Dubai is a quiet city
Not living in a part of Dubai where construction work goes on day and night was lucky I thought, until our neighbour’s car alarm started going off early in the mornings. It would start at the time of the deepest sleep, around 3am, and it did not help that the car was parked right outside our bedroom window.
“Mmmf,” I said the first time, woken up from a good dream that I had not had for a long time. I looked at the ceiling where the reflection of the lights could be seen flashing. I could hear the noise of the alarm even over the whirring sound of the air-conditioner that so many of Dubai’s residents find reassuring and comforting.
Fortunately, the alarm sounded almost apologetic and sorry that it was making all that ruckus, unlike the alarm on my car that screams loud enough and flashes all its lights to wake up the dead!
My wife called up the security and a guard, who most probably will battle with insomnia for the rest of his life, answered immediately and started asking questions that my wife answered patiently. She told him exactly which flat to find the neighbour with the noisy car.
I found out by chance what was causing the car alarm to go off so early in the morning. After binge-watching a TV series on Netflix, I was ready to hit the sack when I heard the creak-creak of a trolley being pushed outside.
Pushing the window curtains aside I carefully peeked out so as not to make the robber aware of my presence and saw it was the car cleaner who went around the parking lot with a single bucket of water and a rag that left streaks across windshields. This often set off car alarms all across this sleepy community. (We are still working out a solution on how he can work without seeming like shoplifters, like it happens with me whenever I walk out of a shop with my new shirt in a bag).
We later visited our friends who live in downtown Deira and right outside their apartment a seemingly brand-new building was being torn down and jack hammers were furiously at work cutting through the concrete and the iron and the sound set off a ringing in my ears and a cloud of dust hung over the scene.
A visit to an ear doctor saw a technician put me in a soundproof cabin. He asked me to raise a finger if I heard any sound through the large headphones. I immediately raised my finger and the technician came in and said the test had not yet started. “Sorry”, I said, a little sheepish as I had thought I heard a very faint ‘ping’. The technician shook his head and went back to his cabin and started twiddling with dials on a console.
Over the subsequent days, I found I could not hear a thing my friends were saying over the track the DJ was playing at a horrendously loud nightclub.
As I was researching the noisiest cities in the world, I was happy to note that Dubai was not on the list, despite adding thousands of cars every year on the roads and the constant expansion and construction work. And which cities were on the list: New York, New Delhi, Mumbai, Karachi, Cairo, Buenos Aires, Shanghai, Madrid, Tokyo and Kolkata.
According to the World Health Organisation, excessive noise seriously harms your health and interferes with your daily activities, even during leisure times. It can also cause cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects and, in short, drive you crazy. I invested in a pair of comfortable ear plugs and found a sleep mask that an airline had once given me. And then, the other night, the fire alarm went off.
Mahmood Saberi is a freelance journalist based in Dubai.