I am sure just reading the title sets the hit song “Killing me softly” playing in your head. If you are old enough, you are probably hearing Roberta Flack’s beautiful voice as she croons the song, or maybe it’s Lauryn Hill and the Fugees for those of us who first heard this song in the 90s.
Well, this title tells more than just the song ringing in your head… On my way to the airport in New Orleans in 2008, I noticed construction crews raising thick slabs of concrete all along the highway to the airport, and wondered why. I asked the driver of the taxi conveying me and his response was that there were some old folk who lived on the other side of the highway, whom they noticed were dying unexpectedly. Investigations by the authorities revealed that the cause of death could be attributed to the noise that was coming from the highway, hence the erection of the concrete slabs to keep the noise out of the residential areas. More than 5 years after, the concrete slabs are still going up all around the highways.
“Strumming my pain with his fingers…”
The sky is dark as only an African night sky can be. The air is rather warm and almost still. The kind of evening one would expect to hear in the stillness, the beautiful African chorale of the night, alas, more ominous sounds fill the night. Indeed, so many expectations would have fit a night like this, but disappointments reign. The lone street lamp is out, throwing the whole street into almost complete darkness. A few outside lamps cast some glow upon the street; a pathetic struggle at illumination that is almost pitiful when one thinks about it a little deeply. Then the noise. You would think that you were at a concert hosted by the national association of earth moving machines. Or more accurately, the national cacophonic orchestra of generators. Each instrument contributing its unique and distinct sound to the melee. Not be left out and also not to be outdone is the Canine Foundation. Their persistent barking and howling basically tops the icing upon this rather evil and sinister cake.
“Singing my life with his words…”
Someone would say, “Well, that’s the story of our lives”. Indeed, so it has come to be. Countless nights without electricity supply have turned our neighborhoods into a veritable war zone of different noises. The kind of war zone that would render any peace-keeping force useless and leave them feeling emasculated. We have designed public health programs targeted at all sorts of bugs and diseases. We have even singled out the sufferers and carriers and given them all sorts of titles with funny sounding acronyms, yet even closer than most of us can imagine, another silent killer lies patiently in-waiting.
“Killing me softly…”
A few houses down my street, another monster roars to life, setting all the windows in my bedroom to a constant audible vibration. Then its sound becomes muffled as the so-called sound-proof shutters are closed, yet, the vibrations remain. On a number of occasions, I have wondered at this, and the thought crosses my mind even more frequently these days with the increasing power outages. I ask myself, “How did we ever get to be in this mess?”
“Killing me softly with (t)his…”
Where is your generator located? Good question. I recall a visit to a friend several years ago. He lived in a tenement apartment (popularly called face-me-I-face you) in a place called Agbowo, in Ibadan. On that fateful evening, NEPA/PHCN had done the usual. There were 6 apartments. Each one had a small generating set right in the corridor (as there was no place else to put them). All 6 generators were on. You probably have a smile or some grin on your face as you recall having seen this kind of situation, or currently live in this type of situation. In a lot of ways, the situation described above could be likened to a double-barreled shotgun, where the noxious fumes and the attendant noise from the sets constitute the bullets.
Seriously, where is your generator located? That question bears repetition and some serious thinking. I can imagine that not too many of us have the luxury of large compounds or even that of soundproofed generators. I see some interesting things from time to time. People who live in apartment buildings (especially on the upper floors) with big petrol generators placed in the balcony. The so-called shopping mall where each shop has a generator right in front of it and customers and shop owners have to practically shout to hear or be heard over the din. I find that no matter how small the space, we always find a spot for a generator. What else are we to do? Just dealing with the situation in which we find ourselves.
“Killing me softly with this Noise…”
You can hear it before you even see it. The thump from the sub-woofers alone alerts you to the presence of Mr. Dude (or Miss Babes) in the shiny new BMW (or whatever vehicle catches your fancy).
Constant exposure to noise over a certain decibel level has detrimental effects on health. This is a recognized fact all over the world. Through mechanisms firmly established and through those with a rather tenuous link, the effects have been demonstrated. From annoyance, stress, loss of concentration, impaired sleep cycles, to cardiovascular diseases like hypertension, heart attacks, and then of course, hearing loss, and eventual death, the effects of noise pollution have been documented in the literature. It is not just the generators, the fact that you love blaring your car horn at the slightest infraction may be doing you more harm than getting that pesky driver off the road and out of your way. Effects have been demonstrated in adults and in children. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of noise pollution of any sort.
Countries, governments, and institutions who have recognized this have taken drastic actions to deal with this menace. I am told of international airports where no airplanes land between a certain periods of the night so that the people can have some decent sleep. I have written about the concrete slabs that are still going up as you read this article. Societies where you risk being arrested as a public nuisance if you keep your hands on your car horn as we Nigerians are wont to do.
What are we doing? How long are we going to remain in this mess? Nobody is spared, neither the rich nor the poor. Like one article I read said, the vibrations are equally as bad as the sound levels, even the vibrations we think we do not sense. So, your soundproofing is not as all that as you may think it is.
When can we have constantly peaceful nights, devoid of the intrusion of generators? When will we as a people recognize that indeed we have a problem that requires more urgent attention than the lip service being paid to this power issue by our government?
You move into a house. You either move in with a generator, or you rush out and go an buy one, not knowing that gradually, slowly and softly…
The dogs are barking again. My little boy stirs in his sleep. His cry cutting into my contemplation. I pick up my guitar and look helplessly to the skies one more time, shrug my shoulders, and sigh very deeply…