Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa

Last year while in Malawi, I met a young girl on Mount Mulanje who was working as a Peace Corps volunteer. While I have visited many Africa villages, this young lady was living in one for two years. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to immerse oneself in a remote village. While browsing the new release racks at the library, I found an interesting book called The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa by Josh Swiller. I took it with me to Egypt and could not put it down. While escaping the heat on the Nile, I relaxed in my room and was transported to Mununga in Zambia. Not only is Swiller’s writing style compelling, but the tale he shares makes one realize there is no such thing as a sleepy, little village (at least not in the African bush). While he met many people worthy of admiration such as his best friend Augustine Jere, he also met Boniface, a dark character, who not only impeded Swiller’s work, but almost let to his demise.
For more information on Swiller, you can visit his web site at

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Peter Godwin on Zimbabwe

Peter Godwin just published a comprehensive piece in Vanity Fair on the current political situation in Zimbabwe. At a time when foreign journalists were banned and tortured and imprisoned if found, Godwin spent two months investigating Mugabe’s violent regime. Godwin not only interviews Tsvangirai, but also many of the victims whose stories are heartbreaking. Since oil and terrorism are not involved, Godwin predicts international attention will dwindle.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

1998 Embassy Bombings--Ten Years Later

“Are you watching the news over there?” my mother asked, clearly concerned.

I was at a phone stand in a Malawian village, paying twenty dollars for a three-minute call to the States.

“They are bombing all over the place, and they are targeting Americans.”

“I know, Mom. As soon as I heard, I stopped wearing my USA sweatshirt.”

It was my first trip to Africa in 1998. I was on an overland safari from Johannesburg to Nairobi, and during the five weeks that I was on the continent, bombings occurred in three of the cities I visited—the embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and Planet Hollywood in Cape Town.

Although I was spending the majority of my time visiting game parks and camping in rural areas, I was hearing snippets of the news in coffee shops and Internet cafes.

My mother wanted me home, but despite her concerns and my own, Africa had taken its hold on me. The truth was that I was having the time of my life.

I wasn’t na├»ve. I knew the reality—the poverty, the disease, the corruption, and the political upheaval. But I saw another side of Africa during those six weeks--animals running wild in their natural habitat, modern cities, pulsating with a myriad of rhythms, and beautiful, welcoming people, proud of their heritage. Because I wanted to experience both the exhilaration of its endless landscapes and the grit of daily life, I made another six trips in the next ten years.

When I returned home, I began sharing the insight I gained with my high school students. I wanted them to realize that there was another side of Africa than the one the media provided. I shared some of my most memorable experiences—riding a hot air balloon over the Serengeti, snorkeling off the coast of Zanzibar, watching lion cubs frolic in the Ngorogoro Crater, whitewater rafting on the Zambezi, and taking a micro light flight over Victoria Falls.

“Yes,” they said when I asked them. They would also go to Africa if given the opportunity.

Years later when I wanted to visit the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, I had to cancel the trip twice because of guerilla activity that resulted in tourists being hacked to death with machetes. When things quieted down, I found a company that was resuming tours. With much trepidation, I climbed the Virunga Mountains, flanked with soldiers brandishing machine guns. I was afraid, but the hour I spent with those gentle creatures was one of the most poignant moments of my life.

Terrorism is real, but it can’t keep us from visiting all the extraordinary places the world has to offer. Several days ago, I returned from a cruise to Turkey. Istanbul was bombed four days before we arrived. The news was startling. I was sad, and I was angry, but I disembarked. I visited the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, and the Spice Market. I loved the view of the city as we cruised on the Bosphorus River. I can’t wait to tell my students about it in September.

Published in Gloucester County Times Aug. 17, 2008

Saturday, August 9, 2008


If I hadn’t liked Egypt, I was prepared to say, “Well, it’s not really Africa. It’s the Middle East,” but I did like the country. In fact, there was only one negative of the trip, and that was the heat. Some days, it reached 107 degrees. July and August are the worst months to visit, but supposedly the crowds are not as bad as in their high season. Dealing with the dry heat was a small price to pay though for the thrill of being there. I spent two days at the Marriott Hotel and Omar Khayyam Casino in Cairo, not a bad place to get over jet lag. I visited Mohammed Ali’s alabaster mosque and the Egyptian Museum. The highlights were the mummy room and the King Tut exhibit. Then I flew to Abu Simbel and took a three day cruise on Lake Nasser before transferring to another ship in Aswan and heading north another three days on the Nile to Luxor. Along the way, some of the highlights included a sound and light show at the Temple at Abu Simbel, crossing the high dam, and riding on a felucca around Aswan’s Botanical Gardens. Almost every day we also stopped to see the temples along the river. Each had a fascinating history. We also dressed up for the Galabea party (see photo). After the cruise, I flew back to Cairo and spent the next day visiting the pyramids and the Sphinx at Giza, and then we made short visits to Memphis and Sakkara. It was thrilling walking into one of the pyramids. I’m claustrophobic, but managed to make it in and out. Overall, I was very pleased with the itinerary. The only things I would have also liked to have done was visit Alexandria, see the Suez Canal, and swim in the Red Sea. I would highly recommend this trip.