My Year in Tanzania

Julie Wakeman-Linn

Photo: Courtesy Julie Wakeman-Linn

Wonderful or terrible, there is never ever an ordinary boring day in Tanzania. Extraordinary beauty of flora, fauna, and the Swahili language inundated my senses. In the ocean air, everything rusts, roads crumble, rains flood. “Kiswahili Time” means ‘whenever, but certainly not now.’ Tanzanians are unflappably polite no matter what is happening—good or bad.

An amazing opportunity during my sabbatical reinforced my triple role as writer, editor, and teacher. Last spring, I volunteered at the Bethsaida Orphan Girls’ Secondary School. From my first moment in the classroom with no electricity and an ancient blackboard, when the girls stood and chanted, “Welcome, Professor,” I knew this was going to be a unique experience.

Unlike my American and international students, these girls listened to every word I spoke but were too shy to answer any questions. I cajoled them to volunteer.

My outgoing and interactive style and their quiet classroom were not a perfect fit at first. By week two, I teased them, calling them my “quiet doves.” The metaphor gave them confidence, or they got used to me, and they started to chat.

After a four-week creative writing course, their stories so impressed me that I worked with the girls to produce a beautiful anthology of their work. The completed book, Their Voices, Their Stories, is now a fundraiser for their school. I was lucky enough to find an angel or patron, a local commercial bank, to pay for the printing and publication so all proceeds could benefit the school.

Bethsaida Orphan Girls’ Secondary School

Photo: Courtesy Julie Wakeman-Linn

My year of writing was very productive. I recorded oddities of Tanzanian life in journals, in e-mails, and in a list that now runs to 10 pages. I’ve had four stories accepted by literary magazines and I saw my first novel, Chasing the Leopard Finding the Lion, published in April.

While teaching at the Bethsaida school was an incredible experience, I missed teaching at our very urban, very international campus; editing the Potomac Review, and making new writer friends. So, while I look forward to revisiting Africa in another five years or so, I am glad to be back at my teaching home.

—Julie Wakeman-Linn

Professor Wakeman-Linn’s stories have appeared in JMWW, Rosebud, Grey Sparrow Review, Santa Clara Review, Danse Macabre, and other journals. She blogs at Gecko Tails, and her website is She has taught English at MC for more than 15 years.

This article first appeared in the fall 2012 issue of Insights.

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