|Mary Trimble: The Adventure Begins Now|
Mary E. Trimble -- writer, Peace Corps and Red Cross volunteer, and intrepid sailor of the South Pacific -- proves that life and adventure begin whenever you choose to make them happen. Where some parents of a certain age complain about their empty nest, Mary and her husband Bruce took up deep sea diving, then realized a life-long ambition to work in Africa. And that was just the beginning.
At a Women Writing the West Conference last year, while being held captive on a paddle-wheeler in the middle of the Sacramento River (don't ask; that's a story for another day) Trimble shared a few of her tales of real-life daring. I knew then that Crescent Blues readers would want to know more. Genre fiction celebrates the most adventurous aspects of the human spirit. What could be more appropriate for a genre magazine than to celebrate a late-blooming adventurer's life?
Mary Trimble: I have four grown children, five grandchildren, and a husband. And for many years, I enjoyed staying at home, being a mother and homemaker. I baked, sewed, gardened, was very involved at church and thoroughly cherished that period of my life. But, there came a time for change.
Crescent Blues: What kind of change?
Mary Trimble: Well, for me it was time to do something different. So I joined the work force, venturing into the outside world after my two boys and two girls were grown or nearly grown. I worked at a professional deep-sea diving school. I felt myself growing and "holding my own" as admissions director in this internationally known school.
Crescent Blues: Wow, that sounds pretty exciting, but that just marked the beginning of your adventures. What happened next?
Mary Trimble: In 1979,
Bruce [Trimble] and I decided to do "something different." We joined the
Peace Corps and served for two years in Gambia, a tiny country located
along the Atlantic coast of Africa, running inland on either side of the
Gambia River and surrounded on three sides by Senegal.
Crescent Blues: How did your children feel about that?
Mary Trimble: Our kids were very supportive of our African tour of duty with the Peace Corps. They were grown or nearly so. While we were there, we corresponded with them on a regular basis and did everything we could to make it their adventure too. Although Africa has never been appealing to the kids, they are fairly used to us being drawn to "different ventures."
Crescent Blues: What about you? Was Africa a place that appealed to you?
Mary Trimble: I was thrilled. At long last, I was able to fulfill a life-long dream of going to Africa.
Crescent Blues: What did you do in Gambia?
Mary Trimble: I worked in a 32-bed bush hospital setting up desperately needed record keeping systems. One of the great problems in Africa is keeping supplies on hand. I saw people die of tetanus and other serious infections because of the lack of medical supplies. In many instances, these supplies were available, but had simply run out because there was no systematic inventory replacement from the capitol city, Banjul, 250 miles away. Bruce worked with a UN well-digging unit replacing traditional wells with deep, cement-lined wells in the many villages in the upper-river country
Crescent Blues: There is so much in the news about unrest in the African countries that it seems a dangerous place to be. Were you and your husband ever in physical danger? Or did your stay progress as planned and send you home without a scare?
Mary Trimble: No, I wouldn't say that. Toward the end of our two-year stay, a military coup d' etat brought things to a screeching halt. We happened to be down river on business in the capital city when the fighting began. All roads were immediately closed as the rebels took control. From where we staying, we were able to walk to the American Ambassador's residence and take shelter there. Little did we know we would be there for the next eight days. The rebels and nationalists both brought people to [the embassy] in their efforts to avoid civilian casualties. Besides Americans, we had with us Indians, Swedes, Germans and other expatriates without an embassy of their own.
Crescent Blues: I hope the residence was large or that the number of people was small.
Mary Trimble: No, just the opposite was true, I'm afraid. Our group swelled to 118 in the relatively small house. It was the ambassador's own home and nice by local standards, but not a mansion by any means. It was a rather simple, single-level home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large living room, a dining room and a kitchen. The ambassador himself was in the embassy in Banjul the entire eight days, unable to leave his office.
Crescent Blues: I'm pretty sure there wasn't a supermarket nearby, so what did you do for food? How did the embassy manage?
Mary Trimble: Shortages
of food and -- even more serious, water -- were a constant worry. The
country was entirely shut down and with it electricity (which also generated
our water supply) and grocery stores. We were proud of our Peace Corps
personnel (about 30 of the 52 in-country). We took lead positions in every
facet of the hectic eight days. Bruce, the only licensed radioman in the
group, took over all radio communication with the embassy and Washington,
D.C. I kept track of those who were with us and what country or agency
they represented. Calls from all over the world flooded the American embassy
and they would
contact us to verify the location of stranded people.
Crescent Blues: When my three kids were young and still at home, we had only one bathroom, so I know what congestion is. I've got to ask: How did you manage with 118 people, only two bathrooms and practically no water?
Mary Trimble: With a crowd that size and with a seriously dwindling water supply, it soon became obvious that we couldn't waste water flushing toilets. A Peace Corps contingent dug latrines in the Ambassador's back yard. Most of us had been living without running water anyway, and we showed those who weren't used to roughing it how to take bucket baths.
Crescent Blues: What about food? You said there were shortages, how did you manage to feed the group?
Mary Trimble: My Peace Corps boss was in charge of the kitchen and most of her helpers were Peace Corps volunteers. A U.S. [Agency for International Development] Mormon family staying with us donated their two-year emergency food supply, and a group of four men sneaked out one night (we had strict instructions not to leave the house) and raided the family's larder. The adults existed on two small meals a day; children were fed three times daily. We all agreed we'd rather starve than listen to 17 hungry, whiny kids.
Crescent Blues: Usually when rebels try to overthrow the government, there is fighting -- and fighting includes weapons of war, such as guns large and small. You said you had strict orders to stay in the house, was that because of the gun battles between the opposing forces?
Mary Trimble: Of course, during all this time heavy fighting raged just outside the compound. Time and again we had to dash under tables for safety from close-by shelling. During the day mattresses covered windows to avoid the spray of broken glass. We flew the American flag day and night and remained neutral throughout this civil war.
Crescent Blues: What happened to end it? Were you rescued by outside forces?
Mary Trimble: Finally, with the aid of neighboring Senegal, the worst of the fighting ended and we were evacuated out of the country. After two weeks in Senegal, we were allowed back into Gambia at a border crossing halfway down country. The capital city was still too dangerous for us to enter. For our remaining one-month stay, the country and our jobs were not the same. Rebels had confiscated all vehicles. The hospital's ambulances (Range-Rovers) were gone; all of the vehicles at the well-digging shop were gone or damaged beyond repair.
Crescent Blues: Now that I can breathe again, I'll ask more questions. Easy ones, I hope, like what did you do when you returned to the United States?
Mary Trimble: After returning from Africa, I attended college and took three years of computer science and business courses. 1981 was still the infancy of the computer era, believe it or not, and I was the first person I knew to have a home computer. After that, I worked at Safeco for a number of years as a programmer/analyst and then the adventure bug bit my husband and I again.
Crescent Blues: Oh, no. What this time? More danger? More fighting?