Thursday, August 08, 2013

Sleep Fail

The fire alarm, a twittering modulating high-pitched whine, woke me this morning at about 4:30AM. While I recall looking at the clock, I can't be positive about the exact time.

Hugging my pillow while breaking away from dreams, I sat up on the edge of the bed to make sense of what was happening. This had happened numerous times in the past and my state of panic was somewhat muted. I sniffed around, checking the usual suspect—the kitchen—to make sure that nothing, inshallah, was on fire or smelled like it, turned on a few lights and then unlocked the front door and walked into the bright white hallway. It was significantly louder outside the apartment where the sound was reverberating and distorting incessantly off the marble floor and stairway, piercing my eardrums. None of my neighbors were around and there was no scent or sign of fire. I went back inside and closed the door while the alarm continued. There was nothing else to do but wait. I paced back and forth between the living room and bedroom.

While the apartment felt warm, it wasn't as humid or uncomfortable as it had been during the day. We always turned the air conditioner off at night. It just gets too cold, otherwise. A security guard arrived and knocked on the door. I let him in and he asked me if I was cooking anything. I shook my head. Investigating further, he observed that the red light on our smoke detector was blinking, which seemed to indicate that our apartment was, undoubtedly, the source of the alarm, and he contacted someone on his walkie-talkie. Within thirty seconds, the alarm stopped and the guard exited. He turned on his way out and told me that someone would come by within an hour to clean the smoke detector, which was in line with follow-up for previous episodes of this type. I nodded and started to close the door. One of my neighbors was standing in the hallway in her slippers and robe. She said something to someone, but I just said "goodnight," closed the door and returned to bed.

For an instant, I thought I would just stay awake, but I realized that I had only been sleeping for about three hours and needed more rest than that, even though the next day was the first day of Eid Al-Fitr celebrating the end of Ramadan and marking the beginning of a ten-day holiday. I lay back down in bed and summoned sleep, wondering if the alarm had been triggered at all during the summer when the three of us were traveling.

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As expected, I was fading in the right direction when I heard the sound of the adhan (call to prayer) outside at about 5AM. After more than two years here, I'm used to it, and I would even say that I like it. However, usually, after a few minutes, it ends, but this morning's broadcast lasted much longer—more than twenty minutes! I don't recall hearing it go on so long in the past. Perhaps its length had something to do with the end of Ramadan. I really didn't know. Through a slit in the bedroom curtains, I could see that it was getting brighter outside. I looked at the clock and expected a knock at the door any moment, but managed to return to sleep.

At 6:30AM, a different security guard and another guy with a ladder arrived. I got out of bed and, after letting them in, decided that it was time to get up once and for all and trudged to the kitchen to make coffee. The security guard held the ladder in place while the technician climbed up and removed the smoke detector. He blew on it a few times, which was also in line with previous troubleshooting episodes of this type, and put it back. Then they left.

Lastly, at about 9:00AM this morning, the alarm sounded yet again! I was awake and drinking coffee at the kitchen table, nibbling on toast with butter and berry jam. I got out of my seat and looked at the smoke detector, but there was no blinking red light. It was another apartment in the building. Apparently there is a problem with smoke detectors. Happily, no one knocked on the door again and, after what seemed like eternity, the alarm faded away.