Friday, January 3, 2020

Book Review: Haben

By Sara Steven

Haben grew up spending summers with her family in the enchanting Eritrean city of Asmara. There, she discovered courage as she faced off against a bull she couldn't see, and found in herself an abiding strength as she absorbed her parents' harrowing experiences during Eritrea's thirty-year war with Ethiopia. Their refugee story inspired her to embark on a quest for knowledge, traveling the world in search of the secret to belonging. She explored numerous fascinating places, including Mali, where she helped build a school under the scorching Saharan sun. Her many adventures over the years range from the hair-raising to the hilarious.

Haben defines disability as an opportunity for innovation. She learned non-visual techniques for everything from dancing salsa to handling an electric saw. She developed a text-to-braille communication system that created an exciting new way to connect with people. Haben pioneered her way through obstacles, graduated from Harvard Law, and now uses her talents to advocate for people with disabilities.

HABEN takes readers through a thrilling game of blind hide-and-seek in Louisiana, a treacherous climb up an iceberg in Alaska, and a magical moment with President Obama at The White House. Warm, funny, thoughtful, and uplifting, this captivating memoir is a testament to one woman's determination to find the keys to connection.
(Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Haben does not feel she has limits in life. The only limits that exist are the ones we place upon ourselves. I felt instantly drawn to this woman and her limitless quest for exploration, in seeking out adventure. I don’t think there’s enough of that type of spirit. In feeling as though there have been boundaries placed upon her in order to keep her safe, Haben found many ways to prove to her family and others that being Deafblind is not a reason for setting limitations. It’s all the more reason, as she puts it, to seek out “an opportunity for innovation”.

Her story takes us through her life experiences, starting out as a young child and carrying on through the years. It was interesting to learn the background story, in essence what has shaped Haben into the person she is today. There was one particular experience that really resonated with me. While attending college, she eats at the campus cafeteria nearly every day. And every day, she has no idea what is being served. While her senses are heightened, it’s hard to suss out what foods are on the menu. Not to mention the intensely loud noises that drown out any possibility of her asking the employees for help. In contacting the person in charge and trying to work out the details, I felt like I learned so much more about Haben. Even when faced with challenges, she doesn’t back down or give up, even when told that there really isn’t anything that can be done about her dilemma. Not to mention that in trying to obtain information that is readily available for other students, she opens doors for others who are in her shoes and fights to advocate for everyone.

I also felt like I was receiving an education in how to treat others better, and with more kindness. A term she uses is “ableist”, which is someone who has a social bias or discrimination against people with physical, intellectual or psychiatric disabilities. A good example of this is when a fellow student, upon hearing a conversation Haben has with a friend of hers, decides to come to Haben’s aid and reprimands Haben’s friend for joking around and saying something that was completely taken out of context. A heightened sensitivity that instead called Haben out for being Deafblind, versus genuinely wanting to defend her. It was an important moment to share with her readers, because it allows for the reader to see such an experience from the other side of the coin.

Haben’s story really is eye-opening. So much of what I know about blindness or hearing loss is all second-hand information, what I’ve seen on television or on the big screen. It was interesting to get Haben’s take on what life is like as a Deafblind person, how those opportunities for innovation have helped to shape this extraordinary young woman. A motivating story for anyone who wants to push outside of their comfort zones, and live life to the fullest.

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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