ORIGINS: “In Service” by Julie Wakeman-Linn

In this jmww ORIGINS, Julie Wakeman-Linn discusses the origin of “In Service,” which appears in the Spring 2012 issue of jmww:

In 1991 in Lusaka, Zambia, the running joke was that if the Wakeman-Linns were having a Friday night dinner party, the power would go out. The joke became our standard operating procedure. My housekeeper started to prepare everything in advance of sundown for our weekly gatherings. We were a lively, motley crew of young families. My husband and I were brand new to living in Africa so everything from the bugs to the Southern constellations to Zambian food surprised us. Our friends who were more experienced ex-pats acted as our guides. Our common ground was kids about the same age and also our attitude toward our assigned positions in the Lusaka’s society. We were there as consultants and so outside any established Embassy or NGO or missionary group structure. One couple was with the UN and another pair was CIA, although we didn’t know it at the time. So in the face of inevitable power cuts, we’d start dinner, switch to candlelight, put the kids in front of a movie if we had power or with a game if we didn’t. Then we’d play raucous hilarious non-standard bridge or liar’s poker. I have always worried a bit what my life would have been without this group of people because not everybody in Lusaka was friendly. Social circles, both diplomatic and Zambian, were closed.

“In service” explores the frightened outsider in an exotic setting. The story is a section of a now completed novel about a young diplomat wife, her housekeeper and an ex-pat thief during the elections of 1991. Two other chapters have appeared, one under the title “Fancy Man,” in Rosebud and “Never Trust a Musungu in Dusty Shoes” in The Chimaera. I strive to recapture both the beauty of Zambia and also the fear we all experienced. In a poor country on the verge of political change, crime and violence were always a possibility but on those crazy Friday nights, we ignored it.

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