MEET THE AUTHOR : The story of a Black mzungu

When New York native Alexandria Osborne travelled to Tanzania in 2009, she planned to stay for six months. Instead, she met her husband Saidi and moved to his home in a rural village near Lindi.

Alexandria Osborne shares her memoir with a

Alexandria Osborne shares her memoir with a group at A novel Idea in Dar es Salaam. PHOTO I CLARE CLANCY

Clare Clancy

When New York native Alexandria Osborne travelled to Tanzania in 2009, she planned to stay for six months. Instead, she met her husband Saidi and moved to his home in a rural village near Lindi.

Fifty-eight-year-old Osborne, who self-published a memoir about her experiences in Tanzania, talked to Success about the process of writing her first book.

How did you come up with the title for your book ‘The Black Mzungu?’

When I moved to Tanzania, I was feeling very isolated and alone. Where do you fit? Especially being an older Muslim black woman.

I still was an outsider no matter how much I tried. I learned with time that part of it was the language, part of it was the lifestyle and I was still very different. It took a long time for me to understand that. That’s the feeling I had, of wanting to fit in but being an outsider.

What motivated you to write the book?

It is my memoir. It’s hard being far from my family who are in the United States … how will my grandchildren ever know their crazy grandmother?

So that was part of it also. The dedication is to them. I wanted to leave that legacy. It just evolved. I call this a bucket list item. My father, who is 93, always used to say ‘Alexandria when are you going to write your book?’ Now he can’t say that anymore.

You married your husband Saidi within months of moving to Tanzania. But you said the book isn’t a love story. What were your goals in writing the book?

The first goal was to create a legacy for my family, the second was to bridge some gaps.

I wanted people who grew up in the United States and don’t have an opportunity to travel to know what it’s like here. I also wanted to bridge the Muslim world and non-Muslim world … it’s not really about religion, but I wanted to teach people a little bit about Islamic culture.

When you moved to Tanzania, how did your relationship with Saidi evolve?

I was an international staff and he was local and usually the two didn’t mix. I didn’t know the social order. I began to understand that he could not approach me, because it was too risky. He could lose everything, his job. … It had to be me. I basically said ‘I really care about you.’ We got married Dec. 18 and I met him August 14. It kind of felt so right. We were both in our 50s … It was just the right time.

People have said they wanted to hear more about the relationship between me and Saidi.

What was your writing process?

Usually I did it early before breakfast. I had my coffee … I love Tanzanian coffee. I did most of my writing on our big veranda, overlooking the ocean, and it would be so quiet. I’d write from 7 to 10 a.m. It took about six months to put together. I had a lot of things already written. I realised I had a story to tell. I had thought about it, put it down, thought about it, put it down.

It doesn’t come off exactly like a diary format, but it includes everything I had over the years.

For example, I had a lot of stories about wildlife, or about snakes that happened over several years. And that became a chapter.

What were the challenges of writing the book?

The book isn’t chronological. When I wrote the book, I said they are accounts. I had to fill in the blanks to make it smooth … I had to have an editor.

You can imagine how painful it was moving it around and having people slash things that were close to your heart.

I’m sure anyone who is a writer has gone through that process. You have to not feel insulted.

What are the challenges of living rurally?

When we got there, there was no road. There was no access by car. Now there’s a road.

We had a python that strangled our goats. We haven’t had a python in a while, but sometimes you see the tracks. We live in the bush but I still feel safe.

Our water is either what we capture or truck in. We collect rainwater in the rainy season. And finding an Internet connection can be a struggle, most of my work is online.

The Black Mzungu is available at A Novel Idea bookstore in Dar es Salaam, and online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.