Book Award — Best Peace Corps Memoir of 2021

 

In Search of Pink Flamingos: A Woman’s Quest for Forgiveness and Unconditional Love

 

 

By Susan E. Greisen (Liberia 1971-73; Tonga 1973-74)

 

Susan Greisen

A young woman defies her parents’ demands to become a farmer’s wife. At age nineteen, with a suitcase full of farm-smarts and a license to be a practical nurse, Susan joins the Peace Corps in Africa. She meets multiple challenges in her remote Liberian village and falls short of her unrealistic goals. An interracial romance further aggravates her parents who eventually disown her. When Susan finds the pink flamingos, she discovers what she had been searching for all along. Her journey is one of passion, strength and finding forgiveness and unconditional love.

 


Susan writes…

The last time I received a first-place blue ribbon I was twelve years old at my grade school track competition. I was one of seven in the 100-yard dash.

But on June 5th, 2021, I received another blue ribbon. This time for my memoir, In Search of Pink Flamingos: A Woman’s Quest for Forgiveness and Unconditional Love. Chanticleer International Book Awards (CIBA) awarded me first place in the genre of narrative non-fiction and memoir. The Journey Book Award recognizes emerging new talent and the outstanding work of a true compelling story that weaves the tales of travel, adventure, and life experiences while overcoming trauma and adversity.

In Search of Pink Flamingos is a story of how I defy my parents’ wishes to marry and become a farmer’s wife. My quest for Africa begins as a little girl when an exotic framed picture of pink flamingos captures my imagination. At age 19 with a suitcase full of farm smarts and a license to be a practical nurse, I join the Peace Corps in Liberia. I tackle the challenges of high mortality, witchcraft, and the plight of Liberian women. I fall short of my unrealistic goals, nearly die of a tropical disease, and discover my devoted village family and their culture are catalysts for my personal healing. An interracial romance further aggravates my parents who eventually disown me. I find real flamingos in Africa – wild and free. When the same picture of those pink birds comes back into my life thirty years later, it delivers a message. Only then do I discover what I had been searching for all along.

In Search of Pink Flamingos was released on April 2, 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, but with the help of Zoom and our virtual reality, I have attended a multitude of events including my book launch, book interviews, and numerous book clubs with more scheduled this summer and fall. I was also invited to be a guest author/lecturer at a Creative Writing Class at the University of the Southwest in New Mexico. My book has received glowing accolades on Amazon, Peace Corps Worldwide, and Goodreads.

But I’m not stopping here, I have been asked to lead a Friends of Liberia’s (FOL) 60th Anniversary Anthology Project. Our compilation of Liberian stories from FOL members will be published in spring of 2022, just in time for PC Liberia’s anniversary.

 

Susan E. Greisen, raised on a remote farm in Nebraska, served two years in Liberia and one year in Tonga as a health education volunteer from 1971-74. As an RN, she later worked for CARE in Cameroon, 1980-82, and has since journeyed to over forty countries on six continents. Susan is a published poet and author and her travel photographs have been featured online by the BBC News. Susan lives in Bellingham, WA, the Home of Subdued Excitement, fresh air and nature at its finest.

 


 

In Search of Pink Flamingos reviewed by Cynthia Mosca (Ethiopia 1967-69)

Susan Greisen’s book, In Search of Pink Flamingos, is filled with heart-stopping adventures in Africa. She writes candidly of her journey from a strict Catholic upbringing on a farm in Nebraska to her new home in the small village of Zorgowee, Liberia. Susan is the only Peace Corps Volunteer and the only white person in this town of about a thousand people. Here she found affection and respect both of which were denied her in her Nebraska family home. I’m recommending her well-written book to all my friends, especially those who never sent in those applications.

At nineteen as a certified practical nurse (nine-month course) she introduced antenatal (prenatal) and well-baby clinics to this village. Susan’s resolution and determination were astounding. She also formed a relationship with the head midwife in the area, Bendu. This led her to witness a live birth on a dirt floor, conditions that were less than clean much less sanitary. She then planned, with the approval of Bendu, to begin four weekly classes for the midwives. These classes would focus on basic sanitation. Her cardboard constructions for teaching were ingenious, providing perfect support in a class where four languages were spoken. At the final class, each midwife was given a small shoebox containing basic supplies plus a certificate of completion. Again, perfect.

The outhouse at her new home would be enough to send many Volunteers home. “Although the round hole in my latrine came with a cover, the critters (cockroaches the size of a small mouse) clung to the bottom of the lid each time I lifted it. When they crawled from the underside of the seat, I jumped when their antennae tickled my butt . . . constipation became my frequent unwelcomed companion.” Yikes!

During her two years in Liberia, she was able to travel to many African countries, including Ethiopia. Susan was in Addis Ababa for the celebration of Timkat (Feast of the Epiphany). Her account of this includes a wonderful description of the priest’s processional. In this 1972 visit, Haile Selassie was still in charge, but the impending famine was beginning to take a toll. In 1974 when Susan was in Tonga, Haile Selassie’s reign came to an end. He died in 1975.

Idi Amin was newly in power (1971) when Susan and her friends traveled to Uganda with warnings from the state department to be careful.  Her gumption is incredible. I think she got this confidence from growing up in a small town and assuming positions of leadership in her tiny school. Her insecurities came from the constant criticism of her parents who gave continually mixed messages — follow your passion but get married and become a farmer’s wife.

The saddest part of the book for me was Part X. Her “Some Enchanted Evening” moment came in Liberia with Michael. After their service, the two of them moved to Berkley, California. Her parents, ever critical and racist, parked outside of their apartment building around Christmas time but never came to the door. Susan went to them. I’d like to believe that I would have left them sitting there.

This is the astonishing story of a young woman determined to be of service, all the while defending her virginity. In the beginning, Susan was inspired by a painting of pink flamingos. She finds them. Finally, her compassion and dedication to being of service is rewarded by a grateful patient with that same piece of art. Her story comes full circle.  I highly recommend this book. As soon as I finish this review, I am sending my book group a note to get on Amazon and get the book. My copy is already spoken for.

Cynthia Mosca (Ethiopia 1967–69) returned home from the Peace Corps to teach but eventually left teaching art and went into the field of ESL. She became the Director of the Bilingual Program in Cicero, Illinois.


In Search of Pink Flamingos: A Woman’s Quest for Forgiveness and Unconditional Love
Susan E. Greisen (Liberia 1971-73; Tonga 1973-74)
Penchant Press International
April 2020
264 pages
$15.95 (paperback)

 

 

28 Comments

Leave a comment
  • Congratulations and well-deserved! I so enjoyed reading this book. I was astonished at what Susan accomplished in Liberia, the friendships made, and the adventures she had. Wonderful!

  • Congratulations on the award! Your road sounds so much more challenging than mine when I fell in love with a native of the Andes of Peru and married him when got pregnant i. My parents weren’t happy with my choice but were too far away to do anything about it. Also, my Catholic parents taught us 6 children that everyone is worthy of respect.

    My memoir, Between Inca Walls, (reviewed here under PERU) also won a first place from Chanticleer. The follow-up memoir, Love in Any Language, is due out on September 28, 2021. It tells about the joys and difficulties of maintaining a marriage with someone from another culture.

    I’ll order your book so i can read your story and what happened when you returned. Congratulations on getting to over 50 reviews on Amazon. I’m at 39 after a year.

    Hopefully, you’ll check out my memoir as I will yours. We need to support one another and show how risking all by serving, positively affects our lives.

    • Hello Evelyn,
      I remember hearing about your book, Between Inca Walls. I will add yours to my reading list. Congrats on your new book coming out and winning the Chanticleer 1st Place Award on your first book. I was amazed on how many people have identified with my Catholic rearing struggles, even men. Some of my stories were very difficult to write about. I thought life is Liberia was challenging, but life back home was not very welcoming as you will find out. Thanks again for your interest in my book.
      Susan

  • So happy for you! Well deserved for a wonderful book and a wonderful life of service. A tribute to the Nursing Profession. You make
    us proud! Joan Olson RNBSN

    • Hello Joan, so nice to hear from you. Yes nursing is certainly a lifetime of service. I volunteer wherever I can, including covid vaccinations at the moment. The best to you.

  • CONGRATULATIONS! 🎉 Well done! This is an amazing story you tell and is a must read for anyone wanting to do service missions in impoverished countries anywhere. So proud of you!

    • Hello Terri,
      Thank you for reading my story and being one of my supporters. Thank you also for the work you are doing in Liberia. The support of your school project with your Liberian counterpart, William, is truly remarkable. Your story about William’s escape from Liberia during the civil war will be published in our FOL (Friends of Liberia) Anthology in 2022. I can’t wait for people to read this story that truly demonstrates the strength and resilience of the Liberian people.

  • Hello Joan, so nice to hear from you. Yes nursing is certainly a lifetime of service. I volunteer wherever I can, including covid vaccinations at the moment. The best to you.

  • Susan: I absolutely wallowed in your book!!! You truly deserve all kudos you receive. The narrative took me right back to the years “incountry” in a different era, and I went willingly, carried on your story back to my own. Thank you, Thank you!!

    • Hello Kathleen, it was great to see you this year and I’m glad that you got to finish the book. It took a lot of Blood Sweat and Tears as the saying goes. Thank you for your compliments.

  • Congratulations, Susan. Well deserved for your honest and fascinating memoir. Of course, we expect that this won’t be your last blue ribbon as the editor of the PC Liberia 60th Anniversary Anthology. Thanks for all you do to introduce people to Liberia as we knew it.

    • Hello Pat, thank you for your kind comments. Yes, my book has introduced a whole new audience to the service of the Peace Corps as well as the wonderful country and people of Liberia. I am proud to have been asked to lead the Anthology project for Peace Corps Liberia’s 60th anniversary. The stories from a variety of writers who have lived or live in Liberia over the past years are absolutely compelling. Everyone will want to read this when it is released in the summer of 2022.

  • In Search of Pink Flamingos brought me into the moment, the place, and the situation. Susan Greisen’s words made me feel what she was feeling. This is the great challenge of writing, and I appreciated the author’s honest, humble and humorous perspectives.
    It was a terrific adventure, as much as it was a gentle consolation. A delightful gift.
    Thank you for sharing a bit of your life experience with the world, Susan. It is our stories, the ones we share with humanity, that help us to learn, to enjoy, to wonder, to re-think, to grow and to value the human experience, in all its complexities.

    • Hearing your comments Barbara, from a trained physician, means so much to me. With little medical knowledge back in my days in Liberia, I did the best I could, and evidently I brought the reader with me on my journey. I don’t think I’d be a very good fiction writer. I write what is true and honest from my heart and that’s what sings to me.

      You are an excellent writer in your own right. I can’t wait for our Peace Corps Liberia Anthology to be published in 2022 and for readers to read your story of your wonderful service in Liberia.

  • This is quite simply the finest recounting of the Peace Corps experience that I have ever read. More than that though, it is a heartfelt story of a young woman overcoming the adversity of a harsh, cold upbringing and prevailing over emotional trauma that would crush a weaker soul. In Search of Pink Flamingos richly deserves the Chanticleer International Book Award (CIBA) 2020 in the category of narrative non-fiction/memoir as well as the Best Peace Corps Memoir Book Award for 2020.

    I was fortunate enough to know Susan Greisen at Dorothea Bay on St. Thomas in 1971 and the moment I started reading In Search of Pink Flamingos, it’s as if 50 years simply disappeared and I was once again a 24-year-old setting off on the adventure of a lifetime.

    As Susan described landing at Robertsfield, I was once again feeling the sense of awe and excitement that came from the plane doors opening in Dakar and smelling that unique African atmosphere of wood smoke, open sewers, new spices and for Dakar, the salty ocean. Then on to Ouagadougu for a meal stop where I first encountered brains – thanks, but no thanks – and finally Niamey, Niger where it felt as if I had stepped into a blast furnace when the doors were opened.

    Susan’s descriptions of going to Zorgowee mirrored my arrival in Gazoua where my partner and I were the first and only whites to ever live there. We, too, were treated to a welcoming banquet as the guests of honor, and I will never forget our hosts lifting the pot lid to uncover a complete sheep’s head bubbling away. The eye balls and brains were a hard “no thanks” but we upheld the graces by finding meat to pick from the skull.

    Susan’s book is a heartfelt, honest reply to JFK’s challenge to “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” A remarkable book by a remarkable woman.

  • Hello Paul,
    So wonderful to reconnect with you again through my book. Even though we lived several countries apart in remote Africa, many of our experiences were similar. The tougher the job seems to be, the depth of passion and love for it seems to grow deeper. Thank you for your kind comments about my memoir. I’m so thrilled you were able to find me and my book, and to locate your name embedded in my fond memories was probably an even greater surprise. All the best to you and your family.

  • I so enjoyed reading Susan’s adventure in Africa! Her endurance and positive attitude despite the challenges was incredible. Wonderful read!

  • I so enjoyed reading Susan’s adventure in Africa! Her endurance and positive attitude despite the challenges was incredible. Wonderful read! I recommend

    • Hello Marla, thank you for your kind comments and nice to meet you when I was the guest author at your book club. The Q&A session brought me right back to my village 50 years ago. I look forward to attending more book clubs. The virtual book clubs have been fantastic. They even get to enjoy a slideshow.

  • “In search of Pink Flamingos” is an honest remembrance that is told “warts and all.” It is the “Moby Dick” of Peace Corps memoirs. Susan Greisen does not overlook or give short-shrift to all those aspects of life in Liberia that other authors might avoid. She tells of “loving business,” polygyny, and the reliance on magic in Liberian culture. But neither does she shrink from confronting the racist sentiments that were a part of her own childhood growing up in Nebraska. And yet, she is also able to convey the many positive aspects of that childhood and how those memories remain close to her heart. That part of “Pink Flamingos” will be familiar to most members of the Baby Boom Generation. It is the story of growing up in America during the Fifties and Sixties.

    But the heart of her book is the exquisite detail in which she relates both the wonder and occasional scariness of her Peace Corps service. And she does it with so much understanding, compassion, and love. “Pink Flamingos” truly captures the Peace Corps experience as no other book I have read. It is a transcendent work. It enabled me relive my own experience as a Language Arts teacher and Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, a service that pales in comparison to the life and death struggles Ms. Greisen faced almost daily as a Health Volunteer in Zorgowee. I am filled with equal portions of admiration and wonder. She personally saved lives while simultaneously built an infrastructure of knowledge and skills that continued saving lives long after she had completed her service.

    I also loved how Ms. Greisen’s memoir comes round in the end to the picture of pink flamingos on the wall of Louie’s Italian Restaurant in Kanton, Nebraska, a photograph that inspired her as a child.

    I highly recommend this book.

    J. W. Miller, Ph.D.
    Associate Professor
    Air Command & Staff College (Retired)

    • Hello John,
      It was nice meeting you on the Friends of Liberia Zoom reunion last month. And by the way, I don’t mind my book being mentioned alongside Moby-Dick. One thing about me that people may or may not know, is that I don’t sugarcoat many things, even describing my own pitfalls. As I mentioned in my book, Liberia and Liberians taught me more than I ever hoped to have taught them. May we all keep searching for our own pink flamingos.

  • Thank you for sharing your remarkable journey with us all. “In Search of Pink Flamingos” is honest and brave, and highlights the complicated weave of family, culture, and individual spirit that makes each person who they are.

  • Hello Jessie, thank you for your comments and nice seeing you at the book club that featured my memoir. Hearing your comments from someone of the younger generation means so much to me. Enjoy your journey through life; you have so much yet to explore.

Leave a Reply to Marla Hayes Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Copyright © 2019. Peace Corps Worldwide.