Namaz and Nightime Noises

For the first few weeks the call to prayer startled me from my sleep every night and again in the early morning.  The wail reached through my open window at an ethereal pitch.  Then, gradually, it became part of the background of night noises: dogs barking, neighbors chatting on their balconies, a child crying, early morning garbage trucks trundling up the street.

I don’t remember if our daughter was woken by the namaz in her first few weeks of life.  I don’t remember a lot from those weeks – wakings, the glow of a nightlamp, groggily making my way to her crib, working with my husband to change her tiny diapers in a flail of fumbling fingers, going to the kitchen to find something to eat (usually yogurt) at 5 am, waking up with a start and looking at the digital clock – has it been two hours?  Should we feed her?.  But did she wake up at the call to prayer?  I don’t recall.  I doubt it – she slept through half of a coup attempt, gunfire and bombs going off down the hill, the sonic whoosh-boom of fighter jets flying low overhead.

When we came back to Bishkek we’d wake each other up at night.  I was forever in a hyper-alert state of light sleep: if she shifted in her bassinet I’d wake up, lean over to check on her, and often, inadvertently, disturb her sleep.  As soon as we moved into our new flat, when she was near 3 months old, I convinced my husband to move her to her own room.  We both began sleeping better, often through the night – once she actually settled down for sleep.  I’d put her to bed at 7pm: feed her, read to her, wait until her little eyes closed and then place her in the crib and turn out the light before creeping downstairs.  If we spoke too loudly, she’d wake up.  If I sneezed, she’d wake up.  If we accidentally dropped something, or made too much noise while making dinner, she’d wake up.  And every evening the last call to prayer – would wake her up.  She was waking up two or three times after we put her to sleep every evening.  I’d go up, pick her up, breastfeed her back to sleep.  Eventually, around 4 months, I decided I wasn’t going to breastfeed her in the evenings again, and it became my husband’s duty to help her settle herself back into sleep.  She stopped waking up.  Sometimes we would hear wailing through the walls, look at each other and whisper, “is it her?”, then sit in silence for a moment longer before realizing it was only our neighbors. On New Year’s residents in the flat across from ours – twenty meters across the parking lot – let off strings of fireworks from their kitchen windows.  The sky across the city lit up with like explosions.  Not a peep from upstairs.

But then Ramazan came, hot and sticky nights, silent days.  The narcoleptic population became nocturnal, emerging from their homes only as dusk began to settle over the city, the buzz of anticipation at 7 pm, the high hum of 8.  The Namaz emitted from the behemoth mosque squatting by the university entrance was a pious hoarse croak, amplified by the electronic speakers.  Then we could practically hear the clanking of plates, the scrape of forks on the metal serving trays used in the student cafeteria.  We shifted our daughter’s bedtime to match the Namaz – there was no point trying to put her to sleep before it, as she’d wake up with a start, crying and shaking her crib rails.

Night was no better.  The population reveled – two hundred people spilled out of the soviet block opposite.  Kids biked up and down the street, bought ice cream.  The dogs that hover around the shops below waiting to be fed spammy sausages or a chunk of bread sent up howls whenever a car came up the street, or yipped as they chased bicyclists and strangers from their territory.  We shut our windows, turned on the fan.  Our daughter woke, and woke again at 3 am, when the cry went out to wake the population to prepare the pre-dawn morning meal.  We didn’t sleep much.

Following Ramazan the full, throaty cries to prayer returned with a vengeance, booming over the campus.  Before only one or two of the religious study students whose duty it is to emit the call were excessively loud; now every one of them seems to shatter the air.  Our daughter wakes most nights after 10, at the last call, and sometimes again between 5 and 6, at the first.  Usually she settles herself back to sleep after a single sob; sometimes she shakes the rails, tears riveting down her red face. We walk in, lay her back on the bed, cover her with a summer blanket, and usually she falls right to sleep, just needing someone to settle her. Sometimes I wake in the morning vaguely aware that I’ve woken at night, sleepwalked to her room to put her back to sleep.

Sometimes we still wake up – dogs barking, neighbors sobbing.  Our neighbors to the right are a family of four – plump stay-at-home mom who always says “hello” (in Turkish) on the stairs; two seemingly cute kids about age 5 or 6, a dried-out looking middle-aged man whom I’ve never seen without a cigarette in his hand. Their apartment reeks of stale cigarette smoke whenever they open the door, when they place plastic bags of trash on the landing to pick up later. In the evenings we can hear the son bouncing off the walls like a ninja.  Later at night sometimes the girl sobs and sobs, cries more intense than any our daughter emitted in infancy half muffled by the wall.  Sometimes the mother shouts (usually in tandem with the daughter’s wails).  Last night E woke me with a shake. We heard high-pitched cries and screams coming from behind our headboard.  It was 12:18. Tutya slept on and, once again, we felt blessed to have such tranquility in our own home.

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