Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Read: February 2018

Rating: Half whimsically modern fairy tale, half biting social satire

TL;DR Recommendation:This is the shortest Salman Rushie book you’ll find. Just do it!


“Look—here’s a table covered with a red cloth. On it is a cage the size of a small fish aquarium. In the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink-rimmed eyes. In its front paws is a carrot-stub upon which it is contentedly munching. On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8.

Do we see the same thing? We’d have to get together and compare notes to make absolutely sure, but I think we do. There will be necessary variations, of course: some receivers will see a cloth which is turkey red, some will one that’s scarlet, while others may see still other shades. (To color blind receivers, the red tablecloth is the dark gray of cigar ashes.) Some may see scalloped edges, some may see straight ones. Decorative souls may add a little lace, and welcome—my tablecloth is your tablecloth, knock yourself out.

Likewise, the matter of the cage leave quite a lot of room for individual interpretation […] We all understand the cage is a see-through medium; beyond that, we don’t care. The most interesting thing here isn’t even the carrot-munching rabbit in the cage, but the number on its back. Not a six, Not a four, not nineteen-point-five. It’s an eight. That is what we’re looking at, and we all see it. I didn’t tell you. You didn’t ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room . . . except we are together. We’re close.

We’re having a meeting of the minds.

I sent you a table with a red cloth in it, a cage, a rabbit, and the number eight in blue ink. You got them all, especially the blue eight. We’ve engaged in an act of telepathy. No myth-mountain shit; real telepathy.”

– Stephen King, On Writing


“‘I’m getting better.’

The sound of his own voice, confident in the silent afternoon, reassured him even though he hadn’t meant to speak aloud. He was getting better. It was possible to graduate from passive to active, to take the thing that had once driven you nearly to madness as a neutral prize of no more than occasional academic interest. And if there was a place where the thing could be done, this was surely it.

He went down the ladder to get the bug bomb. They would pay. They would pay for stinging him.”

-Stephen King, The Shining


Ted Talk: Don’t Misrepresent Africa

As I was selecting pictures for a September-November photo dump, I realized that I was (subconsciously or intentionally, not sure which) not including pictures of people within my community, particularly children. I do post pictures of people, but it’s been limited and in this case it was like I was specifically avoiding those types of photos. It led me to question why that was.

I think a thing that’s always worried me about this blog is that it’s probably the first thing people at home have really heard about Zambia, or, if they have, the only opportunity for a well rounded view. I had a woman repeatedly tell me how brave it was that I would go to a place so uncivilized as the vague, homogeneous Africa. So from a very early point in my service I’ve felt a lot of responsibility to present things in a way that are fair, and do people in Zambia justice.

The second part has been kind of on my radar as more and more images of short-term mission trips by various people pop up on my Facebook newsfeed. In them, there is usually a young white person, surrounded by a throng of smiling black children (who, of course, everyone assumes are orphans) and a sea of comments about how great it is to helping them, those anonymous children used as a backdrop. Which makes me think of the time a girl in college jokingly told me that she wanted to “adopt an African baby and then return it when it stops being cute.” A close PCV friend of mine summed it up really well the other day by asking “do people see pictures of our kids and think we’re taking mission trip photos?”

When photography first came to be, many cultures feared it would steal your essence, a notion that is laughed off today, but is it really so far off? You put this image of yourself out into this world, and it stops being you. “You,” the image of you, becomes whatever other people want to see, what they think “you” are. And is it fair for me to throw images of my community members out into this world without them fully understanding how much the world will warp that image? To me, people in my community have dimension and reality. When pictures are posted by me, they become flat, malleable to whatever the viewer wants to see (or, perhaps worse, what I want the viewer to see). Comfort ceases being himself and becomes “that little African boy Nick posted.” A friend’s house stops being beautiful or well-made and becomes something that wouldn’t fit American standards for a dwelling. I stop being being a random guy bumbling through life and become this disgusting white savior trope, a whitewashed lead in a story that isn’t mine. Sometimes it feels like a lose-lose.

While this TED Talk focuses more on journalism photography, I found it to ring very true for me. I think it gave me some food for thought on proceeding, and I hope it will for you too.


“Well, the morning after the road was “finished” […] what should we discover but that the road builders were back at work. They have instructions to continue the road […] on its present course right through the village of Olinka. By the time [the villagers] were out of bed, the road was already being dug through Catherine’s newly planted yam field. Of course the Olinka people were up in arms. But the roadbuilders were literally up in arms. They had guns, Celie, with orders to shoot! […] Fortunately, we were able to save all of our things, but with a tarmac road running straight through the middle of it, the village seemed gutted.

Immediately after understanding the roadbuilders’ intentions, the chief set off toward the coast, seeking explanations and reparations. Two weeks later he returned with even more disturbing news. The whole territory, including the Olinka’s village, now belongs to a rubber manufacturer in England. As he neared the coast, he was stunned to see hundreds and hundreds of villagers much like the Olinka clearing the forests on each side of the road, and planting rubber trees. The ancient, giant mahogany trees, all trees, the game, everything in the forest was being destroyed, and the land was forced to lie flat, he said, and bare as the palm of his hand.

At first he thought the people who told him about the English rubber company were mistaken, if only about its territory including the Olinka village. But eventually he was directed to the governor’s mansion, a huge white building, with flags flying in its yard, and there had an audience with the white man in charge. It was this man who gave the roadbuilders their orders, this man who knew about the Olinka only from a map.”

Alice Walker, The Color Purple