Neighborhood Noises

Although Tacna, Peru may be an urban city, stretching far out into the desert, my neighborhood of Habitat remains a tranquil suburb on the outskirts. As long as no one has decided to throw a “tono” in their house and blast reggaeton music until our windows shake, most evenings are quiet affairs, with only the sound of the neighborhood cats and dogs breaking the silence. Weekends in our house are a pleasant escape from the hustle and bustle of work and one of us will inevitably take up residence on our worn, red-velvet couch that sits below the living room window. We often take weekend siestas to the sounds of children playing in the street, dogs barking, and the rumble of trucks driving down the Pan-American highway a few blocks over.

But there are some sounds that come floating in through the open window that send us running frantically to the door. These are the calls of our caseros and caseras (vendors) who come by in trucks, bicycles, and even on foot, selling their wares. Each person that passes by has a unique call. There is the voice of our tamales man, calling out “TAMAAAAALES” in a surprisingly deep baritone. There is the shrill and rubber honking of the bread man, passing by on a bicycle with a bread basket twice his size behind him. There’s the recorded message of the egg man who sells “huevos fresquitos, Señora!” from Arequipa. Then there’s the loudspeaker of the junk man who buys anything from used clothing to electronics whose recorded message, although identifiable, is impossible  to decipher. Mangoes, watermelon, ice creams of all sizes, it’s door-to-door delivery like no other. 

In the U.S., the home deliveries that so many are accustomed don’t even include a face-to-face interaction anymore. With the click of a button I can purchase something online, track its progress to my house, confirm its delivery and never even think of opening the door to greet the person leaving my order on the doorstep. In fact, I can know what time the package will arrive and avoid going out altogether in order to limit my interactions with a stranger. In Habitat, home-delivery is a little different. As is common in Peru, none of these businesses are official. I can guess the bread man will come around about 5 pm in the afternoon and that the egg man will pass by on Saturday mornings, but the time and date are never certain. Sometimes our vendors can disappear for weeks or even months at a time. I can’t tell you how many Saturdays had passed without the presence of our egg man when, suddenly, the sound of his speaker sent me scurrying towards the door once again. 

I know the faces of these vendors and they know mine but we have never exchanged names. Still, there’s something personal in our interactions. The bread man usually asks me how I and my housemates have been when I flag him down. The egg man is ready for me when I pop out with a bowl and ask for my bandeja of 30 eggs. He is so accustomed to our presence in fact that one weekend when we had no intention of purchasing eggs he slowed his truck to a crawl as he passed our house, seemingly worried that we had forgotten what day it was. In a teeming and growing city, you can still find beautiful, personal pockets of human relationship and closeness in many neighborhoods.

Waiting around on Saturday morning for the egg man to arrive, I have taken advantage of these extra moments spent in wait to sip a cup of coffee on our cozy couch and enjoy one of the many books a past JV has left behind. At dusk I will occasionally leave the door ajar so that the sound of the bread man’s bicycle horn will carry through the house. In these moments I am treated to the changing colors of the sunset or the pattering feet of my four-year-old neighbor, Midori, as she comes to investigate the open house.

It’s a simple act: to open one’s door and wave to a stranger. We would do well to reintegrate this practice into our lives, especially in countries and cities in which technology is providing an easy escape from daily interactions with others. It doesn’t have to be a random stranger you walk by on the street, it could simply be the delivery man leaving your next package on the doorstep. Maybe the next time your package is scheduled to arrive, make a cup of tea, sit down with a good book and still get up to answer the doorbell when the postman rings.

Originally published at

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