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.
When I have finished, I will publish the stories in digital and print book formats.
With my career as a high school teacher looming, I found it hard to concentrate on the second grade. I did manage to wrap up my final few weeks without whipping anyone else.
A new house came with the new teaching position. It was located on the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) compound two hundred yards away from the high school and about the same distance from where the Peace Corps’ staff lived. Mr. Bonal was our neighbor.
Our new home was quite luxurious; it had electricity, running water and a real toilet. The days of cockroaches playing tag on our butts were past. I flushed the toilet over and over again just to watch the water go down.
The one thing the house needed desperately was a paint job; the previous occupants had felt that purple, green and yellow were quite attractive. Fortunately, we had time to paint. January was the Liberian School system’s summer vacation. This didn’t mean we were free to play like real teachers; Peace Corps expected first year Volunteers to take on a summer project.
Second year Volunteers, on the other hand, were allowed to treat their vacation as a vacation. Most of them flew off to East Africa and the big game parks. One couple, Dick and Sandy Robb, left their four little female kittens to live with us. We became substitute parents. Our pay was to have the pick of the litter. Whoopee.
I built our temporarily adopted cat family a three-story mansion out of cardboard. It was a maze of rooms, hanging toys, hallways and ramps. The kittens would disappear inside and play for long periods. We could hear them banging around as they stalked each other and attacked the hanging toys.
In a creative moment inspired by the evening cocktail hour, we decided to use the house as an intelligence test to determine which kitten we would keep. First we waited until the kittens were appropriately hungry and then brewed up their favorite meal, fish head stew. Here’s the recipe. Take several ripe fish heads and throw them in a pan of boiling water. When their eyes pop out, they’re done.
Next, we encouraged the kittens to sniff their gourmet dinner and showed them that the meal would be located just outside the ground floor door of their mansion. Now we were ready for the test. Each kitten would be placed inside the third story door and given a nudge. We would then close the door and time how long it took the kitten to reach the banquet.
Our theory was that the kitten with the quickest time through the maze of hallways and ramps would be the brightest.
Grey Kitten # 1 was a pudgy little character that never missed a meal. My money was riding on her. She breezed through the maze in three minutes sharp and set the time to beat. There was a chance that the sound of her munching away on fish heads might inspire the other kittens on to even greater glory, however.
Grey Kitten #2 was one of those ‘whatever it is you want me to do I am going to do the opposite’ type cats. Not surprisingly, she strolled out of the door seven minutes later and ignored the food altogether. (Afterwards, we were to speculate that she was the most intelligent cat and blew the race because she had no intention of living with someone who made her go through a maze for dinner.)
Grey Kitten #3 was the lean and mean version. Scrawny might be a better description. She obviously needed dinner the most and proved her mettle by blazing through the house in two minutes. The contest was all but over.
Kitten # 4 was what pollsters normally classify as ‘other.’ To start with, she was yellow instead of grey. She was also loud. In honor of her operatic qualities, Jo had nicknamed her Brunhilda. By the time her turn came up, she was impatiently scratching the hand that was about to feed her and growling in a demonic way. I gladly shoved the little monster in the third story door and closed it. We heard a scrabbling on the other side as tiny claws dug into the cardboard floor. Her race down the first hall was punctuated by a crash on the other end. Brake problems.
Then she was up and running again, but it sounded like toward us. Had her crash disoriented her? Suddenly the third story door burst open and one highly focused yellow kitty went flying through the air. She made a perfect four point landing and dashed to the dinner dish. Her time? Ten seconds.
And that is how Brunhilda came to be our cat. Our decision to keep her led us to turn her over and check out her brunhildahood a little more closely. Turns out she had a couple of furry little protuberances where there shouldn’t have been any. Like Dr. Gibbs’ cat, she was a he. In honor of Brunhilda’s demonic growl and generally obnoxious behavior, we renamed the kitten Rasputin after the nefarious Russian monk.