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Paperback The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa Book

ISBN: 0805082107

ISBN13: 9780805082104

The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa

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Book Overview

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... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A must read memoir

This is perhaps the best memoir I have ever read! Joshua is a gifted writer as well as a born story-teller with an amazing eye for the telling detail and just enough mordant wit to keep you from becoming overwhelmed by the pathos and cruelty he witnesses.

Angry love

We pay too little attention to the deaf. When we knowingly meet those who are, there's a tendency to raise our voice. If the person is wearing aids, that's a blast of sound made unbearable by the wearer. We are used to filtering out "background" noise when in conversation, but the hearing aid wearer can't make that distinction. All sounds wash over them at nearly equal strength. When they seem to fail to comprehend our meaning, we raise our voice again, compounding the problem. Little wonder they surreptitiously turn off the aid and withdraw. You have failed to understand the situation. All this is the case in the developed world where technology is available to help the disadvantaged. Transfer the conditions to a small village in Zambia, Africa, where hearing aids, even electricity, are unknown. Josh Swiller, who was profoundly deaf by the age of four, made that transfer. He became a Peace Corps volunteer in Mununga, where a tiny village had burgeoned into a dispersed town of fifty thousand. Although sent to induce the villagers to dig wells for fresh water, local politicians blocked him. Turning to health care and teaching deaf children, he tried to immerse himself in the local society. The deaf, especially children, are ignored by the people as being essentially useless. Settled in, he is given a housemaid, and a young boy attaches himself to Josh. But it's Jere, a health worker from another tribe who becomes his real contact. Working together in the local "clinic", they become fast friends. Josh struggles to learn the language and to become part of the local community. Advised by Peace Corps "Administration" that his best role is in "cultural exchange", a swimsuit copy of "Sports Illustrated" becomes the channel for communication. At least with the men. The surrounding forest is nearly denuded of wildlife, but there are bananas. Banana wine becomes a lubricant to communication when beer is unavailable or too dear. The locals, expecting much from a white man from the US are perplexed over his hearing disability. They are uncertain of how to deal with him, but they think he should perform significant deeds. Josh struggles to gain understanding and to assume a respected role in the village. After all, he represents the world's greatest power. His background and ambition to address the needs of the village bring confrontations with local leaders. That isn't their way, as he quickly discovers. He's a caring person, in a place where caring is virtually unknown. An accidental death leads to a ferocious lynch mob, and Josh witnesses the retribution. Serious injuries are inflicted for what seem minor crimes. AIDS is present, but those afflicted are, like the deaf children, ignored and scorned. Able workers are off at the copper mines and civil unrest in neighbouring Zaire brings hordes of immigrant refugees looking for work. But Josh cannot pay, nor will the village. One man, Boniface, seeks local power and uses

The Josh I Never Knew

I was also a member of that first group of PCV's to serve in Zambia and Josh and I were two of the eight who completed our commitments, although a couple of those who didn't complete their stint left for health reasons. I loved his book, and was unable to put it down once I started on it. I'm only mentioned in the book once, a bit out of character. Page 42: I'm the "middle-aged alcoholic from Michigan" (I object to the "middle-aged" part, as I was but a young lad of 39 at the time). The story of Josh's departure from Munungu was never fully revealed to me until reading the book. Like all government-related organizations, Peace Corps is great at keeping secrets and rumors always abound. Josh and I were not close but we did bond a bit after he returned to Kabwe and was once again teaching the deaf students. It was only upon reading the book that I gained an appreciation for his intellect and the really horrible experiences he had in Munungu. At Peace Corps meetings or functions, he always seemed distracted, not interested, withdrawn. After reading the book, my eyes are opened to what the guy endured up there in Munungu and what being deaf is really all about. I pre-ordered the book, with low expectations. Basically, I was concerned about what he may have said about me. What I did not expect was the clarity and smooth-flow of the narrative, the exceptional descriptors of characters ("voice like firecrackers" comes to mind), the entirely accurate desriptions of life in a bush village. A lot of what he wrote brought tears to my eyes, as I had experienced similar things in my own village of Lukwesa. Plus, I knew or had met a lot of the people he talks about in the book. After reading it, I was ashamed at myself for not getting to know him better while in Zambia those two years, for underestimating his abilities, for not have taken more time while there to help him with his problems instead of selfishly concentrating on my own. The book opened my eyes to a lot of things that were happening right under my nose, but in my hearing ignorance I was blind (equally handicapped) to events as they occurred in regards to brother Josh. My apologies, Josh. This is a great story written by a courageous young man who coped with a host of things (in Zambia as well as dealing with his own deafness) way better than those of us who are not so impaired. I vouch for its truthfulness and content and I know I will be reading it over and over again until the pages are frayed at the corners and the book will lie open voluntarily at whatever page number I'm on. Greg Irish Las Vegas, Nevada Member of Peace Corps Zambia One

Brutal, hilarious, and moving

So what makes this better than your average 'let-me-tell-you-about-my-time-in-a-third-world-country' book? 1. A real story. Powerful material. No flowery travelogue here, no do-gooder cliches. 2. This guy can write. Pithy and unsentimental style; characters and scenes spring vividly to life. 3. And I can't emphasize this enough: Swiller is genuinely funny, with an spot-on sense of comic timing. Highly recommended, an engaging and satisfying read.

An African testing ground

Working as a Peace Corps volunteer in a remote African village is not an easy undertaking in any situation. For an inexperienced, idealistic and, in addition, deaf person, such an adventure makes for an extraordinary story. Josh Swiller spent close to two years in northern Zambia in the village of Mununga, one of the most deprived villages in a poor region. Referred to by locals as "Gomorrah", a place with no hope and rumoured to have the most "ndoshi", witchdoctors, many wondered why this young American had come amongst them. His experiences and encounters, his learning by trial and error, and, most of all, his falling in love with the village and Africa, is the content of this unusual and highly readable memoir. Swiller was part of the first group of Volunteers to work in Zambia in 1994. Creating water and sanitation systems were the primary objective; educating and motivating the local people was the rationale. Getting villagers to dig wells turned out to be a bigger challenge than Swiller had anticipated. Local politics, tribal strife and natural distrust of outsiders undermined any initiative from the start. It did not help that the Peace Corps rules insisted on no money being brought into such a project. The local people who had never seen a white person, assumed "Ba Josh" to be wealthy but too mean spirited to share his money with them. Life for the villagers was hard. Periods of hunger during the dry season alternated with an onslaught of flooding and disease during the rainy season. The small clinic was understaffed and completely inadequate in dealing even with the most basic services. Swiller's description of village life is vivid and his sensitive portrayal of the people he shares his time with is personal and realistic. Augustine Jere, the health worker, stands out as a friend who helps Josh adjust to local habits and conventions. With the well digging facing major roadblocks, Swiller assists Jere in the clinic. Jere's advice is not to address any problem head-on but to move towards it like a "snake in the grass". Unfortunately, Josh doesn't always adhere to the advice, with dramatic and even dangerous consequences. He is very honest about his mistakes and recognizes that part of his vulnerability is based on his own inadvertent or short sighted actions. He has become a pawn in the local power plays. He receives some reassurance when he finds out that other volunteers are facing comparable difficulties. The new main aim, they are advised by Peace Corps officials is "cultural exchange". The author explains that his deafness was a condition he had always found hard to cope with. Thanks to intensive speech therapy as a child he spoke well and was able to lip read in optimal conditions. Yet, despite these and his hearing aid, he was not able to overcome his feeling of being always sidelined and marginalized in conversations and groups. Living in rural Zambia changed his experience and outlook completely. For the first time, h
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