Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Review of 'The Color of the Elephant' by Christine Herbert

Who among us is brave enough to pick up everything and go live in a country where you don't know the language, the culture, even the food, and in addition, where the color of everyone's skin is different than your own?

Christine Herbert, the author of this captivating memoir "decided to trust [herself] like never before, to walk into each situation with an open mind and an open heart and let [her] tuition guide [her]."

Herbert's adventures in Zambia while serving in the Peace Corps, as told in The Color of the Elephant (GenZ Publishing, January 2022) take us on a fascinating ride. This is a well-written, page-turning story. We feel we are part of the author's journey as she learns not only about Zambia, but also about herself.

In the village where she serves, Herbert is a muzungu, a person of foreign descent. Not only that, she is white, a curiosity to the natives. For the first time in her life, she is in the minority. "I am reminded daily, either by words or by action, how very white I am. I couldn't forget my race if I tried," she writes.

Herbert's encounters with Zambia are colorful and entertaining, and full of description. As we read her story we are introduced to the maize-based, staple food of the country called nshima, served very, very hot. Young dancers practice the rituals of nyau, a trance-like channeling of an animal spirit. Women spend much time walking around on their knees when in the presence of a man. Herbert learns that when one goes to an outhouse, you need to ward off the snakes coiled at the base of the doorframes.

Despite the hardships of living in difficult conditions, of being away from her family, of coming down with repeated, debilitating cases of malaria, Herbert perseveres. What propels her forward is "a deep curiosity, about absolutely everything, and the courage to dive in and learn more, even at the expense of [her] own comfort."

Herbert is committed to her Peace Corps service and is determined to "see it through to the end. This job, this existence, has become the most important thing my life."

We are glad the author of this highly recommended book stuck it out. Not only have we witnessed how she came out of her experiences in a foreign country a better person, but her story also leaves us with a better understanding of cultures and lives so different from our own.

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