Monday, November 30, 2009

The Cairo Symphony

The soundtrack of Cairo is two fold. First, there is the completely unmusical and inescapable sound of horns honking. They honk to inform people on the street that they're there, they honk to indicate people aren't moving fast enough, they honk to tell drivers to slow down. The horn, it is said, is the most important safety feature on a Cairene car.

The second sound I associate with Cairo is that of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer five times a day. Once you have lived in a Muslim country long enough, watches are no longer required as it becomes second nature to determine the time of day based upon the prayers called out over loud speakers all over the city.

Near my own flat, we have two muezzins - one in the front and one in the back. Despite the call to prayer being at set times of the day, these two men (or the Dueling Muezzins as we call them) never seem to start or end at the same time. The guy in back, in fact, always appears to have more to say, as his prayers seem to go on for much longer than the gentleman in front. Hubby has pointed out that this may simply be due to the proximity of one mosque’s loudspeaker over the other.

My favorite time of day in Cairo is around five in the morning. The air of Cairo is hauntingly silent at this time of day. Although this is a city that never seems to sleep, there are far fewer horns honking at this hour than any other. And then, off in the distance, a mysterious sound will announce the dawn. The sound becomes oddly more discordant and slightly louder as the minutes go by and I, unlike many of my neighbors, have the luxury of snuggling deeper within the folds of my duvet to await the approaching hum.

This rare, almost silent cocoon time is spent of listening for other echoes in the distance. Awoken by either his brethren in the distance or a simple alarm clock, my own muezzin will finally chime in with his chant. As he urges Muslims in the neighborhood to wake up and begin their prayer, I usually drift back to sleep.

When I wake up again, Cairo will return to its usual cacophony of horns and yelling. For those few moments at dawn, Cairo and I are at peace. That moment of silence broken only by the haunting sound of prayers is my favorite time of day in Cairo. And I will miss it.

61 comments:

Suburban Princess said...

I love the call to prayer!
When we were in the mountains in Morocco it was amazing to hear it echoing first thing in the morning!

Amanda said...

I studied in Oman for about a month, and we definitely had the competing calls - one by a man with a voice so deep I couldn't even really believe it was a person. It was so deep that it didn't even really record very well, although we tried one night. And they were all always just a few seconds or a minute off from each other. It's a beautifully haunting sound, especially the early morning one.
Thanks for stopping by my blog! I'm happy to discover yours, and looking forward to reading more of your adventures!

NicoleB Egypt said...

I don't mind the prayer calls either, the horns I do, sigh.
The muezzins seem to be less aggressive here for the most part.
I've only heard one going on in a stern, long, loud sermon on a Friday last week and sometimes in a mosque nearby us.
Whereas in Kuwait the one nearby always went on in what seemed a rant every Friday.

cat said...

What a beautiful piece of writing. I remember as a 20 year old touring Europe, encountering my first muezzin in Istanbul. A lovely touch of the fabric of the country.

Rest assured - hooters are also used over actively here.

sprinkles said...

As I read this, I wondered how you could possibly sleep with all this noise. But then I realized that it's like the train that passes by several times every day which loudly blows it's horn for several seconds each time it comes through. I live near the railroad track so I hear it loud and clear.

After awhile you just get so used to it that you don't even notice it until you don't hear it anymore. Then you begin to miss it.

On Look Films said...

I am really glad to read your post and everyone's comments here. I am actually working on a project with a great team documenting the adhan in Cairo as it is heard now - from thousands of muezzins - before the unification occurs.

Voices and Faces of the Adhan: Cairo is a documentary film, audio archiving and art installation project about the adhan. This 1400 year old oral tradition has never been documented or recorded for historical study, and it is about to be erased through modern technology. The film is fiscally sponsored by Hartley Film Foundation, with generous support from National Geographic's All Roads Film Project as well as Hartley Film Foundation.

Please check out the project. http://www.onlookfilms.com

We need your help!

BLOGitse said...

sigh!
This morning 5 o'clock they woke me up again. Hundreds of muezzins not 'singing' or 'calling' but shouting...
After a while comes the first minibus or similar - it's so noisy that you can imagine it break down any second.
Later in the morning every driver has to say 'good morning' by honking...
Every driver thinks he/she's the only one.
But this is Cairo.
They like it like that, noisy chaos. They all want to become heard.

~Kristen~ said...

Ever since discovering your blog I have been trying to take some time to go through your archives and read about your adventures. I am fascinated by all of this. I am looking forward to what you will write after your move to Norway, too!!!

Anonymous said...

The other thing I remember about the early morning was the possibility that the air will be clean(er).
merthyrmum

igneousrox said...

I can imagine that would be a very soothing few moments of peace each day. It's sad to say goodbye to those sweet routines, but I look forward to hearing the adventures you'll be having in Oslo. New rituals abound!

Gaston Studio said...

I don't miss all those sounds at all! I was living in Cairo when the Cairo Opera House was refurbished and we enjoyed many a performance over the years.

Eva Gallant said...

Your words paint a clear picture of the sights and sounds of Cairo. I love reading your posts.

blueviolet said...

I wonder if at first you were unable to sleep through the muezzin prayers. This is so interesting to read your blog every day!

Monique-aka-Surferwife23 said...

How intriguiging is this?! Wow.

The Blonde Duck said...

That sounds so cool. I learn so much through your blog!

only a movie said...

Thanks for sharing such a wonderful slice of your day.

LadyFi said...

Drifting off to sleep again on the chanting call to prayer - how delicious!

Caution Flag said...

You are such a gifted wordsmith. I'm not there nor will I ever be there, but thanks to your descriptions, I've been there!

BLOGitse said...

I didn't find your email add, so I leave a message here: I linked you today, 2.12.

Yankee Girl said...

What a beautiful post! I felt like I was snuggled in bed next to you, listening with you. Did that just get weird?????

Miss Footloose said...

I so enjoyed reading your post! Brought back memories of our life in Ramallah, Palestine, and the calls to prayer we heard there. Our mornings were not the best. We had at least 4 in the neighborhood and they started at 4 am, but never quite at the same time and were clearly in competition.

However, it is often a beautiful and haunting sound and whenever I hear it anywhere I know I've been missing it.

GutsyWriter said...

Does that mean you have to get up at 4 a.m if you want some peace and quiet? I would do that. Can you walk on the streets that early and not worry?

Jacki said...

You make it all sound so poetic!

theUngourmet said...

So interesting. I had no idea the prayers were done this way. I bet it will be strange for awhile when you move and there are no more prayers and less horn honking.

Karen said...

I can't imagine how different and quiet things will sound when you move to Oslo!

I'm sure you get used to the noise after not much time, but I prefer the subtler sounds of a much less frenetic pace in Southern California.

San said...

You make those prayer calls sound so inviting! I used to live near a mosque, and the constant droning can be a little grating... but kudos to you for your poetic ring to this! Love reading your posts as usual! :)

JoeyRes said...

Quite an exotic life indeed! I guess you would get used to things like that but it sounds like a real challenge to me, a life-long Pittsburgher.

The Blonde Duck said...

I hope you're doing well!

Monique-aka-Surferwife23 said...

Hey girl! I have an award waiting for you at my blog!

Erin said...

I came over from Surferwife's blog and I love your writing style---beautiful! I'm your newest follower & am looking forward to more!

Fruitful Vine2 said...

Stopped by to say hi.

Anonymous said...

It has no analogues?

Marie-Jolie said...

I keep checking back to see if you are online again after the move... just wanted you to know I've missed you in cyberspace. :) Hope all is going well and that your holidays are shaping up nicely.

Debbie said...

Wonderful post! I fell like I'm there. You write so well and with such vivid descriptions.

Carola said...

Greetings from Italy

Fida said...

Such a beautiful love letter to Cairo ;-)

Hope all is well!

Wenbren Explains It All said...

love it!Are you moving away soon? Cairo, I can picture everything you said:)

Karen said...

I hope you're having a great time in Norway and that the move went smoothly! Can't wait for an update!

Sandy said...

I would love to hear that at least once in my life. Great description of Cairo's sounds. Hope you have the chance to visit.

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Simply Travels said...

Hi, I just discovered your blog. Will definitely spend much time browsing through your posts! I visited Egypt recently for a vacation and I absolutely loved it so much that I am now contemplating moving there for a while. How mad is that??! hehe....

Karen said...

I hope you're doing okay!

We miss ya around here!

Melissa said...

Your blog is turning into spam zone...you need to come back!

Miss Footloose said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sprinkles said...

I don't know if you're still blogging or not but if you are, I gave you some bloggy love! Please stop by my blog to pick up your award!

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Sounds like a magical place and I loved your description. I wish I could visit there one day and experience it.

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