National Geographic

Noisiest Village in the World

Leita, Djibouti, 11°32'03" N, 42°28'04" E

There is no relief here.

There is no sleep—at least not for outsiders, not for dusty wayfarers like us. No refuge. No relaxation. No peace. No rest. It is the wind.

The heavy oceanic air gushes ceaselessly inland from the Red Sea—we can smell the salt!—sucked westward into the heart of the desert, into Africa, by the hot, dry bowl of Lac Assal, the lowest point on the continent. A trick of physics has turned this mountain pass into a perfect wind tunnel. It makes the lapels on my shirt whir like helicopter blades. And the tottering village of Leita—erected here of rusty scraps of corrugated metal, of odds and ends pried from an abandoned salt works—sounds as if it is rolling sideways across the land. Every tied-down, wired-together, rock-weighted shack rattles, bangs, squeaks, gongs, pings, taps, clangs, and scrapes. Constantly. A nerve-wracking rumpus. A 24-hour din.

No need for mothers and fathers to mask their intimate nights in Leita. Even in the tiniest hut packed with children, the incessant cymbals of wind and metal will drown the loudest cry of passion. The offspring of these noisy couplings must grow up half deaf. They must learn from birth to read lips. If the wind ever stopped in Leita, the 3,000 inhabitants of this poor, forgotten, cacophonous outpost—a village of windward-leaning, unemployed salt miners—will face a crisis. They will run about in amazed circles, wide-eyed, clapping the sides of their heads.

For the first time in their lives, they will hear their own voices clearly.

They will listen to the beating of their own hearts.

Silence will terrify them.

There are 29 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. William Slaton (@wslaton)
    April 11, 2013

    Your write up is fascinating! Has anyone measured the noise with a sound level meter?

    • Paul Salopek
      April 15, 2013

      William—the best measurement I can offer is anecdotal: watching jackals moving their toothy jaws at the village’s periphery and yet not hearing their yapping.

  2. Tom Dailey
    April 11, 2013

    I think this is the most fun I’ve seen you have with a piece, Paul. Is it the salt air with its promise of the end to this chapter in your hot and dusty sojourning? A fun read, too. Thanks.

  3. Elaina Ramirez
    April 12, 2013

    I think your doing a great job and try to ignore the noise

  4. Karen Winterholer
    April 12, 2013

    Who could know such places exist, but for the glimpses you have given us? Thank you!

  5. Linda Hoernke
    April 13, 2013

    Thank you again Paul….another great bit of writing to follow on your journey!

  6. Tyler Miazga
    April 14, 2013

    I believe sleeping pills will be your friend tonight for sure!

  7. lucid gypsy
    April 14, 2013

    Paul, your description of intimate nights is just brilliant! Happy travels.

  8. Antonio
    April 14, 2013

    Two brief comment: 1. As a “lover of the wind”, I’m filled with envy.

    2. Did anyone say electricity-producing windmills?

  9. Antonio
    April 14, 2013

    Two brief comments: 1. As a “lover of the wind”, I’m filled with envy.

    2. Did anyone say electricity-producing windmills?

    • Paul Salopek
      April 15, 2013

      A good idea. Though attaching propellers to the landscape around Leita could drag the whole country, whirring, towards Ethiopia.

  10. singing fish
    April 14, 2013

    very interesting

  11. Kirk
    April 16, 2013

    Looks like a perfect place to erect wind turbines to harness the energy.

  12. Gary Boivin
    April 16, 2013

    I have always been able to sleep through a cacophony. This village would probably put an end to that, from the way you tell it.

  13. Peter Molin
    April 18, 2013

    Paul–These is Pete from West Point, NY, where you read last year. I’m loving these posts, love your project, and hoping that you’ll stay safe and some day visit us again. -Pete

  14. Janice Waldron-Hansen
    April 21, 2013

    Just joined…I echo all the comments…I am intrigued…I’ll walk with you too, from here.

  15. Inno Ike
    April 24, 2013

    To think that a place so far removed from civilization and heavy industries could be so noisy leaves me wondering.

  16. Linda Valerian
    April 24, 2013

    A fascinating, richly human adventure I do not want to miss.

  17. Fuji Adriza
    April 26, 2013

    it’s just like how people that live ini the shore feels I think, always hearing waves come and go. but different. 😀

  18. max hodges
    April 29, 2013

    useful app for measuring sound pressure level

    • Paul Salopek
      May 3, 2013

      Thanks for this nifty tool, Max. Low-tech earplugs would have been handy, too.

  19. Sheila Bjeletich
    April 30, 2013

    Yes! I’m reading this essay as I listen to the Columbus, NM spring wind. Shrieking wind and twisting sheet metal. I hope my neighbor’s roof doesn’t blow off again.

  20. gabbrielle
    May 29, 2013

    how long have u been out there does it get cold out there at night

  21. e grant
    May 29, 2013

    I am so grateful I finally received one of your e-mailings . . . I signed up a long time ago . . . This is the first to arrive . . . Thank you & safe travels.

  22. Clara Kelly
    November 24, 2013

    What a wonderful description of the windy scrap metal village. Congratulations on making it so far on this trip! I look forward to reading more. I wonder how frequently you are taking breaks to rest well and resupply. I imagine the 20+ mile days are adding up for the feet.

  23. Clara Kelly
    November 24, 2013

    Hello, again. I read your reply to inquiry about the feet in April – that they are doing their job arresting your fall. That’s a great perspective to have which I hope you maintain for the duration of the trek. Hope this finds you well now.

  24. Joan
    February 26, 2014

    What kind of library do you carry with you? Also, do you do internet searches?

  25. gabri
    May 24, 2014

    The description to convey the noisiness is so unique & striking! Made me laugh; made me feel it. Hard to describe what I mean when I read your writing. So, a simile: a scientific paper, written by Henry James.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Looking Differently at the World: Engaging Younger Learners in the Out of Eden Walk | Educators' Blog

    […] his starting point, and talked about what Ethiopia was like.  I told them about Paul’s dispatch Noisiest village in the world. Together we listened to his sound recording and acted it out. We wondered what it might be like to […]

    June 6, 201413:59 pm

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