I’m bunking in the middle of Jerusalem’s Old City for a month. It is less than one hundred meters from the desk where I now sit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The CHS is perhaps Christendom’s most sacred space and the best guess at the spot where Jesus was raised from the dead. Early every morning the bells in its steeple ring out across the city reminding the rest of us that we need to do the same.
My little place is splendid in many ways. I have my own room to sleep in and a tiny shared bathroom and kitchen (with fridge) right outside my door. My Coptic Sister giggled when she related the story of how she managed to nab the fridge from the bishop. I am grateful, regardless. The Copts are a fun-loving bunch.
One drawback for my little room, however, is that there is no air-conditioner. The fan does a pretty good job of keeping up with Jerusalem’s summer, assuming I leave the window open. And therein lies the problem. The Old City is a teeming mass of humanity. With my window open and my head near the screen for cool air, I hear everything, including things that go boom in the night. These may be enumerated as follows.
1. The Ramadan Cannon.
Because this is month known in the Arab world as Ramadan, the night sounds begin with a cannon blast. A good Muslim breathes a sigh of relief, thanks God, and breaks the fast. For the devout, there is no drinking or eating during daylight hours. The cannon marks the close of the day, and in the summer heat, abstinence is difficult. Many feast to the wee hours of the morning when a second cannon is fired. This one signals the renewal of the fast.
I hear all this out my window, especially the cannon. It will lift you off your mattress.
2. My Neighbors.
Out my second story window is a street. It is less than ten feet wide. Across that street is a window to another apartment. Inside lives a family that doesn’t have air conditioning either. The father is an overweight fellow who likes to watch TV, listen to loud Arabic music, and sit around in his underwear. It’s not that I’m looking mind you, we are just that close. All of the Old City is that close.
Sometimes I hear booms and other assorted noises associated with the digestive process emanating from their window. Of course, while I don’t watch TV or listen to Arabic music, I’m sure they have wrinkled their noses at noises that emanate from my side of the street as well. One day, I may have to go over and introduce myself. Even though we have never spoken, we are practically family. I’ll be sure to begin the conversation with an apology.
3. World Cup Fans.
For everywhere (except West Texas) this month is the festive celebration of sport known as the World Cup. Because it is being held in Brazil this go around, all the games are played in the middle of our night. This means, of course, that true fans will stay up to cheer/lament every goal.
Sometime in the churning of the deep, Brazil, the favorite for many Old City fans, got fanny whacked by Germany. Every time that Klose kicked another goal, there was a clatter that echoed down the stoney streets of Jerusalem. It was not a booming kind of boisterousness, but the sound of despair, the kind of noise that is more felt than heard. Cub fans know exactly what I mean.
I can only imagine what it must have been like to sleep without air conditioning last night in Rio de Janeiro.
4. The Garbage Guys.
Oddly enough, the ethic of throwing one’s personal garbage into the street has persisted here since the Middle Ages. Because of this, teams of fellows are required to march up and down through the town every night with brooms, buckets, and skinny tractors pulling garbage trailers. Because this is their life and the night is their day, they enjoy conversation and shouting back and forth about things like football scores. By the way, the sound of an unmuffled tractor passing under your window will lift you off your mattress.
5. Rockets from Gaza.
All of these noises are common in Jerusalem’s Old City. The only new element from last night was the sound of the siren that signaled a rocket warning. This, of course, is no humorous matter. The siren sound was followed by series of deep “woomphs” in the distance. Whether these were the impact sounds of the rockets themselves or sounds of the anti-rocket defenses rising up and meeting them is hard to say.
Either way, the noise will lift you off your mattress.
So does the thought of the continuing human tragedy in Gaza (pause).
Some sounds that I hear out my window are common. Others are new.
I am trying hard to not view the noises of the night as sleep-stealers. Rather they are prompts to remind me that I live in a world full of people. Some are hungry. Some are sad. Some are angry. Some are scared.
Being awake in the night is a good time to think about them and to ask myself the question: how will this change my tomorrow?