The Jarvis Report

Seeking Memories: The Globetrotting Life of SueEllen Carroll

Posted July 13, 2018 by

I like the small drawing of a whale shark that SueEllen Carroll brought back from Mafia Island. It commemorates her adventure in the Indian Ocean swimming with the largest fish in the world. I also like the two paintings of women with children that SueEllen found during a couple of other trips abroad. But I like Nala best of all. Right now, Nala is sleeping in her doggie bed in a quiet apartment overlooking Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. It’s a world away from Guatemala, where Nala lived as a street dog until one day around 10 years ago, when she came across a Peace Corps volunteer who couldn’t say no.

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My impression of the drawings is that they aren’t just souvenirs. As SueEllen talks about them, they seem alive—not as alive as Nala, but still. During our conversation, SueEllen says, “I seek being out of my comfort zone so I can remember things.” The drawings are part of that remembering, reminders of what happens when you say “yes” to life.

Joe Jarvis
When did you decide to join the Peace Corps?

SueEllen Carroll
In eighth grade I was in Catholic school and an alum came by and talked about her experiences in the Peace Corps. I was like, “That’s what I’m going to do. I want to travel. I want to learn a new language.” So right after college that’s what I did.

Joe
A Peace Corps bid is 27 months, but you stayed for 29 months. Then you made a short visit home and went back to Guatemala. Overall you were there for about three years. Why did you go back?

SueEllen
I wanted to live in the capital, Guatemala City. The toughest part of Guatemala was that last year in the capital because it was so violent. I was living in a compound with armed guards, and I took a guarded car to work.

Joe
I think that experience would scare a lot of people from traveling again, but it doesn’t seem to have discouraged you at all. I know you travel to Canada every year with your family, but you also like to go solo, like when you went to Tanzania. How did that trip come about?

SueEllen
I didn’t take a lot of time off last year. I decided that in November I was going to go somewhere. When I was growing up, I really wanted to be a marine biologist and study whale sharks. They are the largest fish in the world and they are very elusive. If you want to see a whale shark in November, you go to this tiny little island off the coast of Tanzania. It’s called Mafia Island. I got in a tiny boat and an hour and a half out, someone spotted a whale shark. There were six of us on the boat, from all over the world. We swam with the whale shark for as long as we could keep up. We caught up with it again on the boat five or six times. It was really beautiful. I spent a couple days on Mafia Island, then I flew through Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar, which is incredible. I met this amazing tour guide. He took me all over the city. We spent like three days together. He took me to tortoise island, where all these 100-year old tortoises are walking around. It was incredible. The tour guide and I still keep in touch on Whatsapp.

Joe
All the travel getting to and from Mafia Island sounds really intense. What was that experience like?

SueEllen
It was 24 hours on the way there and 25 hours on the way back. My first night in Dar es Salaam was pretty awful. I was overlaying a lot of my experiences and impressions of developing-world poverty on everything I saw in Dar es Salaam.

Joe
What experiences were you overlaying?

SueEllen
The physicality of Dar es Salaam reminded me of the outskirts of Guatemala City. When I got to Dar es Salaam, I had just finished literally 24 hours of travel. I got in around 11pm, which was not the best move. Customs was pretty intense, and when I got outside it was hot, sticky, and people were yelling everywhere. I was kind of overwhelmed. Then my Uber driver, we weren’t connecting. Eventually, my driver walks up and gives me a hug out of nowhere. She takes me to a parked car that was hot as hell and clearly had been sitting there for a while. There was all this anxiety, and then there were dirt roads and fires on the street. Then my driver couldn’t find the hotel. It was just a lot of anxiety, and on top of all of that, I had all the violent experiences in Guatemala that I was overlaying on it.

I discovered over the next five, six days there that all the baggage I had taken from Guatemala was just not true in Dar es Salaam, just blatantly not true. The next day, I told my driver, “Just take me to the airport.” I was flying to Mafia Island that day. She was like, “Well, no, you have six hours. Let’s explore Dar es Salaam a little.” She took me all over the city and it was great and beautiful and fun and we had lunch together. She didn’t really speak English, but we connected.

Joe
This trip and the one to Guatemala, these are adventures. I feel like when we leave the U.S., we can be tourists or we can be travelers. Your stories are all about traveling. Why do you think you have this drive to discover new places?

SueEllen
I think it’s because of the connections I make with people. They might be fleeting but they are real connections. If I saw them again, it would be a real connection. I like solo travel because it affords the opportunity to really connect with people who are so different from you. You can do that when you’re with a group, but it’s so different. Also, I’m kind of anxious to make sure I am making memories, and one way to make memories is to disrupt the norm. I feel like that’s another big reason why I seek those types of experiences. I take improv classes to get out of my comfort zone, to seek a memory. I seek being uncomfortable, to remember things.

                                                                                                                                                                                      

When we wrote the first Inside8® eBook, “Meet the Inside8” we had this to say about Nourishers:

“Given their self-sufficiency, people in this group can sometimes be tempted to decline help. But when Primal Nourishers® accept support with the same graciousness that they give it, their relationships flourish.”

It’s no surprise that SueEllen Carroll is a Nourisher. She is self-sufficient and travels alone across the world, but she also lets people in. There is the tour guide she still keeps up with on WhatsApp. There is the driver in Dar es Salaam. And there are also two women whom SueEllen met on another adventure, this one to China. (SueEllen recently went to Beijing for a long weekend.) The two women approached SueEllen describing themselves as her “new best friends.” I would have rebuffed such an approach in no uncertain terms, but SueEllen went for it and joined the women. As a result, she saw parts of China, including a wild acrobatics show, that most tourists never see.

There’s good reason to be wary of strangers, especially when we’re in unfamiliar surroundings. But SueEllen proves that we can discern when to protect ourselves and when to open up and connect with the people around us, even those we don’t know.

Joe Jarvis

Joe Jarvis

Joe Jarvis is co-founder and editor of Someone Else, a style journal and production agency based in Chicago. Joe focuses on the core motivations of clothing designers and artists, to help tell their stories. With The Jarvis Report, Joe uses the same approach to discuss personal fulfillment with people in the world of Inside8.

All stories by: Joe Jarvis

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