To the tradition-bound villagers, only uncaring fathers would allow their twenty-something daughters to remain unmarried and travel so far from home. “We came up with an acceptable explanation: Our fathers loved us very much, but they wanted us to do service. We had to fulfill that family obligation before we went home, where our fathers would have suitable husbands waiting for us,” recalls Albritton, whose father was the legendary SMU geology professor, administrator and mentor, Claude C. Albritton.
When Albritton took a test for the then five-year-old Peace Corps, it was a junior-year lark. But it evolved into the adventure of a lifetime. After graduating with majors in English and history, she left for a two-year posting in Karera, Shivpuri District, in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the capital of which is Bhopal. “Our house was right in the middle of the bazaar, so we might wake up with a camel or elephant at our front door,” she remembers. “We did have electricity, but no running water.”
She was supposed to assist villagers with poultry production, but in rural India, that was not considered a suitable task for young women. Instead, Albritton was assigned to an applied nutrition program, which involved activities from – trying to get people to raise kitchen gardens – to distributing milk to kindergarteners.
After two years in India, she returned to SMU to complete a Master’s in English and eventually established Tiger Enterprises, a company that offers writing, editing and related services. In 1995 she moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, where she teaches business and magazine writing online through Colorado State University. She is writing a history of presidential pardons titled Pardon Me, Mister President.
Nearly 40 years later, the Peace Corps remains a vital touchstone in her life. “There are almost 200,000 returned Peace Corps volunteers, and everyone has a story to tell,” Albritton says. Peace Corps at 50, a project to collect and publish stories, will mark the golden anniversary of the international service program in 2011. The project is spearheaded by Albritton and a trio of former volunteers, including Dennis Cordell, professor of history and associate dean for general education in Dedman College, who served in the Republic of Chad from 1968-70. A publisher has yet to be named, but 200 stories have been accepted for publication and will be posted online.
Because Peace Corps volunteers have been places “where diplomats will never go,” Albritton says, “we’ve gained a love and appreciation for cultures that sometimes seem unlovable. That’s why the story project is an invaluable resource.”