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My block has many faces. What time of day should I describe to you? The morning, quiet slowly filling with the noise of work and life, full of potential? Or midday, the time of solitude, heavy with sleep? Or dusk, redolent with settling dust and the echoes of the final minutes of football games in the field at the end of our street?
The morning call to prayer rises over our block just as the sky turns from black to grayish blue, the shade of a fresh bruise. The sun has not yet emerged from the low hanging clouds over the Gulf of Tadjourah, just on the other side of the US embassy. The sun rises fast this close to the equator and in the time it takes for the bread man to walk from the bakery to our street, the grayish blue is tinted amber, the clouds are all burned away and the wind begins to stir up dust.
The street at this time of day is quiet. The only sounds are sudden and forceful, stabbing. A French soldier revving the engine on his motorcycle before zooming to his base for work. The bread man periodically honking his bicycle horn to announce the arrival of fresh baguettes, delivered in a green wooden cart and wrapped in rice sacks or old newspaper. And my gate, which creaks and shatters the peace, when I push the metal black door open.
The quiet won’t last long. Dogs bark, guards wake, construction workers arrive and begin hammering on the triplex next door. They have been hammering in the predawn hours for a year and a half and the building is not close to being finished. Dirt, cement chunks, discarded tools, and garbage spills over into the street. Guards hand coins to the bread man and dip their baguettes in steaming tea. Some pull out stick brooms or water hoses and attempt to minimize the dust. Theirs is a losing battle.
The dust will not be kept down and the quiet will not linger long. Cars begin turning the corner at the top of the street where after it rains a puddle the size of a manmade pond refuses to dry for days. The cars pass our house, pass the dukaan, the store across the street from which we buy Cokes and popcorn and pastel candy-covered almonds, pass the house under construction. They screech to a stop in front of the school and kids pour out. The cars park three and four deep and twist and angle and narrowly squeak past each other. Parents honk and furiously wave their hands, flick the back of their fingers against their chins to insult drivers blocking their way.
Kids dash all directions across the street, heading to one of three schools within a block of our house. Younger kids shout, swing water bottles, run with heavy backpacks jostling and throwing off their balance. They run with the straight-armed side to side jiggle of a Minnesota toddler in a full snowsuit. Older boys squat on curbs like crows and watch. They are watching the older girls who saunter, who know they are being watched.
In the fifteen minutes it takes for all the schoolchildren to be dropped off, the street is transformed from quiet to chaotic.
The hour before school starting is my favorite time of day. It begins with prayer, it speaks of hope. The quiet asks the question what does today hold? And each disturbance of the peace, beginning with the staccato bursts of the bread horn and crescendo-ing to the riotous, holds a promise. This is a new day.