EXCERPT: The Unheard by Josh Swiller

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

By piper

Deaf since childhood, Josh Swiller always perceived the world a little bit differently than everyone else. And post-collegiate indecision hits a bit harder when you’re looking for a place beyond deafness. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia, Swiller found a place where, if his deafness wasn’t irrelevant, it was at least not the most unusual thing about him. He worked at a health clinic, facing universal poverty and disease, and later, personally focused violence.. In his new memoir The Unheard, he proves it is not just his worldview that is unique, but his literary voice. The excerpt below is captivating peek at pediatric care, making due with the pills you’ve got, and when it’s time to turn off your hearing aids:
The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa

Mondays and Thursdays, I helped Jere with baby weighing to ensure that the growth of the infants of Mununga fell within healthy parameters. Weighing a single baby was fairly straightforward—you just placed it in a sling hanging from a produce scale. The problem was that each baby weighing there were more than three hundred babies and just the two of us to do the work along with Patrick, a young junior clinic worker who was inexperienced and high-strung. Crowds made Patrick jittery and he always excused himself within a half hour, claiming a fever or sore throat

“He’s sick a lot,” I said to Jere. Jere just shrugged.

Mothers descended on the clinic from every direction for the weighings, the line of them stretching out for a hundred yards. Some were dressed in their Sunday best and stood straight-shouldered, clean, and proud; others, dazed by hunger and covered in road dust, could barely stand. The youngest were thirteen and fourteen and held their infants like they were surprising things they had found by the road, and then the ones who looked too old to be mothers, who’d had a dozen kids and lost a dozen teeth and had breasts like piecrusts, were often only thirty-two, thirty-three.

The women placed their children, screaming hysterically at the sight of my white skin, in the green cloth sling and I wrote down the number the needle pointed to. If the number was low, mother and child were sent back to Jere who gave them a stern lecture, protein powder, and whatever vitamins he had in stock. If the number was really low, and it often was, then Jere sent someone to fetch me back to the office.

“Look at this,” Jere said during one of my first sessions, holding up two children, one in each hand, high in the air like glasses in a toast. “Two-year-old twins, two kilograms each.”

I looked: they had stick-figure limbs, the shrunken faces of very old men, bellies swollen like balloons. Jere laughed and held them out to me. “They weigh less than papaya. Here! Try for yourself.”
I didn’t move to take them. I couldn’t understand why he was laughing.

“Bamayo!” he yelled. He turned to the twins’ mother and gave her a tongue-lashing. She assumed an apologetic but defiant expression. But Jere kept on lecturing her until all the defiance left her face.

“Will they live?” I asked, after the mother had taken them away.

Jere scowled. “Not if they’re lucky. Why didn’t she come here earlier? Now they’re retarded. Their brains have been starved.”

Among the women at baby weighing, quite a few had given birth to a dozen children, and in these mothers, eyes gaunt from the experience, bodies hollowed out like gutted fish, there seemed sometimes to be an attitude that sick children were disposable. You sensed it in the way they presented a sick child for the scale—they’d already made their break. The flesh-and-bone infant in their hands, the fruit of their loins, might as well have been a turnip. We knew that at home, their other kids were getting the sick child’s share of food—and was that wrong? Someone needed to grow strong and work the fields; the mothers might as well hedge their bets.

Right or wrong that distance was a painful thing to see. Sometimes, in the middle of baby weighing, I tried to grab a little distance of my own. Stealthily reaching up, I turned off my hearing aids and continued working in silence. It was a coping strategy I had often used back in the States in noisy unintelligible places like dinner parties and restaurants; instantly, I was transported from the commotion to a hushed and peaceful place. However, turning my hearing aids off while weighing babies made everything more confused. What was peaceful about a five-pound child slung limply in my hands like an overstretched rubber band?

“I’m not doing enough,” I said to Jere, that night after the twins came to the clinic, thoughts of undug wells and malnourished children weighing on my conscience. “I feel like I need to do more.”

“How’s your chess these days?” he asked.

“Not very good.”

“I will teach you.”

I was bewildered. “That will help?”

“Oh yes,” said Jere. “I haven’t had a good game in seven years.”
Other days at the clinic, I often ended up in the office of Mr. Mulwanda, Mununga’s sleepy inpatient clinician. He counseled patients, handed out pills, cleaned infections, stitched wounds, and delivered babies. I liked that he let me help him do these things; he even taught me to clean and dress tropical sores on my own. But Mulwanda’s main prescription for the various illnesses and injuries he saw at the clinic was to tell people to go home and rest. The Mununga clinic, most likely the busiest rural health clinic in all of Zambia, had no blood supply, no IVs, no X-ray machine, no other diagnostic tools, and an inconsistent supply of the most basic drugs. The only thing the clinic never ran out of was aspirin. By necessity, Mulwanda had learned to tell people to take it easy.

The first time that I really gathered what Jere, Mulwanda, and Patrick were up against in their effort to treat illness in the town was when I had an injury of my own. While riding my motorcycle through a flash storm one evening, I hit a pothole and soared headfirst over the handlebars. When I went to the clinic to get my wounds cleaned up, Mulwanda pried a pebble out of my elbow, exposing a deep bloodless hole. We peered inside.

“What’s that gray thing?” I asked him.

“That is a vein,” he said.

“Should it be hanging out like that?”

Smiling, he batted it back and forth with his finger, like a cat playing with a string. He always smiled. “Sure, why not?”

Luckily, this was on a day when there were some medicines and Mulwanda prepared an injection of antibiotics to ward off the tropical bacteria that could turn a paper cut into flesh-eating soup in just a couple of days. Another patient, a young man, was led into the room just as Mulwanda was about to stick me, and he handed me the needle.

“Do this yourself,” he said, and went to the patient.

His calmness was comforting. I cradled the needle, flashing back to my father’s dream that I follow in his footsteps and become a doctor—Mununga College of Medicine, Class of ‘94—then I stuck it in my butt. Mulwanda called me over to his desk and put my fingers on the patient’s wrist.

“Feel this,” Mulwanda said.

“Feel what?” I only felt cool skin. Then suddenly something beneath the surface jumped and buzzed in all directions like an angry trapped bee.

I ripped my fingers away. “Jesus! What the hell is that?”

Mulwanda chuckled. “Irregular heartbeat.”

The young man looked up at me quickly and then back at the floor. He had put on nice clothes to come to the clinic, a spotless T-shirt and jeans ironed to a crease, and he looked too clean and healthy for such an erratic heartbeat. He had shoulders as broad as a market stall.

“How are you going to treat him?” I asked Mulwanda.

“A valium and an aspirin,” he said.

“That can’t be right. That can’t be enough. Give him something else. Give him some of these antibiotics.”

Mulwanda stood up from his desk. “Come look.” He took me by the hand to the clinic pharmacy, a small, windowless room no bigger than a hot tub. I’d never been inside before. There were three long shelves of drugs and vitamins, mostly aspirin, and a crate of condoms covered in dust—this was the total pharmaceutical supply for about fifty thousand people.

“You see?” he asked.

“That can’t be enough medicine.”

“It’s not.”

“What’s a Valium and an aspirin going to do for irregular heartbeat?”

Mulwanda’s eyes crinkled as he chuckled again. “He will sleep without a headache.”

“Ba Mulwanda, this is not a joking matter.”

“You are right,” he agreed. “Maybe you have some medicine?”

I didn’t have any medicine. A Valium and an aspirin would be all the young man would get. Mulwanda walked back over to him and told him to go home and rest.

Thing is, I started joining in the laughter about such things. Jere, Mulwanda and I—even high-strung Patrick at times—you had to find the humor, otherwise you just drove yourself nuts. You laughed about the babies who looked like space aliens, the kids who’d ignored their skin sores until they were the size of steaks, the men with cases of the clap so painful they walked like pigeons, the treatments made up out of the blue. Once a child who had not stopped hiccupping in two days was brought to the clinic, and I told Jere and Mulwanda that in America people frightened hiccups away. They had me run screaming into the room. The poor boy kept right on hiccupping while he pissed his shorts.

52 responses

  1. Jessica Haberman says:

    I have to say, I just read this book and this is no where NEAR the best part. It’s really a remarkable memoir.

  2. lucy says:

    This is amazing. I love this writer..I love this story..more more

  3. Zuli says:

    I am reading this book and I find the story amazing!
    I wish I could contact Josh and tell him that I think this should go in a movie.

    I cried when I read the part where Jere mourns his daughter that he loved so dearly.

  4. phéromones humaines acheter says:

    However, they do lay the biochemical and psychological foundation for sexual activity.
    There was unquestionably no question in my head that Nexus Pheromones
    fulfilled its promise. Perfumes have always been dominant
    in the use of utilizing smell to attract men to women.

  5. says:

    In addition to outfits, maybe the most discretionary of products, is very subjected to customers’ jitters, making a dual difficulty intended for Ralph Lauren. In accordance with analysts with Bryan, Garnier, the corporation builds fifth per cent involving the income coming from clothing.

  6. unique wall decor says:

    I simply had to thank you so much all over again. I do not know what I would have sorted out without the ideas documented by you relating to that subject matter. It had become a daunting circumstance for me, nevertheless witnessing a new skilled fashion you treated the issue forced me to leap with fulfillment. I am grateful for this work and in addition expect you realize what an amazing job you were undertaking instructing people thru your blog. I am sure you’ve never come across all of us.

  7. home theatre projectors says:

    Thank you for another magnificent article. The place else may anyone get that kind of info in such an ideal method of writing? I have a presentation subsequent week, and I am on the search for such info.

  8. zensar technologies says:

    It is in point of fact a nice and helpful piece of information. I¡¦m glad that you just shared this helpful info with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Melani Stotts says:

    Spot on with this write-up, I really assume this website needs rather more consideration. I’ll probably be once more to learn rather more, thanks for that info.

  10. detektyw wroclaw says:

    Every weekend i used to go to see this web page, because i wish for enjoyment, as this this site conations really nice funny data too.|

  11. odwiedz ten link says:

    I do not even know how modiosas I finished up right here, but I thought this post was once good. I do not recognize who you are however definitely you’re going to a famous blogger for those who are not already ;) Cheers!

  12. mattress reviews says:

    Thank you for another informative site. Where else could I get that kind of info written in such an ideal way? I’ve a project that I am just now working on, and I’ve been on the look out for such information.

  13. Health Alliance says:

    I was just searching for this information for a while. After six hours of continuous Googleing, finally I got it in your website. I wonder what is the lack of Google strategy that don’t rank this kind of informative sites in top of the list. Usually the top web sites are full of garbage.

  14. Money Transfer  says:

    As a Newbie, I am continuously searching online for articles that can aid me. Thank you

  15. National Parks  says:

    I do consider all the ideas you have presented to your post. They’re very convincing and can definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are too brief for beginners. May just you please prolong them a bit from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

  16. Money Transfer  says:

    I think other website proprietors should take this web site as an model, very clean and great user friendly style and design, as well as the content. You are an expert in this topic!

  17. Car Engines says:

    of course like your web site but you need to take a look at the spelling on several of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling problems and I find it very bothersome to tell the truth then again I will surely come again again.

  18. Sales  says:

    You really make it seem so easy together with your presentation however I find this topic to be actually one thing which I think I would never understand. It kind of feels too complex and extremely broad for me. I am looking forward on your subsequent submit, I¡¦ll try to get the dangle of it!

  19. Modern Furniture  says:

    Thank you for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research about this. We got a grab a book from our area library but I think I learned more clear from this post. I am very glad to see such wonderful info being shared freely out there.

  20. Advance Auto Parts says:

    magnificent issues altogether, you simply gained a new reader. What could you recommend in regards to your post that you simply made a few days in the past? Any positive?

  21. Leather Furniture  says:

    As a Newbie, I am permanently exploring online for articles that can be of assistance to me. Thank you

  22. Kitchen Design  says:

    Fantastic website. A lot of useful information here. I¡¦m sending it to some pals ans also sharing in delicious. And of course, thanks on your sweat!

  23. HVAC  says:

    Hello my loved one! I wish to say that this post is awesome, great written and come with approximately all significant infos. I would like to see more posts like this .

  24. Get More Information says:

    I always used to think that, while, the first word meant a person who blogs, the second word stood for a blog hosting site! Now, I am utterly confused because my uncle tells me, that both of them are the same hosting site for those who blog with Google using blogger/blogspot! Can somebody with authentic knowledge please help me resolve my doubt? Please take my question seriously and “I earnestly request” Y!A members to respond with discreet academic answers, following community guidelines..

  25. eleganckie obuwie says:

    Hey very cool website!! fodpdoss Man .. Beautiful .. Amazing .. I’ll bookmark your website and take the feeds also…I’m happy to find numerous useful info here in the post, we need develop more strategies in this regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . .

  26. mattress reviews says:

    I really want to start a blog about Fashion and cute things for girls. But I can’t seem to know how to start it. I’m not that confident because I’m not sure if it’ll have potential like other blogs. I also don’t know if what I post should keep up with Fashion trends or be my style. Another thing, how do I give myself that inspiration to post every week? Should I research trends and cute things and write paragraphs on it or keep it short? Help!.

  27. Read Full Article says:

    There is no change so small that it threatens no one. I will tread carefully as I change things.

  28. mieszkanie Kraków says:

    We’re a gaggle of pfofollsncc volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your website provided us with valuable information to work on. You’ve done a formidable job and our entire community will probably be grateful to you.

  29. Noella Popa says:

    What are the core or basic lessons taught Writing classes? One of the first things I learned about was Freytags Pyramid. I was told that isn’t an across the board learning device. So what is? I’m really curious. In poetry I was taught, ‘if it means too many things to too many people it misses it’s mark’. I have since learned that good writing tends to bring out different reactions in different people and different interpretations. How can learning about creative writing (creativity is so individualized) be standardized?.

  30. Daisy Deininger says:

    Very good post! We will be linking to this particularly great content on our site. Keep up the great writing.|

  31. Quinn Antoniuk says:

    Wonderful web site. Plenty of useful info here. I am sending it to several pals ans additionally sharing in delicious. And of course, thank you to your sweat!

  32. visit their website says:

    I think what you said was actually very logical. However, what about this? suppose you were to create a killer headline? I mean, I don’t wish to tell you how to run your blog, however suppose you added something that grabbed folk’s attention? I mean BLOG_TITLE is kinda plain. You could peek at Yahoo’s home page and watch how they create post titles to grab people interested. You might try adding a video or a related picture or two to grab people excited about what you’ve got to say. Just my opinion, it might bring your website a little bit more interesting.|

  33. Britni Swihart says:

    Great site. Plenty of helpful info here. I’m sending it to a few buddies ans additionally sharing in delicious. And obviously, thank you on your effort!

  34. Ryan Stapp says:

    I like this post, enjoyed this one regards for posting. “He removes the greatest ornament of friendship, who takes away from it respect.” by Cicero.

  35. Terina Velasquez says:

    Great write-up, I am regular visitor of one’s blog, maintain up the nice operate, and It is going to be a regular visitor for a lengthy time.

  36. Jill Flinchbaugh says:

    I do not even know the way I ended up right here, but I thought this put up used to be great. I don’t understand who you are however definitely you’re going to a famous blogger should you are not already ;) Cheers!

  37. Tricia Yanda says:

    Hiya, I am really glad I’ve found this info. Today bloggers publish just about gossips and net and this is actually annoying. A good web site with exciting content, this is what I need. Thanks for keeping this site, I will be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can’t find it.

  38. Lawrence Mateiro says:

    Needed to write you this bit of remark to be able to give many thanks the moment again just for the unique methods you’ve documented here. It was tremendously generous with you to give openly what exactly most people could possibly have offered for sale as an ebook to help make some cash on their own, chiefly now that you could have tried it if you decided. Those tactics additionally acted like the fantastic way to comprehend the rest have similar dream much like mine to see good deal more in respect of this matter. Certainly there are thousands of more pleasant periods in the future for people who look over your blog.

  39. Tempie Lavene says:

    Hello very nice site!! Guy .. Excellent .. Wonderful .. I’ll bookmark your site and take the feeds also…I’m glad to search out so many helpful info right here within the put up, we want work out extra strategies in this regard, thank you for sharing. . . . . .

  40. Jane Laneaux says:

    Once I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any method you possibly can remove me from that service? Thanks!

  41. Art Dewindt says:

    I simply wanted to jot down a quick message to thank you for some of the fabulous tips and hints you are giving at this site. My long internet investigation has now been recognized with beneficial points to write about with my pals. I ‘d assume that many of us readers are definitely blessed to exist in a magnificent place with many awesome individuals with beneficial plans. I feel extremely blessed to have encountered the webpages and look forward to really more amazing moments reading here. Thank you once more for all the details.

  42. Gwyneth Blasetti says:

    This design is spectacular! You certainly know how to keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job. I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

  43. Nerissa Peralta says:

    What i don’t realize is in fact how you are no longer actually much more smartly-appreciated than you may be now. You are so intelligent. You understand therefore significantly in the case of this subject, produced me personally imagine it from numerous various angles. Its like men and women don’t seem to be involved until it is one thing to do with Lady gaga! Your personal stuffs nice. At all times maintain it up!

  44. Krishna Chandra Shastri Ji says:

    I have been in search of this information and finally located this comments. It merely required a few moments to see your post so have a preliminary understanding which I know a lot of people overlook. Not having this particular data I could hardly come to a decision.

  45. Denis Serrao says:

    I conceive you have noted some very interesting details , thanks for the post.

  46. Jefferson says:

    Ready within entrance as we talk

  47. Alonso Challinor says:

    I’ve recently started a site, the information you offer on this site has helped me greatly. Thanks for all of your time & work. “The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.” by Jean Paul.

  48. lisa says:

    Your article is very interesting, I really like reading it
    judi bola yang aman dan terpercaya

  49. siska says:

    This article is so innovative and well constructed I got plenty of information from this post. Keep writing related to the topics on your site.
    prediksi bola

  50. Leonel says:

    I am brand-new to web design as I have no previous experience and also recognize little HTML. I just want to know what the best software program is to buy to design blogs. I have downloaded CS5 Design Premium with Dreamweaver and also Photoshop, but I recognize this is a little sophisticated for me and pricey!!!. Does any person have suggestions of software or means to build blogs and also sites quickly and economical?. MANY THANKS!.

  51. suba suba says:

    AY4mI1 This website was how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something that helped me. Thank you!

  52. SmartWrite says:

    Thank you for sharing such an educative article. We’ll recommend it to our audience, who are mainly students asking - who sells cheap research papers online.

Leave a Reply

The name you want displayed with your comment.

Emails are not published with comments (i.e., everyone won't see it).

Your Website. This is optional.

SMITH Magazine

SMITH Magazine is a home for storytelling.
We believe everyone has a story, and everyone
should have a place to tell it.
We're the creators and home of the
Six-Word Memoir® project.