Commercial soundscapes

Ramallah has a very different set of commercial sounds than the places that I've personally experienced in the United States. In the suburbs where I grew up and the cities I've lived in since, commercial activity is by and large confined inside certain spaces and, while advertising saturates everything, it does so rather silently. (Actually, given how much I hate shopping and thus do everything I can in my power to avoid going to markets, its quite possible I have no idea what I’m talking about here.)

Not so in Ramallah. There are the the trucks that rove the neighborhoods selling scrap metal, broadcasting the the same lines over and over (aluminium kharbon lil biya'...). In the summers, young men with coolers full of ice-cream also fan out from the center, calling out the name of the ice-cream store they're selling from (ruuukab!). The opening of a new shop is accompanied by gigantic speakers, very loud pop music, and promises of deals. And of course, there is the fruit and vegetable market, where men call out their daily prices, each with a unique pace and intonation. This spills out into the main squares and roads where sellers stand by carts loaded with whatever fruit is in season.

My favorite cafe is located on a main thoroughfare that runs from the center of the city and down through to one of its most expensive neighborhoods. I was working there early in the spring when suddenly, even though I was wearing headphones, I heard a blast of pop music coming from the street. Looking up, I saw the first in perhaps five or six semi-trucks, each equipped with massive speakers, and each carrying a number of brand new cars. 

This fleet belonged to Jawwal, the biggest telecommunications company in the West Bank, and it was advertising its new 3G network. Recently, the Israeli military allowed Palestinian telecom companies to access the 3G network, and each company is trying to outdo the other. Apparently Jawwal's big idea is to give away brand new cars to 30 lucky winners who join the 3G network. It seems like a bizarre marketing idea, but what do I know. 

Anyways, so there they went, these massive trucks far too big for Ramallah's streets causing a traffic jam, showing off these cars and assaulting everyone in a 6 block radius with sound. 

In the 1990s, Oslo ushered in new markets, monopolies, and ways to get rich, and Jawwal is one of these players. But the ruling companies of the West Bank seem not to have radically transformed the city's soundscape. They've just latched on to what was already there, adding another (very loud) layer.

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