Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Unheard

11 p.m., and my eyes won´t close. I flick on my headlamp, and a cockroach waves "hello!" to me with his meandering antennae.

He freezes to let me get a good look at him. "If Yully were here, she would stomp you into a pancake with her rubber boot," I tell him. The antennae laugh.

You´re right, I won´t kill you because I don´t want to get my boot dirty with your goo. Better moving and solid than still and gooey, I reason.

This cockroach would be beautiful if he wasn´t creepy, disgusting and the length of my middle finger. He shines back like a mahogany coffee table accented with yellow crayon doodles.

I spot his friend on the cement floor. She is coffee and milk with flecks of black coffee grinds.
OK, seven more hours until daylight, and I need a new hobby.

I crack open The Unheard: a memoir of deafness and Africa by John Swiller.

The title sounds heavy. I expect it to try to guilt trip me into feeling sorry for Africa and deaf people, and then to remind me about how beautiful poor communities really are! I´m already mad at Josh because he´s about to transform that stupid infommercial -- the one with that old, white guy and skinny, sad African girl -- into a 265-page rant, and I´m not in the mood. You´re not going to make me get all depressed about the state of the world, Josh!

Josh shuts me up once I start reading the book. I´m happy to say that he does not live up to any of my expectations.

The Unheard isn´t so much about deafness or Africa, as it is about dealing with people in general, and coming to terms with yourself. Josh arrives in Zambia as a (sorta) deaf Peace Corps volunteer with high hopes to "save" Africa. But all of his projects fail. He spends most of his time arguing with the community headmen, playing chess, weighing babies at the town clinic, and sharing Playboy with his friends.

Josh tells his story with lots of periods and quotation marks; his sentences are witty and short, with the perfect degree of descriptive.

Josh doesn´t offer us any great insight into the state of humanity. He doesn´t pretend to know more about the world than the average reader (me). In this way, the book feels like a conversation.

I´m itching to share the last sentence of the book (my favorite), but I don´t want to ruin the ending for you.

Sucky title, great read.
The antennae wiggle in agreement, and the night exhales with daybreak.

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