Elliot calls our apartment in Dar es Salaam ‘the bat house’, because there’s a big colony of bats in the surrounding trees. From the balcony where we hang our washing, you can look directly at bats hanging in the tree only centimetres away, and at dawn and dusk they fill the sky. They wake us up in the morning, and chatter to one another during the day, forming a kind of auditory backdrop.
That backdrop is actually a symphony. It’s not just the bats. It’s the roosters in our neighbours’ yard, their guard dogs, the caw of the crows, the traffic noises, the distant ship horns out at sea every now and then. There are the inside noises as well: the whir of the fans, (or generators when there’s no power), how footsteps sound on the tiles, the way our doors slam with the breeze, the trickle of the toilet cisterns filling.
And there’s the call to prayer. Elliot came to me with joy the first time he heard it after we arrived back, “We always hear this!” he exclaimed. And of course, he hasn’t heard it for three months, whether that’s because of Australian laws around noise pollution, or our cultural squeamishness around anything religious, and especially Muslim. But he was saying that he was once again hearing something normal. For our Elliot, the call to prayer is not only part of his world, but part of what makes it home, along with the bats, etc.
On our return this time, 36 hours in, I’ve realised how immersive and sensory our experience of home is, how it’s about what we hear and smell, the sensations on our skin and how we move differently here. It’s stuff that’s happening in the background, and hard to put your finger on, but when it’s gone you just feel kind of wrong, and you feel more relaxed when you’re back in that context.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.