Writing TUBOB: A Dream Fulfilled

Well, it’s about time. What I had fantasized about for so many years–writing about our two years in West Africa–has at last become a reality. What took me so long? I wonder that myself. I guess in my mind it was such an overwhelming experience, so personal and heart-felt, I wasn’t sure I could put it adequately into words.

For me, it’s easy to make up a story. I’ve done it since I was a little kid. My older sister taught me. I’d beg her to tell me a story and she finally said, “Mary, make up your own story. Think of something you’d like to hear or read, and tell yourself a story.” That first time, she gave me an opening sentence and I took off from there.

Along the way my need to tell stories became three novels, all contemporary western, all well received: Tenderfoot, McClellan’s Bluff, and Rosemount.

But to tell something that’s true, that represents our own heart-felt and hard-won experiences, is different. For some reason I couldn’t get past the idea that it wasn’t a “story,” it was true to life, sometimes painfully so.

Sure, I could write little snippets and I did write about a few experiences on my blog with favorable results and encouragement to write a book. But these were usually positive experiences, and our two years in Africa were not all positive. They were often grueling, discouraging, even scary. But are we glad we did it? Absolutely!

Finally, I decided I would have no peace until I at least tried to write the story about our Peace Corps experience in The Gambia. We had asked our families to save our letters to them. I couldn’t stand the duplication of effort to keep a journal and write home. This was before email, so all our letters were either hand written or typed (I had sacrificed space and weight to take a manual typewriter).

I sorted through all the letters written by both of us, putting them in date order. I began to see I needed to have some sort of index so that I could avoid volumes of data entry, so I created a computer index with various subjects: names, Bruce’s work, my work, animals, etc., and referred to a coded recipient and the date. Soon, I had 42 pages of categorized key words. And I had my inspiration. I relived those years, remembered the sweat and tears, and the joys. Despite the elapsed years, thanks to our letters home, I could recount details that would make the story real to readers.

It took me two months to go through and annotate all the stacks of letters. In January, 2012, I began to write my memoir and wrote straight through to May. Editing and proofing is another matter, but I enjoyed that part, too.

I had worried that I might offend some people we knew in Africa. In most instances, I use actual names for real people. But in a few cases, I have changed the names to avoid hurt feelings or embarrassment. In a couple of instances, in the interest of clarity, I have combined characters.

Bruce took hundreds of 35 mm pictures while in The Gambia. We had mounted the slides in trays and every once in awhile we viewed them or shared the pictures and stories with others. Once I could see an actual memoir in the making, we invested in the equipment necessary to convert the slides into digital form. Bruce spent countless hours selecting and editing the pictures so that we would have meaningful images for the beginning of each chapter. Bruce also designed the book’s cover, using his artistic talent to make a cover representative of the story.

So, finally, we have produced an honest recounting of our two years in The Gambia with the Peace Corps. I have made every effort to be objective, and to fairly and honestly tell the story of our time in a third-world country.

Perhaps I needed to wait 30 years so that I could be more objective. Surely, I have gained in wisdom and global awareness in that time. We have never been back to The Gambia, but I hear from people who have and they report not much has changed. Electricity does not reach many homes, people still haul water from a well, many of the struggles remain the same. Education is more available. With the Internet, Peace Corps volunteers now have better communication with family and friends back home. That would be a huge improvement and eliminate many of the anxieties we felt.

Some lessons I learned remain. You take the bad with the good. You live in the moment. And in the bad times, remember that “this too shall pass.”

TUBOB: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps is available at local bookstores, Amazon.com, or through my website, www.MaryTrimbleBooks.com


17 thoughts on “Writing TUBOB: A Dream Fulfilled

  1. Pingback: “Tubob,” by Mary E. Trimble. High praise from my father! | Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century

  2. Mary,

    I’m so glad “Tubob” is finally here. Thanks for sharing your process of starting with key words to organize your memoir. I’m posting some responses from my father and myself on Riehlife.


    • Doris, thank you so much for your interest in TUBOB. In the interest of space, we didn’t keep letters from home, but we had asked our families to keep our letters. I can’t stand the duplication of effort in keeping both a journal and writing letters, so our families’ letters were our journals. I hope you enjoy TUBOB.

  3. Congratulations, Mary! I posted the info about your book on my FB and Twitter sites and purchased a copy from Amazon. Really looking forward to reading Tubob. It’s very cool that you wrote about your full range of experiences rather than selecting what was just “politically correct.” The American issue of saying only what would not offend someone kept me from writing about my own experiences in Pakistan. Bravo to you! And after enjoying your other books, I know Tubob will be as pleasurable to read.

    • Thank you, Terri. I value your opinion. I tried to be absolutely honest in TUBOB, but all in all, I am very pro-Peace Corps. I’ll be interested in hearing your evaluation.

  4. Fantastic, Mary! I’m so happy for you. The book turned out beautifully, and I can attest that it is an excellent, well-told, easy-to-read story, full of adventure and tension and rewards too. Congratulations!

  5. Congratulations, Mary!! I am so excited for you and looking forward to reading your book. I just ordered two! Your post is so insightful about writing about “real” life. It does take some distance as I learned with my own memoir of place. How wonderful that you had letters from both you and Bruce. Your idea to index them sounds very helpful–and a great idea as well.

    • Hi Julie. Thanks for your nice comment and also for your order of two books. I think it took that period of time so that I could look at our experience more objectively. I am so anxious to talk to you about the book after you have read it.

  6. Golly Mary! I can’t wait to read TUBOB! I, too, have wanted to write a memoir. Will you be at the WWW conference? I’d love to gab with you about how you came to terms with possibly writing something that might offend others. The spilling out, the sharing of deep agony along with top-of-the-world joys and witnessing horrific injustices is a very hard thing to do. I completely understand the struggle you mentioned regarding actually sitting down to put it in story form.

    I wish you all the luck in the world with TUBOB….but have a feeling you’ve already received the best “award” by completing such an awesome task.

    With great respect, Karen Casey Fitzjerrell

    • Thank you so much, Karen. Oh, you bet, I’ll be at the conference. Let’s make every effort to sit down and talk about this. I appreciate your kind words, Karen–you have such a wonderful way of expressing yourself.

  7. Mary, I shall certainly be looking forward to reading this. I spent time working for the British Council in northern Nigeria, in Kano, and always wanted to write about my experiences. Africa is a place that gets under your skin in many ways and, yes, you must take the good with the bad. We were there for a minor coup amongst other experiences. But I did feel that living ‘on the edge’ like that, when water & electricity etc.are not guaranteed, does teach you what is important in life. Thanks for this posting!

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