In the age of social media, the ability to instantly share thoughts and photos with family and friends near and far is glorious. Sometimes we forget that not all of our experiences can be captured in a picture with a clever caption, or fit neatly into one-hundred word blocks. When I pick up my phone and scroll through these snippets of shared lives, I often find myself thinking, “I wonder what their child was thinking when they were at that park?” or “I wish I knew what made them laugh like that.” These shared glimpses can make it feel like you haven’t lost touch with someone, but there are times when I crave more than a snippet, which is why I turned to writing stories about my life.
SHARING THE WORLD THROUGH WORDS
While writing wasn’t new to me—I have been a writer in one form or another my entire life—it had been a while since I had put any real effort into it. But when our family received orders to Africa, I returned to writing with a renewed zeal, knowing that our experiences would need more than a picture and a caption to accurately share with those back home. As we told family and friends that we, a Navy family, were moving to Cameroon for two years, the “Where?” and “Why?” and “What is our Navy doing in Africa?” questions flooded in. That was when I decided to document our time there with short stories. I wanted to be able to share vignettes of our daily life, as well as showcase some of the work that my husband was doing. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, a picture with a thousand words opens up worlds.
In preparing for our move to Africa, I purchased a beautiful notebook specifically for jotting down anything and everything that I experienced and could later turn into stories. I had no idea how well it would work until we arrived in Cameroon and on the initial drive from the airport, I already had a full story in my head, ready to write down. That first night, as I struggled with jet lag, I jotted down as much as I could. One week later I sent that story out and our family and friends began the journey with us.
CAPTURING MORE THAN STORIES
While I wrote down little things that I thought people would find interesting in my notebook—which turned into notebooks, plural, quite quickly—I was also providing myself with a form of therapy. When my days were overwhelming and the culture shock overshadowed the things I loved about where we were, I found that writing the observations down actually helped me process my own thoughts and feelings. Taking the rawness of my experiences and trying to capture them in words for others to understand helped me better understand my own journey. And I know that this was part of the reason I fell so in love with Africa, because for everything that I struggled with, writing it out—even if that particular story never saw the light of day—allowed me to unearth the passion I felt for the place.
IN THE END, YOU ARE ALL STORIES
As we went on to two more consecutive tours on the African continent, living in Nigeria and Djibouti after Cameroon, my stories grew at my readers’ requests, fueling me to search deeper for meaning and connection. Not only would I take my readers along to an official reception that we had to attend, but I also shared the history of the work we were doing and how it mattered to them. I told them about the culture of places that they may never experience for themselves. I also wrote about commonality, like going to the local grocery store and showing them a world not so different than their own. I wrote about the life our son lived as he went through elementary school on the continent. I even showed them the stress that both my husband and I faced, part of the price we paid for the work we signed on for. For eight years, I laid out our life in words, not knowing in the beginning how much it would come to mean to my readers or me. And, now, two years after we left Africa, I am still writing, still telling stories, still giving others the expanded glimpses into our life as we adjust to yet another new place, another new culture, and more new experiences.
Starting out as a cowgirl in Northern California, Julie Tully has spent the past two decades as a nomadic Navy spouse. The wife of a Foreign Area Officer, she has lived overseas since 2004, with seven and a half of those years in Africa. A former public relations and marketing specialist, she turned to writing when her life began to resemble a book. She writes about life, culture, and the places where they intersect. Her stories have also appeared in Legacy Magazine and in books by Tales From A Small Planet and AAFSW. She currently lives in Italy with her husband, son, and their adopted Djiboutian street cat.