Thursday January 28
The sounds that I wake up to have a direct correlation with the kind of sleep I have here – and, to a degree, the changing conditions.
At my home in Miami, I wake up early because of the sun or an internal clock that goes off to ensure that I meet my regular triathlon-training partners. Here, I barely remember going to sleep before some irregular noise reminds me where I am.
It’s just been two weeks that since I was sleeping on the conveyer belt of Mais Gate’s international airport. My slumber soundtrack consisted of: airplanes, jets, and helicopters landing and taking off; Chinese, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Spanish, and French soldiers and aid workers and journalists chatting as they passed by; cargo rumbling past in containers, and the incessant, deaf-defying engines.
Then, I moved to the relief of the Ibolele Hotel, where at least I was on grass and in a tent, even though I didn’t know who was snoring at the other end.
I camped next to the entrance of the hotel. I fell asleep listening to car engines, loud, annoying diesel trucks, four-wheel drives, and buses. The night was punctuated by the drivers, whose animated conversations seemed like they were fighting but in fact they were just trying to enjoy themselves after long workdays ferrying journalists up and down the hills.
Now, living in luxury in a hotel room with a door (to say nothing of a bed), I wake up to the sound of an air conditioner, a clanky unit that comes on around 5:00 a.m. The unit muffles the sounds I used to wake up to when I lived here in the 1980s and ’90s – roosters and car horns and shoe-shine boys. And, yes, generators. These have always underscored the lack of available electricity in this country.
The A/C mutes the constant chatter of the tent city just outside the hotel walls. But it does nothing to distract me from the noises in my head, the ones that keep me tossing at night as I try to keep abreast of all the developments that have happened during the day.
I think about the things I have to do for the next day, of the people I have to call to find out about the number of homeless who’ve received tents. I have to find out which aid organizations are delivering food and water and how many people are still homeless. I need to schedule time to read up on all the stories I haven’t followed so that I can be as informed as possible for all the people who think I know more than I do.
And to try to remember the promises I’ve made to people I’ve met during the day. I tick through the list, so that in the middle of the night, when the air conditioning unit finally clicks off, I can really sleep, at least a few hours, when it’s really, really quiet.