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.
Boy was a large, brindle dog with questionable parentage and a serious problem. He didn’t like black people. He lived with a Peace Corps Volunteer named Holly, who also had a dog named Lolita. Boy came into our life when Lolita had puppies and drove him off. She believed he would eat her children.
Boy went out looking for other white people to live with and found Jo Ann and me.
Normally, I wouldn’t have cared. One more dog wasn’t going to make much difference given our menagerie of three dogs and Rasputin the Cat. It was Boy’s attitude that bothered me. It wasn’t very Peace Corp-like to have your dog attack Liberians when they came to visit.
Boy also had an issue with Rasputin; he regarded him as prey. I initiated several civil discussions with the dog about his bad habits and suggested he might end up in Liberian soup, but all he did was growl. Once, when he had Rasputin cornered, I slapped him on the butt. He almost took my hand off. Consequently, I wasn’t sympathetic when the soldiers arrived.
They were standing outside our house, waving their guns around, when Jo and I came home from teaching.
“What’s up?” I asked in my most official Peace Corps voice. You learned early on not to mess with Liberian soldiers. Even the government refused to issue them bullets.
“Your dog ate one of the Superintendent’s Guinea Fowl,” their sergeant mumbled ominously. The Superintendent of Bong County was the equivalent to a governor except that he had more power. He lived a quarter-mile away and his Guinea Fowl strutted around freely in the government compound.
“Which one?” I asked innocently.
“What does it matter which Guinea Fowl the dog ate?” Sarge sneered.
“No, no,” I responded, “I meant which dog.”
He glared at me for a moment and then pointed at Boy. I relaxed. It didn’t seem like Do Your Part, Brownie Girl or Puppy Doodle would have done in the Supe’s Guinea Fowl. They were three of the best-fed dogs in Gbarnga.
“Why don’t you arrest him?” I offered hopefully.
“Not him,” he shouted. “You. You come with us!” Apparently the interview wasn’t going the way the soldier wanted. A Liberian might have been beaten by then. I decided it was time to end the conversation.
“Look,” I said, “that dog does not belong to me. He belongs across town. I am not going anywhere with you.” With that I walked into our house and closed the door. It was risky but not as risky as going off with the soldiers. They grumbled around outside for a while and finally left.
Jo and I relaxed “small,” as the Liberians would say, but really didn’t feel safe until that evening. It was a six-beer night. Finally, around ten, we went to bed believing we had beaten the rap.
WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!
“What in the hell was that?” I yelled as I jumped out of bed. It was pitch black and four o’clock in the morning.
WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!
“Someone is pounding on our back door,” Jo Ann whispered, sounding as frightened as I felt.
I grabbed our baseball bat, headed for the door, and yanked it open. Soldiers were everywhere. The same friendly sergeant from the night before was standing there with the butt of his rifle poised to strike our door again.
“Your dog ate another one of the Superintendents guinea fowls,” he proclaimed to the world. I could tell he was ecstatic about the situation. He had probably tossed the bird over the fence to Boy.
“This time you are going with us!” he growled.
In addition to being frightened, I was growing tired of the routine. “I am sorry you are having such a hard time guarding guinea fowls,” I said, trying to sound reasonable, “but I explained to you yesterday that the dog does not belong to me and I am not going anywhere with you. Ask Mr. Bonal and he will tell you the dog is not ours.”
Usually the ballsy approach gets you in more trouble. This time it worked.
I closed the door and held my breath. Sarge was not happy. He and his soldiers buzzed around outside like angry hornets. Still, yanking a Peace Corps Volunteer out of his house and dragging him off in the middle of the night over a guinea fowl could have serious consequences, much more serious than merely reporting back that I was uncooperative. I could see the headlines:
Soldiers Beats Peace Corps Volunteer Because Dog Eats Guinea Fowl Liberian Ambassador Called to White House to Explain
That would have been right up there with “Peace Corps Volunteer Beaten because Dog Invades Mosque!” How did I get myself into these things? I hoped the sergeant shared my perspective. At a minimum, I figured he would check with Bonal. John might not appreciate being awakened in the middle of the night but it would serve him right for laughing when I had told him the guinea fowl story the night before. Anyway, I suspected he was up and watching the action.
We had a very nervous thirty minutes before the soldiers finally marched off. In the US, this is the point where you would be calling your attorney, your mother, and the local TV station. Here, my only backups were the Peace Corps Representative and Doctor: one to represent me, the other to patch me back together.
Happily, our part of the ordeal was over. It turned out that Peter, a young Liberian who worked for Holly, actually owned Boy. The soldiers finally had someone they could bully.
Peter was pulled into court and fined for Boy’s heinous crimes. Boy, in turn, was sold to some villagers to cover the cost of the fine. As for Boy’s fate, he was guest of honor at a village feast. Being a Bad Dog in Liberia had rather serious consequences.