Welcome to “The Dead Chicken Dance and Other Peace Corps Tales.” I am presently on a two month tour of the Mediterranean and other areas so I thought I would fill my blog space with one of the greatest adventures I have ever undertaken: a two-year tour as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, West Africa. Every two days I will post a new story in book format.
When I have finished, I will publish the book digitally and in print.
Now we were disembarking at JFK in New York City, two country kids who had traveled a long way from Diamond Springs and Auburn California. All we had to do was check in at the Pan Am desk, grab a bite to eat, and catch our trans-Atlantic flight to Africa.
Ah that life should be so simple. Oh we managed to find the Pan Am desk all right, but no one was there.
“Excuse me, could you tell me where the Liberia Peace Corps group is?” I asked a harried attendant.
“I don’t have any idea,” was the brusque reply.
Have you ever had the sinking feeling that you have blown something critically important? It starts with the hair on your head and works its way downward to your toes. Every part of your body jumps in to let you know you aren’t nearly as smart as you imagine you are. It’s the stomach that serves as the real messenger, however, and mine was rolling like the Atlantic in a hurricane.
“Check the instructions again, Curt,” the voice of reason standing beside me directed. Good idea.
“Well, it says right here we are supposed to be at the Pan Am desk no later than 5 PM.” It was only 4. My stomach calmed down to a respectable jet engine rumble. “Let’s have a bite and check back.” I suggested, working hard to be the man.
Five PM came and no one, nothing, nada; it was serious panic time. “Wait here Jo in case anyone comes. I’ll go check the instructions one more time.”
We had stuffed our bags in a drop-a-quarter-in-the-slot storage locker while we ate. I freed my shoulder bag from captivity and reread the instructions. Yes, we were in the right place at the right time. Then there it was, the answer, staring at me in black and white. “You will fly to New York on August 7th.”
It was the 8th.
Damn! I slowly climbed back up the stairs.
“I’ve found them Jo Ann.” A look of relief and the beginning of a smile crossed her face.
“Where are they?”
Let me say this about the two of us; we were both stubborn as mules when we thought we were right. This could create problems when we disagreed but the potential for disaster was miniscule in comparison to when we both agreed we were right and we weren’t. Reality didn’t matter and certainly a little date on a piece of paper we had each read a dozen times wasn’t going to deter us.
The 7th was our going away party in Auburn, period. While we were kicking up our heels and smelling the honeysuckle, our compatriots were crossing the Atlantic to Africa. Now we were left behind, very alone and stuck in New York City.
“What are we going to do?” Jo asked in a shaky voice. The only thing that came to my mind was a double vodka anything.
It was probably a good thing United Airlines let us on the airplane in San Francisco without noticing our tickets were one day out of date. Had we called Washington from home, the Peace Corps may have been tempted to say, “Why don’t you just stay there.”
The representative sounded amused when we called the emergency number in Washington after our visit to the bar. “Did we have enough money to get through until tomorrow?” Yes. Jo Ann’s mom had insisted we take an extra hundred dollars in cash from her. “OK, call this number in the morning.”
We decided to sleep in the airport to save our scant resources. It was a resolution with a short lifespan. I had one extremely unhappy young wife on my hands and my sleeping habits were unwilling to accommodate a deserted airport lounge.
Somewhere around midnight I said, “Look, Jo, I am going to see if a cab driver will help us find a hotel we can afford.”
The first guy in line was a grizzled old character in a taxi of similar vintage. I told him our story. He studied me for a moment and then said, “Go get your wife and I’ll find somewhere for you.
A more cynical observer might note we were lambs waiting to be fleeced but what followed was one of those minor events that speak so loudly for the positive side of human nature. The taxi driver took care of us. He reached across the cab, turned off his meter and then drove to three different hotels. At each one he got out, went inside and talked to the manager. At the third one he came out and announced he had found our lodging.
“This place isn’t fancy,” he reported, “but it is clean, safe and affordable.” Affordable turned out to be dirt-cheap. To this day I am sure the cab driver finessed a deal for us. Two very exhausted puppies fell into bed and deep sleep.
The Peace Corps representative we talked to the next morning wasn’t nearly as friendly as the one the night before but at least he didn’t tell us we had to go home. A commercial flight to Liberia would be leaving in three days.
“Could we hang out in New York? Did he need to send us some money? Could we follow directions?”
Yes we could hang out; no, they didn’t need to send money, and yes we could find our way to the proper airline at the correct time on the right day. Jo and I visited the New York World’s Fair, checked out the City and considered the three days as an extension of our all too short honeymoon.
As the old saying goes, all is well that ends well.