The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa

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9780805082104: The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa

A young man's quest to reconcile his deafness in an unforgiving world leads to a remarkable sojourn in a remote African village that pulsates with beauty and violence

These are hearing aids. They take the sounds of the world and amplify them." Josh Swiller recited this speech to himself on the day he arrived in Mununga, a dusty village on the shores of Lake Mweru. Deaf since a young age, Swiller spent his formative years in frustrated limbo on the sidelines of the hearing world, encouraged by his family to use lipreading and the strident approximations of hearing aids to blend in. It didn't work. So he decided to ditch the well-trodden path after college, setting out to find a place so far removed that his deafness would become irrelevant.

That place turned out to be Zambia, where Swiller worked as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years. There he would encounter a world where violence, disease, and poverty were the mundane facts of life. But despite the culture shock, Swiller finally commanded attention―everyone always listened carefully to the white man, even if they didn't always follow his instruction. Spending his days working in the health clinic with Augustine Jere, a chubby, world-weary chess aficionado and a steadfast friend, Swiller had finally found, he believed, a place where his deafness didn't interfere, a place he could call home. Until, that is, a nightmarish incident blasted away his newfound convictions.

At once a poignant account of friendship through adversity, a hilarious comedy of errors, and a gripping narrative of escalating violence, The Unheard is an unforgettable story from a noteworthy new talent.

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About the Author:

A graduate of Yale University, Josh Swiller has had a wide variety of careers: forest ranger, carpenter, slipper salesman, raw food chef, Zen monk, journalist, and teacher, among other things. In August 2005, he had successful surgery for a cochlear implant and partially recovered his hearing. Swiller now speaks often on issues facing mainstreamed deaf individuals, and works at a hospice in Brooklyn, New York, where he lives.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Unheard
part one Akashi ushilala, bakakumbwa insonshi ne mitenge.  
The village in which you do not sleep is admired for its roofing. First Day A month after arriving in Zambia, about halfway through my Peace Corps training, I visited Mununga for the first time. I traveled north for two days from the city of Kabwe, the training site, to where the pavement ended at a lake town called Kashikishi; there, I caught a pickup that made its way up a dirt road, wracked and cratered like it had been cleared by dinosaurs. Villages, forests, marshes, and more villages passed by, giving way to glimpses of Lake Mweru, a giant kidney bean of water stretching to the western horizon. After three hours of this, at the crest of a large hill, a thick log rested in the road--a military checkpoint. A couple of soldiers got up from beneath a mango tree, collected a toll from the driver, and kicked the log out of the way. The road descended into the broad Mununga River valley, crossed a one-lane bridge, and suddenly we came upon the town. There was nothing to prepare you for it: after forty miles of scattered villages and blasted road, the valley was full of activity. A market spread out in all directions from the bus stop. It thronged with merchants, fish sellers, dealers of various sundries and vegetables, and toutboys--rambunctious, ropy-muscled young toughs who bullied travelers on and off of vehicles for tips. People were everywhere, walking, running, laughing, flirting, staggering,hauling packages on their heads, toting fish, birds, children. Children played kung fu tag. Teenage cigarette vendors sat in the sun without a drop of shade and sold one cig and one match at a time. Goats scavenged as men drove them along with sticks. When I hopped off the truck, all the commotion instantly stopped. A thousand pairs of eyes simultaneously turned and stared. "Remember," Administration had said to us Peace Corps volunteers as we prepared for this inaugural visit to our villages, "most of these people, the vast majority, have never seen a non-Zambian before. Many have never even met someone from another tribe. You're going to be the first look they'll have at an American. You're going to be ambassadors. You're going to influence how a lot of people see the United States and the world." Cool, an ambassador. On the trip north, I had daydreams of heroic rescues and grateful young maidens. Donning a black cowboy hat, I would oversee Great Works of Development while learning Great Lessons about Humanity. "We are all one people," I would write back home, "black or white, hearing or deaf. One family." But the looks on the faces in the vast market crowd read less like gratefulness and camaraderie and more like abject shock; it was like a pterodactyl had just landed in their midst and they were trying to decide whether to back away slowly or run like mad. I stood in the road for fifteen minutes. Then I caught the next pickup out of town.  
 
A MONTH AFTER THAT I CAME BACK TO MUNUNGA FOR GOOD. Administration dropped me off in front of a blue and yellow shack with my clothes, a new mattress, a two-year supply of hearing aid batteries, and a loaf of fresh bread. Instantly, like they had been waiting all week just for my arrival, dozens of children ran to watch me unload. It was a beautiful day, the sky a gauzy, cloudless blue. "This is it," Administration said to me, peering at the kids and shack from behind the steering wheel of his Land Cruiser."Now, promise me you'll watch out for river snails. They live in freshwater, even clean-looking water like this river. You can't see their larvae and once they get in your skin, they burrow through your bladder and then you pee blood for the rest of your life." "Ok. I'll look out for them," I said. "Schistosomiasis." "Shit so what?" "Schistosomiasis. That's what the snail is called. The one that messes up your bladder." "So don't go in the river?" "No, I'm not saying that," Administration said, holding up his hands in a gesture of innocence. "I'm not allowed to tell you what to do. This is a free country. You might not get it." On an earlier expedition, Administration had chosen Mununga as a site for a volunteer solely because of the river--it was that beautiful. In retrospect, he probably could have done more research. He was from Cincinnati and didn't know any of the history of the area, didn't know about its reputation for violence, didn't know that urban Zambians, even the ones embracing the global economy and technological age head-on, feared Mununga. "Oooh, Mr. Joshua," the city folk had said when I had told them during training about my placement. "You are brave to go there." "Why is it brave?" I asked them, but they shook their heads in that floppy, figure-eight way that could mean anything, and wouldn't say.  
After Administration drove off I faced the village children. They stared at me from a safe distance. We watched each other like that for a good five minutes before I broke the ice by chucking pebbles at them. They laughed and threw them back. A long, tin-roofed building, easily the biggest building as far as I could see, was built into the hill behind them, so with nothing better to do, after making friends I put my bags away and headed over for a look around. The boys trailed along. The first room I looked into was a small officewith a large desk in the middle. The walls were white, faded, with cobwebs shading the corners. A chubby round-faced man who looked to be in his early thirties sat in a shaft of sunlight, gazing at a chessboard on the desk. He held a beer in his right hand, a handkerchief in his left, wore a wrinkle-free T-shirt that read BOB'S STORES. With the handkerchief hand, he jabbed the air over the board, perhaps planning his next move. He jumped up when I stuck my head in. "Hey! You are the white man who will dig us wells," he exclaimed. "Yes," I said. "How'd you guess?" He laughed, throwing back his head. Then just as suddenly he turned serious. "But you are alone? They only sent one?" "Only one." "Why only one? Mununga needs more than one." I didn't know how to answer that. I introduced myself. He told me his name, Augustine Jere and that he was the clinic officer, and shook my hand in both of his. I motioned to the board. "Who are you playing?" "I'm playing with myself," Jere said. "Do you play?" "No. But I could learn to." He nodded, wiped his face with his handkerchief. It was an open face with thoughtful eyes, a swollen nose, and a ready smile--a trustworthy face. "You could," he said. "White men are very smart." "No more than anyone else." "But you invented penicillin. And automobiles. And airplanes." "Well, don't forget nuclear weapons. And acid rain. And Pet Rocks." He gave a thumbs-up. "Yes. Those, too. Very impressive. Maybe that's why they only send one. Yes, I think one is enough. Even for Mununga." Enough for what, I wondered, but before I could ask, Jere leaned over the side of the desk and took two beers out of a small cooler, handing me one, gesturing for me to sit down. The coolerwas for vaccinations, he said with a nod, but as they were out of those and had been out for a week, might as well use it to keep the beer cold. It has always been my way to plunge into new situations headfirst, and after a little more small talk, I started telling Jere about wells. As he had declared, wells were what I was there for, but, I explained, when they were dug, it wouldn't be by me--the villagers would do the digging and the villagers would be in charge of everything. That was the Peace Corps' philosophy--they called it sustainable development. Jere wasn't very impressed. "Can't you just drill a borehole?" he asked. "Those take two, three days. And they go very deep." "We could," I said, "but no one learns anything when you dig a borehole. A truck comes, drills, leaves. What is the community going to do if the borehole breaks? Or if they need another well? Wait around for another volunteer to show up? No, the goal is to teach the community how to take care of itself." This all sounded good and was based on decades of trial and error, but I had little idea how to go about putting it into practice. I did get some well construction experience during training, but that was just a single day digging a hole in a dirt field and mixing cement in a wheelbarrow. Then, to learn the community organization skills we'd need, the other volunteers and I practiced splitting up hypothetical jobs while eating vanilla wafers. You dig. I'll mix. He'll cook lunch. What that had to do with organizing communities wasn't really clear to any of us. But I didn't know the depths of my ignorance yet, and could never have imagined the consequences of going in blind. Community empowerment, sustainability, and personal responsibility--that, I told Mr. Jere, was all we needed to dig the wells. "Sounds good," he said with a smile, but I wasn't sure if he believed it. He seemed eager to get off the subject. We finished our beers, put back another round, then Jere called out and a skinny boy with an overbite appeared, took some kwacha--the Zambian currency--and ran off to get more. Wedrank those as well. Evening came and filled the sky with such reds and oranges it was like the valley had been slipped inside a sliced papaya. The smells of the day--sweat, cocoa butter, kerosene, and fish lying in the sun--were swept away by the evening breeze. I was getting buzzed. "Let me show you the clinic," Jere said. He stood up and whacked his kneecap on the desk. He groaned. "That hurt."  
Jere's office, another office, three treatment rooms, and a storeroom opened off the clinic's l...

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Descripción Henry Holt Company Inc, United States, 2007. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.A young man s quest to reconcile his deafness in an unforgiving world leads to a remarkable sojourn in a remote African village that pulsates with beauty and violence These are hearing aids. They take the sounds of the world and amplify them. Josh Swiller recited this speech to himself on the day he arrived in Mununga, a dusty village on the shores of Lake Mweru. Deaf since a young age, Swiller spent his formative years in frustrated limbo on the sidelines of the hearing world, encouraged by his family to use lipreading and the strident approximations of hearing aids to blend in. It didn t work. So he decided to ditch the well-trodden path after college, setting out to find a place so far removed that his deafness would become irrelevant.That place turned out to be Zambia, where Swiller worked as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years. There he would encounter a world where violence, disease, and poverty were the mundane facts of life. But despite the culture shock, Swiller finally commanded attention everyone always listened carefully to the white man, even if they didn t always follow his instruction. Spending his days working in the health clinic with Augustine Jere, a chubby, world-weary chess aficionado and a steadfast friend, Swiller had finally found, he believed, a place where his deafness didn t interfere, a place he could call home. Until, that is, a nightmarish incident blasted away his newfound convictions.At once a poignant account of friendship through adversity, a hilarious comedy of errors, and a gripping narrative of escalating violence, The Unheard is an unforgettable story from a noteworthy new talent. Nº de ref. de la librería AAV9780805082104

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Descripción Henry Holt Company Inc, United States, 2007. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. A young man s quest to reconcile his deafness in an unforgiving world leads to a remarkable sojourn in a remote African village that pulsates with beauty and violence These are hearing aids. They take the sounds of the world and amplify them. Josh Swiller recited this speech to himself on the day he arrived in Mununga, a dusty village on the shores of Lake Mweru. Deaf since a young age, Swiller spent his formative years in frustrated limbo on the sidelines of the hearing world, encouraged by his family to use lipreading and the strident approximations of hearing aids to blend in. It didn t work. So he decided to ditch the well-trodden path after college, setting out to find a place so far removed that his deafness would become irrelevant.That place turned out to be Zambia, where Swiller worked as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years. There he would encounter a world where violence, disease, and poverty were the mundane facts of life. But despite the culture shock, Swiller finally commanded attention everyone always listened carefully to the white man, even if they didn t always follow his instruction. Spending his days working in the health clinic with Augustine Jere, a chubby, world-weary chess aficionado and a steadfast friend, Swiller had finally found, he believed, a place where his deafness didn t interfere, a place he could call home. Until, that is, a nightmarish incident blasted away his newfound convictions.At once a poignant account of friendship through adversity, a hilarious comedy of errors, and a gripping narrative of escalating violence, The Unheard is an unforgettable story from a noteworthy new talent. Nº de ref. de la librería AAV9780805082104

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Descripción Henry Holt Company Inc, United States, 2007. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. A young man s quest to reconcile his deafness in an unforgiving world leads to a remarkable sojourn in a remote African village that pulsates with beauty and violence These are hearing aids. They take the sounds of the world and amplify them. Josh Swiller recited this speech to himself on the day he arrived in Mununga, a dusty village on the shores of Lake Mweru. Deaf since a young age, Swiller spent his formative years in frustrated limbo on the sidelines of the hearing world, encouraged by his family to use lipreading and the strident approximations of hearing aids to blend in. It didn t work. So he decided to ditch the well-trodden path after college, setting out to find a place so far removed that his deafness would become irrelevant.That place turned out to be Zambia, where Swiller worked as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years. There he would encounter a world where violence, disease, and poverty were the mundane facts of life. But despite the culture shock, Swiller finally commanded attention everyone always listened carefully to the white man, even if they didn t always follow his instruction. Spending his days working in the health clinic with Augustine Jere, a chubby, world-weary chess aficionado and a steadfast friend, Swiller had finally found, he believed, a place where his deafness didn t interfere, a place he could call home. Until, that is, a nightmarish incident blasted away his newfound convictions.At once a poignant account of friendship through adversity, a hilarious comedy of errors, and a gripping narrative of escalating violence, The Unheard is an unforgettable story from a noteworthy new talent. Nº de ref. de la librería BZE9780805082104

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