn! Because they are asked not to, as it is considered a very disturbing noise. And also because they only have to do so in case of an emergency.

Silence is treasured. Many people complain about music in the shopping malls, and planes cannot depart or land at night because their noise would keep too many people out of their sleep.

In Kurdistan, police and ambulances drive around with their emergency horns blaring. Nobody moves for them, because everybody is used to the noise. As they use it constantly, nobody knows anymore when it is an emergency and they should make way to help save lives.

The hooting is particularly bad in Erbil; drivers in Sulaymaniya seem less impatient at the traffic lights. Yet it seems part of the fact that Kurdistan is a noisy place, and everybody is used to that. People speak loudly, and argue even more loudly. Televisions are on, even when nobody is watching. Cars drive around with the music blaring out of open windows, or even with the sound of the bass penetrating closed ones.

Why the noise, I often wonder. Perhaps it became a habit in the years of suppression when only those who raise their voice were heard? Or is it that people are so happy that they are free, they want to celebrate it without caring about those around them? Or are Kurds too used to being in the open, where all sound is eaten by the enormity of mountains and hills?

Whatever the reason, for westerners the noisy environment needs some getting used to. We associate loud voices usually with quarrels, and we jump when someone blows his horn at us. Please understand us; we cherish the silence.

This blog was published in Kurdish in the daily Kurdistani Nwe

No comments: