THE UNHEARD OPENS with three attention grabbers that are in order foreboding, curious, and frightening.
Swiller’s book addresses all three.
The power of Africa, symbolized by the river, to do what it will on its own. It is hard not to be reminded of Isak Dinesen’s “Out of Africa” in which Farah warns Baroness Blixen that a river she is trying to dam will have none of it. “This water lives in Mombasa.” Swiller’s attempts at improving his corner of Africa will ring all too true to many who have served in the Peace Corps, and to all interested in creating change of any kind. His early sense that “community empowerment, sustainability, and personal responsibility” were all that were needed to dig wells was soon replaced by the begrudging acceptance of the realities of time and change in Africa “‘. . . we will start our well soon.’ But it would be almost a year.”
The coming to grips with deafness and the struggle life is for many who are deaf. For Swiller his Peace Corps service provided the environment in which this effort was often simplified (no one expected any foreigner to understand anything anyway), and just as often complex (how can one even try to communicate beyond even simple sign language without the ‘benefit’ of hearing?). But through it all, for Swiller, Zambia became “. . . the only place I’d ever lived where my deafness never mattered.”
The primal fear we have of new places . . . or in this case of old places, and how it crashes down the notions we have that “underneath” all people are the same or are they?
THIS IS A WONDERFULLY WRITTEN, often frightening, story of one Volunteer’s service in Zambia. Not many in the RPCV community will have experienced anything like it how many have seen a man deliberately dragged to his death? This is not a recruiting manual for the Peace Corps; but it is beautifully told with appeal to a wide audience. Some samples:
There are brilliant descriptions of what can be the devastating effects of unnoticed deafness in infants “By then, the fertile years for learning have passed, the mind has hardened around the absence of language, and the child, without ever knowing otherwise, is remaindered to a lesser kind of life.”