Susie Bannerman was a shy, gangly, fourteen-year-old high school student when she met Katherine Miller, a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher at her partially-finished boarding school in newly independent Ghana. They bonded quickly and formed a friendship that has lasted over fifty years primarily continuing their relationship by communicating through letters.
About fifteen years ago Miller realized that her collection of hundreds of letters from Susie was an incredible chronicle of the life of a woman who had grown up as her country was struggling with its own growing pains. Only nine-years-old when Ghana became independent, Susie and Ghana grew up together.
Katherine suggested to Susie the the idea of a making a book of her letters, and Susie agreed immediately. First the letters were transcribed to the computer. Miller wrote background material by hand — her preferred medium — before entering it onto the computer. Susie and her family were involved in much of the fact checking either by letter, phone or email, or through infrequent visits with Katherine. With the help of a talented editor, the book finally took shape over the last six months. Susie’s reaction to seeing that her letters had been published in a book by saying, “I had to pinch myself that a simple young girl who was in a secondary school in Kumasi, Ghana, would end up with her letters to her teacher in a book!”
Her letters reveal that with little fanfare, Susie has made incredible contributions in both her professional and personal life to the development of Ghana. An advocate for the rights of women in the workplace, Susie has also taken on the challenge of increasing awareness of breast cancer, still a taboo topic in Ghana. The letters also describe the country’s educational system and life in a developing nation amid food shortages, frequent power outages, and a series of coups and changes in leadership on the country’s path towards both political and economic stability.
In Letters from Susie: Growing Up Ghanaian 1962–2915 [Peace Corps Writers, 2016] Katherine Miller provides a brief historical summary to put each period in context. The letters from Susie paint a picture of daily family life in Ghana, including traditions, customs and food, as well as the effects the changing political and economic environment had on everyone’s lives. The depth of the friendship between Susie and Kathie Miller and the high regard they hold each other is evident in the letters. As each woman completes her education, travels and lives abroad, marries, pursues a career, and becomes a mother (and later a grandmother), they face life’s challenges by sharing their thoughts and offering each other support. The importance of family in Ghana is central, and the highlights of the events in the lives of Susie’s extended family complete the portrait of her life up to this point.
•Katherine Miller had just graduated with a BA in English when she joined the Peace Corps in 1962, and spent two years muddling through teaching English, French and General Science in the lower grades of a girls’ secondary boarding school. In love with Africa and teaching by the end of her tour, she returned home to earn an M.A. in teaching and spent her career as an English as a Second Language teacher to adults and children in Princeton, NJ.
Newly married in 1966, she and her husband spent two years with the Peace Corps in Afghanistan as TESL teachers, and have been traveling to far flung places ever since, but the highlights have been their four visits back to Ghana as guests of Susie and her family!
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