Trio for Goat, Metal Box, and Electric Rooster
The Sounds of Dakar
Every afternoon before dusk, and at sundry times throughout the day, the following discussion issues from my neighbor’s yard.
A: Waah! Waaaah! WAAAAAH!
A: … :-/
A: Waah? Waah. Waaah! Wa-AAH!
B: Bah. BAH. BAH!
A: … :-/
A: Waah? Waah. Waaah! Wa-AAH!
A, B: … :-(
If you were there in person, you’d understand every word— but since the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet are ill-equipped to capture the nuances of goatish, allow me to translate.
“Waah!” begins the youth in a cracking countertenor. In human years, he appears to be about fourteen, on the brink of the tumultuous discoveries of early adulthood.
Waah we’re all gonna die. WAH there is no hope. WAAAAH we are DOOOOMED.
Wah. This single syllable contains plague, punishment, and perdition; the unjustness of wars, the suffering of the undeserving, and the inevitability of death. For the first time in his life, our poor juvenile stands face to face with the world’s depravity. The experience pierces his innocent soul to the core — and he cries out in anguish.
This inordinate display of angst goes on for a while, until it is silenced by an impatient and forceful “BAH!” This is goatish for
Look who was born yesterday. Life sucks — so what? Big. Deal. What’cha gonna do about it? Old. News. Shut up, man, and have some grass, won’tcha?
The angsty teenager gets a grip on himself for a moment, but soon his sorrow can’t be contained in his little body and the lamentations burst forth anew. And so the duet continues, the raw tenor and the hardened baritone — until a bass silences them both.
“MEEH.” Infinitely wise, infinitely sad, this goat has seen it all.
Meh: all is vanity. Meh: save your voices.
Once an angsty youth, then a sarcastic adult, this bearded sage has freed himself of every last shred of illusion. Clear-eyed and impassive in a sea of despair, he lets the waves wash over him without flinching as he lives out his final days.
All is silent.
Angst, sarcasm, and weltschmerz in three syllables: no language is as expressive as the tongue of goats.
On my walks, I often visit a metal box. From a distance, it’s stuffed to bursting with birdsong. But come a little closer, and it will explode and ricochet the whole twittering cacophony off every wall in an overwhelming racket.
The box is, in fact, coated in birdsong. The actual source of the din is behind one of the walls, in a silvery row of soft-needled trees. I used to come here during the winter dry season, to listen to the thunderous chords of what had turned out to be the pianissimo prelude to the real symphony of birds. Scores of dun, orange-beaked birdlets the size of a toddler’s fist conjured up the rest of the toddlers with the earnest intensity of their exclamations. Always preoccupied, they would dash in and out of their appropriately sized nestlets, plaiting final flourishes into these Christmas-ornament homes.
In June, an apartment complex opened up next door, newly decorated in flamboyant red. Dakar’s most stylish birds flocked to the scene. The bright yellow dandies in particular examined the royal poinciana tree and found it to live up to its name. Satisfied that its luxurious scarlet was the perfect setting for their audaciously yellow jackets, they proclaimed the suitability of their new palace far and wide. Soon, every bright yellow bird in Dakar had moved in.The walled-in tree-neigborhood vibrated with thrice its winter activity and a hundred times its exuberance.
I come here because I find it peaceful. The birds are like a waterfall, a wall of sound to bathe in. In its grandeur, the colony is like a mountain, pebbles piling up to infinity.
Or maybe it’s because it’s the opposite of peaceful. The birds fly in the face of all our preconceptions about nature. In their obnoxious disregard for their neighbors, they are almost human. I find a strange comfort in that thought.
Why do I come here? Scarlet, lemon yellow, fortissimo — it’s as simple as that.
The goats don’t live here anymore. Eight months ago (shortly after I wrote the above sections) we moved out of Dakar. When we returned last week, the goats had been replaced by a giant wall.
This sort of thing happens all the time around here. On one walk, the ornate riffs of an electric guitar seamlessly morphed into the crow of a rooster. It’s truly a developing country.
A pile of sand and rubble, dwarfed by the windowless, multi-story wall, is all that remains of the shack which was once the goats’ home. For us, this change is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, no more goats. On the other — well, no more goats.
Angsty Goat will never again throw together a night-long festival of requiems. But then I’ll never again hear a goat impersonating a dog — growls included — so masterfully either. And 75% of the view from one’s window (replaced with an unpainted wall) is a high price to pay for a little night-time quiet.
The goats are gone — except maybe they never lived here at all. Their utter unfluffiness notwithstanding, Senegal’s bigger goats recently turned out to be rams. Since I never actually saw our neighbor’s bovids, for all I know, I had it all wrong.
Maybe the bright yellow birds never existed either. There was a royal poinciana tree housing a cacophony of birds. There were bright yellow birds somewhere in Dakar. But did the two ever meet —or is that just a flourish of memory? 75% of the past hides behind a windowless wall.
Among the other 25% is the smile of a stranger. I came to the royal poinciana tree because it wouldn’t stare back — but this man walked by and pulled my face down from the treetops.
We only locked eyes for a moment, but it was enough to remind me: I came here to listen together.