with my arrival in Bulgaria last AprilI had decided to join
the Peace Corps as a Primary Education Volunteerthe cicadas
were emerging in the region around my home in Maryland. I had been
looking forward to experiencing the strange precision of their journey
through time and space, but mostly to their sound, one I had not
heard since I was six. The memory was a thing I might have dreamt-imagined
back then or maybe not, and I needed to hear it againnot so
much for the sound itself, but to revisit that child-place of simultaneous
dream-imagining and real world-happening, muted but amplified, co-existing
sensibly in some radical opus. The joy of unfamiliarity and resonance, belief in it all because you can hear it as it sweeps you along on its wavelengths.
so when I arrived here, my sensitivity to sound had been alerted.
The salient ones got listed in my journal.
April. The sound of foreign
language. It is everywhere, and sudden as the cicadas, after fantasizing
for months about here. The swishing of slippers, crucial on cold
floors in these mountains; prepubescent boys shrieking at computer
games in the internet club while I wait for an available computer
to write home; dogs, fighting in the streets, constantly wailing
through the night.
May. Daily language classes
and me-as-cicada; the remembrance of resonance; whooping, near-panicked
cry of storks and their new chicks born in my town. Funeral processionschurch
bells ring & the entire town halts to watch the slowly-moving
June. Walking to the reservoir
with my host mother's sister, whose name I don't even know. We stop
in a tiny and clean-white-light chapel and her whispering of prayers
and I hear my name repeated in-between the Bulgarian. Coda.
July. Moved from host family's
to my own apartment. The first morning I wake up, an almost-inaudible
opera. Search until I find its source, an ancient radio which won't
turn completely off unless you disconnect the wires. Chomping noise
in the core of a hot breezeless night wakes me. Again, searchthe
bed frame. I learn there are wood beetles living inside, but that
they don't come out of the wood. Confusion of doorbell & telephone's
ringsometimes I pick up the phone when someone's at my door
& my ear hears a dial tone (different from the one at home).
August. The rolling rhythm
of the Black Sea. Sea sounds; inlets. In a way, I like the wood
September. Everything new
for me at school, chaos. School bells. Teachers' room with the 120
of us hurrying in & out, quick dialogues, mostly about the 1300
students. Like nonstop recess, always plastic bags of snacks for
rapidly-developing childrenyou can hear them grow. All kinds
of languages, learning the words.
October. The cold provokes
protest from the elevator door in my bloc building. The lament of
open & shut can be heard all the way inside my flat. Maybe I
knew this sound before, the hesitance of open & shut? University
students in my conversation class tentatively translate poetry from
Bulgarian to English & I hear that they want to do it. Measured
November. Wind winding through
the small hole in my kitchen's door. Outside coming in. Should I
talk more while outside to balance this, put some inside-out? The
collective wishes in Bulgarian of my eighth-graders for a Happy
First Snow when it does, on Thanksgiving Day.
December. Crunchy laundry,
taking it off the line sounds like it's frost-winter-ground, &
again, I take it inside. The yelp of my sixth-graders when they
receive the letters from students at an American elementary school
we wrote to.
January. Bulgarians sitting
next to me on the bus at the station, me at the window. If they
have someone to say goodbye to outside, they inevitably voice the
words they're mouthing, just barely. This kind of unconscious creation
of sound. Where does it go? I sit, but hear it.
This has been my soundtrack,
these and all the other noises here in Bulgaria. Even the silence,
which comes rarely, is written into this song and is deliberate.
The past ten months have been composed of ups and downs of various
kindsemotional, physical, psychologicaland they're like
frequencies, heard sometimes, other times above or below a threshold.
But mostly, because of the cicadas, I do hear the sounds, and you
know I did manage to follow their wavelengths, to find that child-place
Adapting to a new culture
and facing the puzzles of Peace Corps service forces you to dream-imagine
while the real world echoes, because you're constantly listening
to new reverberations, incorporating.
Does it sound like a place
you almost remember?