In­ter­view with Chris­tine Her­bert (Zambia), au­thor of THE COLOR OF THE ELEPHANT

Published by USVI NEWS

Christine Herbert takes the reader on a “time-machine tour” of her Peace Corps volunteer service as a health worker and educator from 2004–2006 in Zambia. Rather than a retrospective, this narrative unfolds in the present tense, propelling the reader alongside the memoirist through a fascinating exploration of a life lived “off the grid.”

At turns harrowing, playful, dewy-eyed and wise, the author’s heart and candor illuminate every chapter, whether she is the heroine of the tale or her own worst enemy. Even at her most petulant, the laugh-out-loud humor scuppers any “white savior” mentality and lays bare the undeniable humanity—and humility—of the storyteller. Through it all, an undeniable love for Zambia—its people, land and culture—shines through.

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write The Color of the Elephant?

Christine Herbert (Zambia 2004-06)

This story is a true account of my Peace Corps service in Zambia as a health educator from 2004-2006. It’s been many years in the making.

The journey was two-fold: first was surviving the years in a mud hut in Africa, then the years afterward, analyzing and writing about these harrowing experiences when I returned home to the USA. Both of these journeys were more difficult and more rewarding than I could ever have guessed.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of  The Color of the Elephant, what would they be?

“All by Myself” by Eric Carmen (more recently popularized by Celine Dion). Years of solo living in a mud hut definitely had me singing that to myself (full-on Bridget Jones style) on more than one occasion!

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

My favorite genre to read is supernatural, adventure, & romance, especially young adult. Not what I write at all! I find it a wonderful escape. I read all genres, but I find I am particularly fond of stories that involve no bigger quandary than if the vampire (or werewolf, or alien) they like likes them back, and if so, will they be the ones to bestow their first kiss upon them?

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

There are so many! On the top of the pile are two memoirs, also written by returned Peace Corps volunteers who served in Zambia. The Unheard by Josh Swiller, and A Few Minor Adjustments by Cherie Kephart.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

It’s hard to pick a favorite, but probably the scene describing my worst meltdown, where I chased a busboy around the depot demanding my money back. It was truly my worst failure as an ambassador from another country, but writing it out, really airing my dirty laundry, so to speak, helped me release the shame of it and extend myself some grace. Laughter, especially at one’s self, is truly the best medicine.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

I have the hardest time writing at home, where it is peaceful and quiet. I prefer to be surrounded by the ambient sounds of humanity bustling around me while I work, which is why I love writing in coffee shops. During COVID restrictions, when this wasn’t a possibility, I would stream youtube videos of ambient coffee shop sounds or fingers typing away on a keyboard (ASMR videos) to help get me in the writing mood.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

If it scares me, it is probably worthwhile doing.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

Embrace the adventures your life presents to you.

The Color of the Elephant: Memoir of a Muzungu
By Christine Herbert (Zambia 2004-06)
GenZ Publishing
282 pages
January 2022
$15.00 (paperback); $5.00 (Kindle)

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