The Unheard, Josh Swiller

A compiled list of books I’ve read while serving in Zambia can be viewed here.

Previous Review

Book: The Unheard, Josh Swiller

Finished: 03/09/16

Review: Great memoir. Super relevant. One thing’s for sure: things haven’t changed much since the 90’s when it comes to serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia.


“Africa: this strange, wounded animal. Africa: where it was so easy to reimagine yourself. Africa: where death—and laughter—is never far. The Mununga villagers buried children like dogs bury bones, but when you got past that you saw that they laughed more and worried less than any group of people you’d ever hope to meet.” (p.128)

“Sometimes, even when you don’t expect it, you just shake stuff off and move on.” (p.162)

“… I wondered what part of ourselves is formed from our communication with others and what part is untouched by it. And where could one find the untouched part? Because it seemed like the untouched part might be able to make sense of the ways things played out, while the touched part was completely at their mercy.” (p.216)

“It struck me that maybe this was what I had come to Africa to learn: not to save lives, not to exchange cultures, not to understand deafness or escape deafness or embrace deafness—just to be grateful for each moment.” (p.251)


Thank You, Stitch ‘n Bitch

Sometimes when you push past your comfort zones, amazing things can happen. I never knew how to sew, nor did I ever imagine myself learning how to sew back in the states. It was something that was out of sight, out of mind. And when I needed something sewn or a quick patch on something? The routine was simple: call Mom, let her know I needed her sewing magic, and viola! Instant fix. Like I said, out of sight, out of mind.

But when you’re living in a mud hut in the deep in the bushes of Africa, access to Mom’s sewing magic (among many other comforts of American life) isn’t readily available, and in order to maintain clothes that don’t look like they’ve just survived a world war, you find yourself nose-deep in books like “Stitch ‘n Bitch” by Debbie Stoller.

Learning how to sew was a slow and steady process, fully equipped with pinpricks and entanglements in thread or yarn, but eventually, with the help of neighboring Peace Corps Volunteer (and sewing extraordinaire), Kat, I came out alive, mastering a mean back stitch, among other techniques.

I knew learning something like this couldn’t be kept a secret, and I knew just the people I wanted to share these new skills with. So with a new sewing kit, four meters of new kitenge, and a brand new attitude towards sewing, I set off one Friday morning to meet the women of Yamakwakwa Women’s Club.

What took me two weeks to learn, these women got in 15 minutes. Before I knew it, everyone was weaving away, as if in a competition for the Guinness World Record for fastest back stitcher. Not wanting to fall behind, I took off my shoes, found a comfortable spot on the bamboo reed mat, and joined the race.


After an enjoyable four hours together, eight new drawstring bags were made! The women were super excited after everyone finished, not only because they learned a new skill or made a new drawstring bag, but because they accomplished something together as a group that could improve their lives and the lives of their families. Moving forward, the women of Yamakwakwa Women’s Club want to produce these drawstring bags and sell them in the market for money that will help put food on the table.