Reviewed by Cynthia Mosca (Ethiopia 1967-69)
When a friend finds out I was in the Peace Corps, I often hear, “Oh, I thought about that. I even filled out the application.” 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 in 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, through 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.