Sounds of Dhaka

  • Horns. Honking, beeping, shouting, ringing. It’s everywhere and will fill your brain.  It’s necessary to learn the different types of horns.  For example, if you hear a rough, short *beep*beep* you know it’s a car and most likely an aggressive one.  Move out of the way.  A single, more high-pitched horn is a motorcycle means you can stay in the road and they’ll swerve around you.  A bicycle bell is the signature sound for a rickshaw.  I look down and step aside, first, to avoid being clipped by the axel, and second, so they will not repeatedly ask, “Ma’am, rickshaw?? Baridhara Road 10!” (They all know where the white girl lives.) Now if you hear a louder, harsher *BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeep* get the hell out of the way. Buses have no mercy.
  • Prayer calling. Compared to the constant Hindu bell clanging in India, the prayer calls come several times a day as an energetic hum that settles across the city and vibrates between the buildings, filling up the air.  Walking home last Friday afternoon, I encountered several hundred men with white caps, long kurtas, and lengthy beards leaving their Friday prayers.  Every mosque I see I ask the name and if I’m allowed in.  Most I am not either because I’m a foreigner or a woman.
  • Birds.  One of my favorite sounds.  I try to wake up before 7 am to hear the birds chirp – bright green, black, blue stripes – before the rest of the city wakes up and all of the other noises take over.  When the sun sets, the owl living right outside of my balcony makes an occasional hoot.

    The owl lives in the square in the center!
    The owl lives in the square in the center!
  • Construction.  “Construction” can come in many forms.  Welding means sparks flying over the street and workers with no shoes or glasses.  It could be straddling two beams with a 10-foot drop in between pounding a piece of metal.  At all times, you can hear women chopping away making a new drainage ditch while men carry 12 bricks at a time on their head.  Today I just saw men hitting the ceiling and waiting for grey stuff to fall down.  Clearly, I have no idea what they’re doing, but I admire their hard work.  (Note that is this clip at 6:30 am, I tried to record the birds which were too quiet, but if you listen carefully you can here already a steady digging.)
    Construction workers
    Construction workers

  • Air planes. I’ve tried to get a recording of the planes for the past few days, but they pass over within a few seconds, shaking the buildings and halting conversations, and leave a “silence” behind until the next one comes 30 minutes later.
  • Bangla music.  The best rickshaw rides are in the evening along the lake when the temperature drops while the drivers are humming a Bangla tune.  I think it’s the Bangladeshi version of a gondola ride in Venice.
  • Fans.  SssshhhhhhSshhhhhhSshhhhh.  Day and night, my saving grace.
  • Hacking.  No, not the murders that have been in the news recently, but coughing or grunting that comes from a much a deeper place in the body.  Just walking through the streets, I’m surprised every time by a deep hack (I counted over 20 today!).   If the first hacking sound is bad, part two – spitting – is worse.  Prepare yourself for spit, chew, or even blood too close to your walking path.


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