International travel is a culturally eye opening experience that can aid one’s personal growth, but not everyone can afford it. Yet, for local Birmingham author Georgia Williams-Fitzpatrick as a college student in the 1960’s she had the opportunity not only to travel, but travel to places of her family’s origin. In her new book Returning to the Homeland: My Travels in Africa, Williams-Fitzpatrick shares her experience traveling for the Peace Corps and teaching in several African nations. Recently, we sat down with her to discuss that time in her life and why she decided to write about her experiences.
In the book you chronicle your time in Africa through the Peace Corps. What prompted you to go in the first place?
I have always had a fascination with internationals. Tuskegee University, where I attended, has an international exchange program. As I interacted with those students, many of them from African nations, I realized that there was a big difference in them and what I saw on television. I’m speaking specifically to the show Tarzan. During the summer of my junior year I went to Ghana and I was hooked! I wanted to go back and stay longer, which I did after graduation.
What did you do with the Peace Corps while working in African nations?
I went to teach students in Liberia. Mostly I taught biology, which was my field of study at Tuskegee, but I also taught other science as well.
After all these years, why did you decide to write a memoir about your time in Africa with the Peace Corps?
There is such limited information about Africa out there—if you were asked to picture Africa right now, you would probably envision a hunting scene with western men wearing safari gear or Africans outfitted in Masai robe & spears. In one instance I experienced an awkward drop in the conversation because the person speaking automatically assumed that all Africans in this gathering had seen ostrich eggs. Second, I want people to know that everyday life in Africa is as meaningful as that in/on other continents. Third, friends, especially African ones, kept encouraging me to write about Africa from a positive perspective.
In the book you discuss the adoption of your daughter. As a single young lady why did you decide to adopt?
It was a decision that was in my DNA I guess. Other than that, I really don’t have a clue!
Your daughter is only a few years younger than you am I right?
Yes. We are close enough in age to be sisters. In fact, I think we have always hung out like sisters.
Would you encourage young people today to join the Peace Corps or travel abroad if given the opportunity? Why?
Traveling abroad with a service organization such as Crossroads African is great on many levels. A tour of this nature allows you to get in touch with another culture’s culture. It allows you to find out whether or not your body adjust to different climates or foods. It can determine how well you coup without being supported by relatives and lifelong friends. After a positive summer experience such as this, you can be better prepared for a longer tour.
Now that you are retired, are you writing more?
Are you working on a new book?
Yes, two. I will hopefully release TWO SHORTS, the sequential to my first book SHORTS soon. Also I am working on a book titled ADVENTURES OF THE OVER 50’S.
Which book was more difficult to write Shorts or Returning to the Homeland?
SHORTS. Getting the thoughts down on paper was not difficult; I’d had those thoughts in my head for years. However, when I started with SHORTS, I knew absolutely nothing about publishing. Nothing. When writing Returning to the Homeland, however, I realized I didn’t know a thing about editing.
Did you go into this project with a different mindset than your first book?
Yes but I was faced with so much I didn’t know to look for or how to correct problems.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers and authors about publishing their book?
Keep your personal feelings in your pocket. Take criticisms. Hire a real editor or become more familiar with the editing app on your computer.
Georgia Williams-Fitzpatrick grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. She has worked on four continents: Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. Over time, she adopted an African girl and married an Englishman. Currently she is retired from a thirty-five year career with the Department of Defense Education System and serves as the family historian. She is the author of two previous books: Willie Belle’s Children, and Shorts: A Memoir in Snippets.