My Peace Corps Memoir

The Pitch:

A few months ago I attended a ‘Pitchapalooza.’  An area bookstore had the authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.  They call themselves ‘the book doctors’ and would be judges for the ‘Pitchapalooza.’  I immediately signed up to attend and expressed an interest in presenting my pitch.  I also reserved a copy of the book.

The promotion for the event said that the pitch must we one minute only.  Having no idea what a pitch might contain, I did some internet research and came up with this:

The Baby Blue Samsonite.

The time is 1967 and the Vietnam War is raging.  I am in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer.  My Memoir is a travel adventure about that two years and my return trip through Asia and Europe.  During this time I experience new foods, a new culture, new love, and unbelievable adventures.  My adventure starts as a young country girl of 19 and I return home as a young woman of 22; with experiences that have lasted a live time.

Follow the innocent Baby Blue Samsonite as it travels from high school graduation gift to its final demise after two years in the Philippines.  Watch my culinary growth develop from a very limited New England diet into a connoisseur of all types of ethnic foods.  Hear my reflections on war, politics and religion.  Watch me fall in love with the Big Island of Hawaii and feel my defeat when I am on a Philippine Island, yet not near the ocean.  You’ll see me make stupid mistakes and take ill-advised risks and do things I never dreamed possible.  In the end, I will learn some lessons well and other will be discarded like my Baby Blue Samsonite.

I had hoped to make a trip to the bookstore to buy the book ahead of the event but never got there until that day.  I sat in the coffee shop having lunch and reading about the pitch.  I rewrote this:

My Memoir is the Eat, Pray, Love of a young Peace Corps Volunteer in the late 60’s.  Follow me and my Baby Blue Samsonite as we travel from high school graduation to Hawaii and through two years in the Philippines as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Watch me experience new foods, a new culture, and fall in love.  I’ll take ill-advised risks and do things I never dreamed possible.  To return home, I will continue the adventure with a one of a kind trip through Asia and Europe where I finally discard my Baby Blue Samsonite.  I will have experiences that will last a life time and in the end my Baby Blue Samsonite will be replace.

The event was very well attended but I still had hopes that I would get to give my pitch.  The panel hearing and critiquing each presentation was made up of the book authors Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, a lady from Storey Books and another lady in charge of the bookstores children’s section.  I was one of the lucky ones and about half way through the presentation my name was called.  By that time I was nervous and a bit muddled.  I said some combination of the above two samples.

Their critique was that I needed to give actual examples of my experiences.  They said that the Baby Blue Suitcase theme was interesting and that I probably had an interesting memoir.  I was encouraged and once I returned home, I rewrote my pitch as follows:

The Baby Blue Suitcase: A Peace Corps Memoir.

Follow the innocent Baby Blue Suitcase as it travels from high school graduation gift to Peace Corps training in Hawaii where I will fall in love with Hawaii and spend many weekends sleeping on a sandy beach with my new friends.  My Baby Blue Suitcase will act as my dresser in the Philippines where I will quickly learn how to kill two inch cockroaches and the worst place to sit on the buses traveling from Manila to Baguio.  I’ll learn how to eat balute and to drink warm beer.  I’ll climb nearly vertical rice terraces to reach a bathing pond in the mountains. I’ll live through typhoons and an earthquake.  I’ll date, have an affair and be left not sure if I should stay or leave at the end of my tour.

On the way home, I’ll see the tall buildings and brilliant streets of Hong Kong to the poor people living on the streets of old Delhi.  I’ll spend a week at an international drug hostel in Afghanistan and fall for a Texas gun buyer in Greece.  Along the way my Baby Blue Suitcase will be left behind for a backpack.  In the end, I will have had an experience of a lifetime and gained much more than I gave.


About Donna Strobridge Ianni

RPCV Philippines '67-'69
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