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.
Rasputin had grown into one fine tomcat, sweet meat as my kids said. He did not grieve over Boy’s untimely demise, quite the opposite. Now he could resume his rightful role as Dominant Animal.
His primary responsibility under this job title was dog stalker. You knew when he was at work because the neighborhood dogs carefully avoided the tall clumps of grass where he liked to hide. He was particularly obnoxious when it was windy. He could hide down wind and make it more difficult for the dogs to sniff him out. I felt for the poor dog that came too close.
A streak of yellow and a yip of surprise proclaimed his attack. What made his behavior particularly strange was that he came at the dogs on his two hind legs, walking upright. This allowed both front legs to be used as slashing weapons. It was the wise dog that steered clear.
This wasn’t Rasputin’s only trick. He could also do flips. I had taught him how and was quite proud of my accomplishment. Each night Rasputin and I would head for the bedroom where I would flip him several times in a row on the bed. He was usually good for about ten before he would attack me, thus signaling that the game was over.
Jo thought it was cruel but I told her it was quality bonding time. It also turned out to be a valuable skill. One evening when the ricebirds were returning to their nests we saw a yellow flash out the window. Rasputin leapt into the air, did a flip and came down with bird a la carte. After that I figured Rasputin had graduated so we didn’t practice anymore.
Another game we played was leap snake. It was quite similar to leap-frog except the objective was to see how high Rasputin could jump in the air. On a good night he would clear five feet.
The rules of the game were that I would detach the spring from our screen door and roll it across the floor. Rasputin, who had a Liberian’s instincts, assumed that anything long and twisty was a snake and that all snakes were deadly poisonous. His response was to shoot straight into the air and land several feet away. It was one of those situations where you leap first and ask questions afterward. In this case, Rasputin was guilty of jumping to the wrong conclusions.
One way he returned the favor of my hassling him was to wake me up at 5:30 in the morning, demanding to be let in. He did this by practicing his operatic meows under our bedroom window.
Since no amount of suggesting that he should learn from Boy’s experience discouraged him, I jumped out of bed one morning and chased him across the yard. This got Jo Ann excited. Our cat was going to run away and never come back. Jo may have also been concerned about the neighbor’s reaction to me charging out of the house naked. That type of thing bothered her. I promised to repent and assured her that the cat would be back in time for dinner. He was.
I think Rasputin subcontracted with the rooster next door to wake us when he was out tomcatting. I didn’t make this correlation until the rooster crowed directly under our window one morning at 5:30. Even then I thought it was just a coincidence until the rooster repeated himself the next morning.
It wasn’t just the crowing that irritated me; it was the nature of the crow. American and European roosters go cock-a-doodle-do. Even urban children know this because that’s how it is spelled out in books. Liberian roosters go cock-a-doodle… and stop. You are constantly waiting for the other ‘do’ to drop.
“This crowing under our window,” I thought to myself, “has to be nipped in the bud.”
That evening I filled a bucket with water and put it next to my bed. Sure enough at 5:30 the next morning there he was: “COCK-A-DOODLE!” I jumped up, grabbed my bucket, and threw the water out the window on the unsuspecting fowl. “Squawk!” I heard as one very wet and irritated rooster headed home as fast as his little rooster legs could carry him.
“Chicken,” I yelled out after his departing body. “And that,” I said to Jo Ann, “should be the end of that particular problem.”
I was inspired though. Cats don’t think much of getting wet either. What if I kept a bucket of water next to the bed and dumped it on Rasputin the next time he woke us up. Jo couldn’t even blame me for running outside naked. With warm thoughts of having solved two problems with one bucket, I went to bed that night loaded for cat, so to speak.
“COCK-A-DOODLE” roared the rooster outside our window precisely at 5:30.
“Damn,” I thought, “that boy is one slow learner.”
I fell out of bed, grabbed the bucket and dashed for the window. There was no rooster there. I looked up and spotted him about half the way to Bonal’s house. He was running at full tilt across the yard away from our window. He had slipped up on us, crowed and taken off! My opinion of the rooster took a paradigm leap. Here was one worthy opponent. The question was how to respond.
It took me a couple of days of devious thinking to arrive at a solution. What would happen if I recorded the rooster on a tape recorder and then played it back? I had a small hand tape recorder that I used for exchanging letters with my dad so I set myself the task of capturing the rooster’s fowl language. Since he had an extensive harem he liked to crow about, it wasn’t long before I had a dozen or so cock-a-doodles on tape. I rewound it, cranked up the volume and set the recorder up next to our front screen door.
The results were hilarious. Within seconds the rooster was on our porch, jumping up and down and screaming ‘cock-a-doodle.’ There was a rooster inside of our house that had invaded his territory and he was going to tear him apart, feather-by-feather. Laughing I picked up the recorder, rewound it, carried to the back screen door, and hit the play button.
“Cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle,” I could hear the rooster as he roared around to the back of house to get at his implacable foe. Back and forth I went, front to back, back to front. And around and around the house the rooster went, flinging out his challenges.
Finally, having laughed myself to exhaustion, I took pity on my feathered friend and shut the recorder off. This just about concludes the rooster story, but not quite.
One Friday evening, Jo and I had been celebrating the end of another week with gin and tonics until the wee hours when we decided to see how the rooster would respond to his nemesis at one o’clock in the morning. Considering our 5:30 am wakeup calls, we felt there was a certain amount of justice in the experiment. I set it up the recorder and played a “Cock-a-doodle.”
“COCK-A-DOODLE?!” was the immediate response. No challenge was to go unanswered. “Cock-a-doodle” we heard as roosters from the Superintendent’s compound checked in. “Cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle” we heard in the distance as town roosters rose to the challenge. Soon every rooster in Gbarnga was awake, and probably every resident.
Jo and I decided to keep our early morning rooster-arousing episode to ourselves.