A Short Lesson on Cats and Guacamole… The Peace Corps Series

This week marks the beginning of a new blog about my experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia West Africa from 1965-67. I am using a WordPress theme designed to look and read like a book. Each week I will post a new chapter. When I have completed the book, I will publish it both digitally and in print. Visit me at http://liberiapeacecorps.com/ to read the first and subsequent chapters.

This week I will post three different short stories about Liberia on this blog, “Wandering in Time and Place,” to give my readers a sample of what to expect on the new blog and in the book. Today’s story: A Short Lesson on Cats and Guacamole.

The cultural anthropologist James Gibbs was living in Gbarnga while he was studying the Kpelle people. Sam, our houseboy, worked for him as an informant on tribal customs.

One evening James and his wife Jewelle invited my wife Jo Ann and me over for dinner. It was our first invitation out as Peace Corps Volunteers.  I should also note we were still at the point of being recent college graduates and somewhat awed by academicians.

We dressed up in our best clothes and walked a mile down the dirt road past Massaquoi Elementary School to where they lived.

The Gibbs had an impressive house for upcountry Liberia. They were sophisticated, nice folks who quickly put us at ease. Among the hors d’oeuvres they were serving was a concoction of mashed avocado, tomatoes and hot peppers that Jo and I found quite tasteful. We made the mistake of asking what it was.

“Why it’s guacamole of course,” Dr. Gibbs declared. We must have looked blank because he went on, “Surely anyone from California knows what guacamole is.”

Surely we didn’t. I felt like Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl when she learned that pate was mashed chicken liver. It was 1965 and Mexican food had yet to storm Northern California. Yes, we’d graduated from UC Berkeley but dining out on our survival budget meant beer and pizza at La Val’s or a greasy hamburger at Kip’s.

To change the subject I called attention to their cat.

“Nice cat,” I noted.

Mrs. Gibbs gushed. “Oh, that’s Suzy. She’s in love.”

Dr. Gibbs jumped in, obviously glad to leave the subject of guacamole. “The boys are coming by every night to visit. We hear them yowl their affection up on the roof.”

Suzie looked quite proud of her accomplishments. Having been properly introduced, she strolled over and rubbed up against my legs. I reached down and scratched her head, which served as an invitation to climb into my lap. While arranging herself, Suzie provided me with a tails-eye view. Staring back at me was the anatomy of the most impressive tomcat I’ve ever seen. Suzie had the balls of a goat!

I could hardly contain myself. “Um, Suzie isn’t Suzie,” I managed to get out while struggling to maintain a straight face.

“What do you mean Suzie isn’t Suzie?” Dr. Gibbs asked in a voice meant to put impertinent grad students in their place. Rather than respond verbally, I turned the cat around and aimed his tail at Dr. Gibbs. Understanding flitted across his face.

“We never thought to look,” he mumbled lamely. We were even. While the kids from the hills might not know their guacamole from mashed avocados, they did know basic anatomy.

(Note… I may have Suzie’s name wrong after all of these years but the cat definitely had a female name.)

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