Tripper of the Week: Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Susan C

A Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Ghana and has traveled everywhere from Burkina Faso to Mali and Nepal, Susan C is our Tripper of the Week.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

Three of my grandparents were immigrants and one was a descendant of the founder of Rhode Island.  Maybe that’s why I want to both travel the world and put down deep roots in the community.  I worked in education for 30 years as a teacher and a principal; I now take every opportunity I get to work as a biologist.  My daughter and son are wonderful young adults.  They make me think; they make me laugh.  I strive to have a smaller footprint on the earth.

You’ve traveled to some pretty exotic places.  What was the most unusual experience you had during your travels (aside from serving in the Peace Corps)?

At a home stay in Peru I was accepted as a family member and given the opportunity to experience life in Urubamba.  My host family taught me to harvest flowers from their farm and to help make colorful traditional pottery. 

We rode a motorcycle taxi to the market and I sat in a relatives stall “selling” vegetables.  I collected food to feed the guinea pigs, carried the baby on my back, and attended a nephew’s defense and graduation celebration.  For the family it was nothing unusual; for me it was an amazing experience.

Your favorite local spots are the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area and north Georgia mountains.  What makes them not-to-be-missed locations?

The Chattahoochee River is the source of water for more than 50% of all Georgians and the center of the tri-state water wars, but hiking or paddling the 48-mile stretch of river and adjacent parks takes one back to the days of the Creek, Cherokee, or tribes before them.  Trout lilies, azaleas, and rhododendron are a few of the flowers that make this area special.  Salamanders, great blue herons, and otters make this area home.  Everyone should have a natural place like this a short distance from their home. 

For me, the north Georgia mountains are another place to enjoy nature.  The Appalachian Trail runs from Springer Mountain 79 miles to Bly Gap at the boarder of North Carolina.  I maintain a section of trail almost to the NC border.  Two other trails in north Georgia I enjoy backpacking are the Conasauga River Trail with 38 river crossing in the Cohutta Wilderness and the Chattooga River Trail and side trails to water falls.  Come visit and I’ll take you on a paddle and a hike.

You served in the Peace Corps in Ghana:  what are some of the most memorable moments from your service there?

I treasure every day of the four years I lived in Ghana.  I hear the Imam’s call to prayers and see the elders under the baobab tree.  I taste tou zaafi, green leaf soup, and koko with koose.  The colors and smells of the markets are always enchanting.  Ghana is where I met my husband.  In Ghana I listened to an elegant speech by the head of state and reveled in village stories told under a full moon.  My first days in Ghana, I saw so many things that were new and different, but I soon stopped noticing the differences and discovered similarities.  My name is Nalima.  The women taught me to make shaenut oil, to carry a head pan of water, and to dance.  They are my models for how I raised my children.   Whenever I can return to visit I am greeted by friends as if I had seen them only yesterday.

How did serving in the Peace Corps shape your worldview and impact your life upon your return?

After being part of the community as I was in Ghana, it makes it much harder to think of people from other countries as “them” as opposed to “us” in the USA.  I try to respect the diversity of cultures and ideas that the 7 billion people on earth represent.  Teaching in Ghana was also the start of my career in education.

Of the destinations you’ve visited so far, which one has been your favorite and why?

They are all my favorites, truly, but let me describe a recent trek to Lomonthang, the capital of Mustang, Nepal.  The changes in this part of the world are dramatic.  I was deeply touch by the traditions and honored to make friends with gentle people as they balance preservation of traditions and life in the changing world.  A young monk gave me a tour of a monastery museum and shared his views on environmental protection.  Women milking their yaks invited us into their tent to share yak butter tea and yak cheese.  We toured a monastery where paintings are being restored and local people are learning to be competent restorers.  I rode a horse at the Yartang festival, three days of dancing, singing and horse racing.   On returning to the USA I feel each new story of this part of the world personally.  Immersion in a culture is, for me, the strongest possible education.

If you were to hop on a plane tomorrow, where would you choose to go?

I would visit a family that is open to hosting a visitor who is interested in learning about their life and participating in their daily routine.  The destination isn’t what is important to me, but rather the opportunity to develop a relationship with people.

Thanks Susan for sharing your fascinating stories and the beautiful photos! 

Trippers, you can connect with Susan via her Tripping profile.

And if you’re an RPCV or current Peace Corps volunteer, check out the National Peace Corps Association Network on Tripping.