Jenny Diski has written recently about being treated like an old bag for complaining about her young neighbour’s music. I sympathise, but wonder how much worse she would feel if she lived in Latin America. When I came to Nicaragua seven years ago, I briefly lived next door to a man who had to get up very early to go to work. His house was made of plastic and tin, but equipped with a powerful radio which he put on at full blast at 3.00 a.m. every day except Sundays.
The local Chinese restaurant was in an L-shaped building. The first and only time I went there, a radio was playing at full blast in one arm of the L, while in the other a boxing match was blaring from a wall-mounted TV. We sat strategically (so we thought) at the corner of the L, which had a large doorway open to the street. But the shop over the road had set up wardrobe-sized speakers on the pavement outside. Once the music started booming out of these, we could no longer hear either the radio or the TV.
On an otherwise relatively quiet night, you can sometimes hear a preacher conducting an open air service up to two kilometres away. I went to one once, given by a preacher who exhorted his (very poor) congregation to stop worrying about their lack of worldly goods, as a mansion was being prepared in heaven for each of them. Some time later he was arrested for taking part in an elaborate car-dealing swindle.
There are a surprisingly large number of big radios and TVs in rural areas, given how poor most people who live in the countryside are. It apparently works like this: one or other of the two large chain stores that sell domestic electrical equipment arranges to sell a cut-price but impressive looking and loud piece of equipment to one person in a village that has recently been connected to the electricity grid. His envious neighbours are then offered similar goods but on much more punitive credit terms. Anyone who can’t keep up the crippling payments stands to lose not only the hifi but, once the debt has grown big enough, what little else they own too.
I now live in a village four kilometres out of town, and even further from the ‘Malecon’ where the discos spring to life at weekends. At two in the morning the music is often loud enough for me to hear the words and feel the beat. When the discos are quiet, my neighbours obligingly fill the silence. We were connected to the grid a year ago, thanks in no small measure to campaigning by my wife. Now I sometimes lie awake at night hoping for a power cut.