In Search of Pink Flamingos is a two-time award winning memoir: 1st place (a blue ribbon) from Chanticleer International Book Awards (CIBA) 2020 and Best Peace Corps Memoir Book Award 2020-21 by Peace Corps Worldwide (PCW). Click on this link to learn more.
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How it all started
Defying my parents’ demands, I arrive in Liberia in 1971 fully aware I will be the only white person in a remote village. My quest for Africa begins as a little girl when an exotic framed picture of pink flamingos captures my imagination.
Escaping my fate to become a farmer’s wife, I leave my rural Nebraska farm at age nineteen, naïve, idealistic and determined as a Peace Corps volunteer to “help save the people in Africa.” With a suitcase full of farm-smarts and a license to be a practical nurse, 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 I 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.
The Best Place on Earth – the Nebraska Farm
Easter Sunday – Brother Bob (6), Mom, and me (2) posing proudly in our finest. Fond memories of my early childhood confirmed that the farm was the best place on earth.
At age nineteen, I became a Licensed Practical Nurse and proudly held a newborn in my first postpartum rotation in 1970
I joined the Peace Corps in 1971 and chose the remote village of Zorgowee, knowing I would be the only white person serving a needy population in Liberia.
Liberia in West Africa
First Weeks in Zorgowee
As a novelty among the village, children inquisitively watched me closely for days.
2018 Google Maps image of Zorgowee, Liberia
Around 2013, Google Maps had only about four major towns and cities of labeled in all of Liberia. Zorgowee was not named. With the iconic Yar River and wooden bridge, I was able to locate my village of Zorgowee. However, when I checked again in 2018, I found my village now marked and my house still standing, circled below.
The Zor Clan Map images
Below is my original 1971 drawing of the uncharted 16 walk-in villages of the Zor Clan of which Zorgowee is the governing center. Last photographed in 2018, Google Maps now names some of these villages. My sense of direction back then was quite accurate walking through the dense rain forest without a compass.
In my two year assignment as a Health Educator, I demonstrated to a mother how to supplement the diet of a set of twin boys. Twins often have a poor survival rate in Liberia. However, with our clinic’s help, Sekou and his brother, Moussa, grew into happy healthy boys. Their proud father with his big smile. (1973)
Tall Devil Dancing in Zorgowee, Liberia
The majority of the Gio tribe in my village were animists who believed in spirits or ghost-like figures dressed as devils. The mysterious tall devil possessed witching and supernatural powers. He cannot touch a human hand, only that of his entourage of musicians and interpreters. I held a baton between us.
Home movies by Susan E. Greisen – 1972
Music from httpsfilmmusic.io
Tafi Maradi no voice by Kevin MacLeod (httpsincompetech.com)
Licence CC BY (httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby4.0)
Short Devil Dancing in Zorgowee, Liberia
When the short devil came to our village, he too possessed magic powers. He twirled, spun and dipped his raffia skirt until the red laterite dust created a magical aura around him. This was Gio witchcraft at its finest, and its power ran deeper than simply the fear of this scary creature.
West Africa vacation
During my visit to Timbuktu, at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in 1973, I discovered an ancient door decorated with silver and metal that adorned this home during the time when the town was a prosperous hub of trade and literature over 600 years earlier.
Girls Bush School
Girls, as young as 8 years old to age 13, attended Bush School as they entered puberty to educate them about becoming a wife. Unexpectedly, I learned of customs performed by the midwives that I was too young and naive to understand.
Young girls after Bush School. Photographs by Susan E. Greisen – 1972
One Question Still Remains….
“Each of us has our own pink flamingos to search for and find.
More importantly, what meaning will we discover when they are found?”
– Susan E. Greisen