Chapter 11: My Name Is Captain Die… Peace Corps Tales

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.

Young kids were always curious about how Peace Corps Volunteers lived. The smallest girl in this photo (third from right) was about the size of the girl who kept her nose glued to our screen door. This group insisted that we take their “picha.” 

In my last post, I ended up with Crazy Flumo wrapped around my ankles while his compatriots rooted him on.

Fortunately, my adventures for the day were over. I bought kerosene, found a bug poison so potent it was outlawed it in the US and discovered such fine culinary treats as canned beef from Argentina and Club Beer, the national brew.

Jo Ann and Sam beat back the bug-a-bug and arrived at an uneasy truce with the cockroaches. They would limit their forays until after we had gone to bed and stay out of our bedroom. In return, we would only kill those we could reasonably stomp without tearing our house down.

For a while, I maintained a squashed cockroach account on a paper I taped to the door. Somewhere around 70, I gave up.

I have a grudging respect for cockroaches. To start with, they have a bit of seniority over man, some 300 million years worth. Back before dinosaurs roamed the earth, cockroaches were hiding out in all of the nooks and crannies and they will probably be around long after humankind has gone the way of the big lizards. There are reportedly somewhere between 3500 and 4000 species crawling around and each one has a shot at survival.

Compare that with our odds.

Anyway, there we were… one happy little family, cockroaches and all. Jo and I were about to begin our career as elementary school teachers. Captain Die got to us first.

Captain Die was a well digger who was said to have spent too much time in dark holes. Our well was one of his jobs. He had dug it for our predecessors, two female Volunteers. Afterwards, he began stopping by to visit the women and bum cigarettes.

Therefore, it was no surprise when he appeared on our doorstep shortly after we moved in. His introduction was unique.

“Hello, my name is Captain Die. My name is Captain Die because I am going to die some day. This is my dog, Rover. Roll over Rover. Give me a cigarette.” Rover, who was a big ugly dog of indeterminate parenthood, dutifully rolled over.

It made quite an impression.

We explained to Captain Die that neither of us smoked but invited him in to share some ice tea we had just brewed. We gave the Captain a glass and he took a huge swallow. I have no idea what he thought he was getting but it wasn’t Lipton’s. He thought we were trying to poison him.

A look of terror crossed his face and he spat the ice tea out in a forceful spray that covered half the kitchen and us. Dripping wet, we found ourselves caught between concern, laughter and dismay. The Captain marched out of our house in disgust with Rover close behind.

In addition to having found our predecessors an excellent supply of tobacco, Captain Die was quite taken with one of them.  While the story may have been apocryphal, we were told he appeared at the door when Maryanne’s parents were visiting from the States. Captain Die was a man on a mission.  He was going to request Maryanne’s hand in marriage.

I’ve always imagined the scene as follows.

Maryanne’s parents are sitting in the living room on the Salvation Army chairs making a game attempt at hiding their culture shock when this big black man and his ugly dog appear at the screen door.

Maryanne jumps up and says, “Oh Mom and Dad, I would like you to meet my friend, Captain Die.” Mom and Dad, brainwashed by Emily Post, and wishing to appear nonchalant, quickly stand up with strained smiles on their faces.

Captain Die grabs Dad’s hand and tries to snap his finger at the same time proclaiming, “Hello, my name is Captain Die. My name is Captain Die because I am going to die some day. This is my dog Rover. Roll over Rover. Give me your daughter.”

No one told me how Maryanne’s parents responded to the good Captain’s offer so I will leave the ending up to the reader’s imagination. I can report that Maryanne was not whisked out of the country by her mom and dad.

In addition to the certifiable types who found PCVs an easy target, there were a lot of folks who were just plain curious about how we lived. One little girl would have put a cat to shame. I never could figure out where she came from.

She would stand on our porch with her nose pressed against the screen door and stare at us for what seemed like hours. After a while it would become disconcerting and I’d suggest she go home. She would disappear but then I’d look up and there she’d be again, little nose pressed flat.

Finally, deciding more drastic measures were called for, I picked up my favorite folding chair and plopped it down a foot from the door. Then I sat down and initiated a stare back campaign. I lowered my head and moved forward until I was even with her head and about five inches away. The little nose slowly moved backward, suddenly turned around and took off at a fast gallop.

After that she watched the weird people from across the street.

Next post: We begin our assignment as elementary school teachers.

10 comments on “Chapter 11: My Name Is Captain Die… Peace Corps Tales

  1. These are a great read… Growing up where I did, we had Peace Corps volunteers. They never seemed to stay long in our area, alas.

    Oh, and cockroaches. The size of small dogs, that flew… and that found you while you slept.

      • In the South Pacific, just north of the equator in Micronesia — the Kwajalein Atoll, on Kwajalein Island proper. It was 3.5 miles long by .5 miles wide. Yup. In the middle of lots and lots of OCEAN. I’m sure I’ll be writing about it soon. 🙂

        Oh the roaches. Oh the roaches. They flew, crawled all over you… My hair was in braids till I was 15, b/c they got tangled in it. And they were enormous. That’s what happens when you grow up in the tropics. The real tropics.

  2. Loving this story.. Captain Die seems to have struck out at bat 3 times.. no wife, hated the tea and no smokes..Poor guy and I would love to have seen the look on Maryanne’s parent’s faces when he saunters in and introduced himself..priceless I’m sure…

  3. Great writing Curt. And I love that photo! Cockroaches! I got my fill at Virginia Tech. But, unlike yours, at least my cockroaches were shy enough to seek cover when the lights went on. Now, the mice in my tent when I was camp counselor were also shy, but they just couldn’t help themselves– they had to let you know they were on board by leaving little droppings on the pillow, the platform railing, tooth brushes…..
    Have a great cruise! Love to Peg, John and Frances and you — from Bill and me.

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