A TWA (Trans World Airlines) vacation package to London was my very first “non-military” trip overseas. That is, of course, if you don’t count Canada. I grew up in Detroit. After arriving in London, I told everyone in my tour group that I was going to spend one day, on my own, in Liverpool. When I didn’t show up for breakfast, it was assumed that I had kept my word. The following morning, I was asked, “Did you see him?” While I spent the following day sleeping, Paul McCartney was in Liverpool, receiving an award.
One year later, I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, to begin pre-service training (PST) for the Peace Corps. Our training site was a former resort, on Lake Naivasha, in the Great Rift Valley. During our free time, we walked to nearby Crater Lake and posed with giraffes along the way. After training, I was placed in Eastern Kenya, between Nairobi and Tsavo National Park. During semester breaks, I’d catch the overnight train, from Nairobi to Mombasa, then make my way, by bus and ferry, to Malindi and Lamu.
After Peace Corps service, I made several research trips to London. I presented my findings at universities around England, Spain, and back home. For my 50th birthday, I traveled to Hong Kong, Beijing, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phang Nga Bay. My favorite part was traveling to the Koyao Island Resort. I took a flight from Bangkok to Phuket and then a car ride from the airport to a fishing dock. A traditional long tail boat was waiting and I was helped aboard. After an hour, in open water, viewing amazing limestone islands, the boat turned inland. I spent my birthday in a beach villa, on Koh Yao Noi, surrounded by the archipelago of Phang Nga Bay.
In 2007, I attended the IFLA Library and Information Congress in South Africa. After some acquisition work in Johannesburg and a private tour of the Rosa Parks Library in Soweto, I flew to Cape Town for a pre-conference event and a bit of sightseeing. After the conference, held in Durban, I made a side trip to Zambia and Zimbabwe. My next international work trip was in 2009. I traveled to Ghana for the ASWAD (the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora) conference. President Obama’s visit to the country was just a few weeks earlier. While I was there, Obama billboards, US flags (with his face in the middle) and Obama fabric were everywhere.
As the Librarian for both African Studies and African American Studies, I was interested in African descendants born or living in the Caribbean. When IFLA 2011 was held in Puerto Rico, it was the perfect opportunity to connect with other librarians and book vendors. At dinner, with one particular vendor, I was invited to see their operation in the Dominican Republic. As luck would have it, ASWAD was holding its next conference in Santo Domingo. Once there, I met up with the vendor and was given a tour of their shop. While we were talking, they mentioned an upcoming book buying trip to Haiti. I was already planning to attend the “Livres en Folie” book fair. So, I immediately said yes to their offer to take me along on a few collecting stops in Port-au-Prince.
I returned to South Africa in 2015, to attend the IFLA conference in Cape Town. I had a librarian friend living nearby. She was one of three South African librarians we hosted at Duke University Libraries. She picked me up for a local’s tour of the city. I also spent time, before the conference, reviewing my African Studies approval plan with Clarke’s Bookshop. Then, it was time for IFLA. My hotel at The Westin Cape was directly across from the convention hall.
I retired from Duke University on February 28, 2017. Three weeks later, I was on a flight to Yerevan, Armenia. Both my Peace Corps pre-service training and permanent work sites were in the Ararat Province. I lived with host families during twelve weeks of training and two years of service. My work site was only nine miles from Yerevan. While serving in Posh Corps (Oops, I meant to write Peace Corps, wink), I took vacation trips to London, Dubai, Colombo (Sri Lanka), and Mount Kilimanjaro. After my Close of Service (COS), I returned to the USA, via stops in England and Iceland. One month later, I was on a flight from Dulles to Addis Ababa.
PST in Ethiopia followed the same pattern as Armenia. After arriving, we were taken to a hotel in Addis Ababa. As a senior citizen, I was given my own room. After a few days, we were divided into groups, based on the four regions hosting volunteers: Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, and The Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region. There was no Internet service at our PST sites. We soon learned that two government officials had been assassinated after an alleged failed coup attempt in the Amhara region. After training ended, my permanent site was in the Amhara Region. My village was at 9265 feet and very cold. As soon as my cohort was allowed to travel outside of Ethiopia, I went to Zanzibar for a week. One month later, I was back in the USA.
COVID-19 shut down the Peace Corps. All 7,000 volunteers, serving worldwide, were sent home. I was given twenty-four hours to pack, close out my bank account, and make my way to Addis Ababa for evacuation. After rushing, I had to wait for other volunteers to arrive. It took four days for those serving in the Oromia region to reach the capital. As the news about the pandemic spread, they were refused access to public transportation. They arrived late Friday, the day before our flight. Once at the gate, volunteers with medical conditions and those over fifty-five were seated in business class. From Dulles, I upgraded my two Peace Corps coach flights and flew first class to Honolulu. The airports (and planes) were empty. Upgrades were cheap.
I’m spending the next five years traveling the world. The adventure begins on 11/30! XOXO—GGT