Genta Nishku, Albania and USAWarscapes Corona Notebooks May 12, 2020
In Tirana, Albania, lockdown has plunged the usually noisy city into a difficult and uneasy silence. Genta Nishku's lyric essay "Silent Sunday" is accompanied by a "silent" film.
SILENT SUNDAY | Genta Nishku
On the first Sunday that we spent in a forty-hour curfew, beginning Saturday at one in the afternoon, I made a list of all the sounds I could hear in the unnerving, unusual silence of Tirana, a city always booming with noise. Gone were the men who in the early mornings circle neighborhood streets with their small trucks, yelling out the same announcement that they are looking for scrap metal, used fridges, washing machines, any household item you want to get off your hands. Gone were neighbors’ chit chat, enthusiastic greetings, loud joking and laughter, sounds of children playing, the endless string of cars, the regular intervals of the bus stopping outside my window, the wave of people spilling out on the street. Quarantine, isolation and social distancing has made the city quiet, and the weekends especially so. On that first Sunday, the silence was too disconcerting, too stark a contrast to what had been familiar to me. In my notebook, I took note of sounds:
- chirping of birds, both in the distance and nearby, some alone, others in groups
- water circulating inside the building’ plumbing
- a rare car going by, tires on the pavement
- my spoon mixing grains with water, the metal touching the pan resounds through the apartment
- an ambulance, then another
- a cat’s meowing, longingly
- voices of children, playing or crying, from inside the surrounding buildings
- the sound of a neighbor beating eggs, their whisk hitting a bowl repeatedly
- people speaking to each other from their windows, a string of how are you?
- my upstairs neighbor jumping rope, the sound of her feet hitting the floor
- a phone’s vibrations
- soft melodies from below
- nondescript voices, people speaking
- shuffling footsteps of a lone woman, gone outside to throw her trash
- barking dogs
It seems the quiet is never fully silent, but it does make more apparent the sounds that are always around us, and which become drowned out by the loudness of everyday life. In the quiet of the quarantine, the relief of these nearly hidden things becomes visible, audible: our close proximity to one another, even when separated by walls, the extent to which we are embedded in the natural world, even in the middle of a city. I wanted to make a video that captured some of the sounds in my apartment and others that came from outside my windows. The sounds of my downstairs neighbors, for instance, chatting as they had coffee in their garden. The lack of other noise that afternoon made it easier to hear their voices clearly. Between laughs they discussed some mutual acquaintances: “How are they?” “Fine, fine, hanging in there. What can they do, you know, old age. But they were fine.” I have become more aware of these types of exchanges between my neighbors lately, often hearing them discuss the latest news, new regulations about our curfew, the opening or closing of businesses, or more intimate details, like a conversation between a grandmother and grandchild, where she explained why they’d need to have a smaller birthday celebration this April. In the summer, she told him, they would gather all his friends for a big party to celebrate all the birthdays they had missed. Of course, a quiet quarantine is impossible for many, it is a privilege to listen to the silence. And as I try to understand and get used to the new silent world that unfolds around me every weekend, my thoughts are with my friends and family in New York City, and all the people in that city, where the wailing of ambulance sirens seems to be never-ending.
Genta Nishku is a PhD candidate in the Comparative Literature Department at the University of Michigan, and holds a graduate certificate in Critical Translation Studies from the same department. She is writing a dissertation on the instrumentalization of pain, trauma and memory in the former Yugoslavia and Albania after 1989, and attempts to resist this commodification.