How Brunhilda the Cat Became Rasputin… A Tale from The Bush Devil Ate Sam

Liberian Peace Corps photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A fading black and white photo shows children in Gbarnga, Liberia mugging for my camera in 1965. Life wasn’t easy– check out the head loads.

In 1965, my first wife, Jo Ann, and I joined the Peace Corps, graduated from UC Berkeley, and flew off to the country of Liberia where we were assigned as elementary school teachers in the upcountry town of Gbarnga. My book, “The Bush Devil Ate Sam” relates our experiences at Berkeley and in Liberia.

January was the Liberian school equivalent of summer vacation and second year Peace Corps Volunteers took full advantage of it by chartering a jet airplane and flying off to East Africa. First year Volunteers were left behind and had to take on a ‘summer’ project.

I decided to write a second-grade reader while JoAnn worked with a blind student.

I had spent my first semester teaching a second-grade class where the children were expected to learn to read out of well-used 1950’s era California readers. It was hard for the kids to relate. The world of Dick and Jane in their big houses with white picket fences and white playmates in no way resembled the life of my kids in Gbarnga, as demonstrated by the photo above. As for Spot, he bore a striking resemblance to food.

I had plunged into my project: researching elementary school readers, gathering African folk tales, and putting together stories about the children that reflected their lives, not those of Dick and Jane. The country Peace Corps staff liked the book I submitted. They agreed to assign me an editor, an expert in elementary school education, and an illustrator. But it wasn’t to be. The government decided that my book on African Folk tales and Liberian children was somehow dangerous, a threat to its one-party state. Peace Corps told me to forget the book and not even bring it up in conversations. I might be kicked out of the country.

Fortunately, I had other things to occupy my mind. Jo and I had been assigned to teach at Gboveh High School our second semester and were moving across town. There were classes to prepare for and our ‘new’ house was in desperate need of a paint job. We had also assumed in loco parentis status. One of the second-year Peace Corps couples, Dick and Sandy Robb, had left four little female kittens to live with us while they flew off to East Africa. Our pay was to have the pick of the litter. Whoopee.

I had built our temporarily adopted cat family a three-story mansion out of cardboard. It was a maze of rooms, hanging toys, hallways and ramps. It even had a carpeted floor and a bathroom— a kitty litter box. 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 we 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 named her Brunhilda, after the Wagnerian opera star. 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 loud 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. 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.

Rasputin surrounded by Rhinoceros beetles.


If you have enjoyed this story and the many other tales I share, you might also enjoy “The Bush Devil Ate Sam.” It’s available in both Kindle and paperback form here on Amazon. For other sources such as Apple, click on the book cover top right.




Happy New Year to Our Friends in the Blogging World!

Fireworks from Burning Man to welcome in the New Year.

Fireworks from Burning Man 2015 to welcome in the New Year.This is a side view of the Man just before he burns.

It’s that time of year when our lives are balanced on the edge of looking back and forward. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions so much as I look backward to see where I have been and forward to see where I am going. The two are obviously closely connected. Normally we continue down the same path; it is a deep rut we have created. But occasionally something knocks us off the beaten track, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Doors close; doors open. I try to live a life of no regrets, or at least as few as possible— life is precious. When I die, I want the last words on my lips to be, “Wow! What a trip,” not “Damn, I wish I would have…”

As bloggers, our lives are more open than most. We share the journeys we are on, both inward and outward— and you have shared much with me in 2015. I’ve been privileged to help raise goats in Virginia, romp with Milo in Australia, worry about a lost cat in England, and wander back in time to World War II. I’ve travelled to the world’s capitals and the remote corners of Africa, Europe, Asia, South America, North America, Australia and New Zealand with both old and new blogging friends. (Over a year qualifies as “old” in the blogging world.)

You’ve allowed me to see the world through your eyes in Nigeria, Knoxville, Southeast Texas, northern Oregon, and ever so many other places. I’ve stood beside you as you have fought Ebola in West Africa, hiked in Patagonia, travelled down the Nile by boat, snorkeled in Iceland and built houses in Nepal. Many of you are superb writers; you’ve shared your poetry and stories and causes as well as your adventures. And many of you are excellent photographers, sharing your life in pictures as well as words.

Thank you.

In return, I’ve taken you backpacking into the Grand Canyon, shared the craziness and beauty of Burning Man, and invited you into my home in southern Oregon. Peggy took you along on her exploration of the Cotswold in England, and I took you up the North Coast of California where we explored subjects ranging from the Grateful Dead to the world of tattooing. I suspect you recall my confrontations with the Nike Missile north of San Francisco. Iggy the Iguana wandered into our living room and onto my blog in Puerto Vallarta. And there were many more adventures. It was all fun for me. I was particularly excited and pleased to share the publishing of my book, The Bush Devil Ate Sam, about my experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia.

Of the many visitors to our home I blog about is the deer herd that lives in our backyard and has become quite fond of apples.

Of the many visitors to our home I blog about is the deer herd that lives in our backyard and has become quite fond of apples.

We travelled from the Bell Tower in Sedona...

We travelled from the beautiful red rock country of Sedona…

To this bower of trees at Point Reyes national Seashore.

To this bower of trees at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Peggy took you on a trip to England that included Gloucester Cathedral hallway that was hues in Harry Potter.

Peggy took you on a trip to England that included a Gloucester Cathedral hallway that was used in Harry Potter.

While I took you to the Potter School in Bodega CA that was used in Alfred Hitchcock's film, The Birds.

While I took you to the Potter School in Bodega, CA that was used in Alfred Hitchcock’s film, The Birds.

Senor Iggy the iguana came to visit us when we were in Puerto Vallarta.

Senor Iggy the iguana came to visit us when we were in Puerto Vallarta.

Altogether, according to WordPress, my posts had 94,000 views from 170 countries in 2015— not monumental in the world of blogging, but definitely enough to please this wanderer.

Here’s what’s on tap for 2016:

  • In January and February I will be blogging about Burning Man 2015 with added thoughts on Burning Man 2016
  • At the end of February, Peggy and I will be travelling to Alaska to see the kick-off of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Anchorage, and the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, both of which I will blog about.
  • From mid-March through May, Peggy and I will make a 10,000-mile road trip around the US and Eastern Canada, retracing the route of my 1989 solo, six-month bicycle trek. I’ll be blogging about both the bike trip and the road trip as we travel.
  • From mid-July to mid-August I will be doing a 250-mile backpack trek from Kennedy Meadows to Mt. Whitney in the Sierra Nevada Mountains following the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail. While I am out, I will be running blogs on past outdoor/wilderness treks. When I get back, I will do a series on the actual Trek. (I’ve done the trip several times, but at 73? Hmmm. Guess we’ll see.)
  • Late August should see us back at Burning Man. After that, who knows?

Here’s wishing each of you a happy and healthy New Year.

Curt and Peggy

NEXT BLOG: We will head off to Burning Man 2015 as promised.

Bush Devils, Juju, and Lightning Men

Liberian Bush Devil photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A Grebo Bush Devil, with his jaws open and teeth showing, was guest of honor at a Haight-Asbury party put on by Liberian Peace Corps Volunteers in 1967. I was quite surprised to find my photo from then being used by the Liberian Observer newspaper a few months ago. It is an interesting article.

The book about my Peace Corps experience in West Africa, The Bush Devil Ate Sam, is now available in printed as well as digital form on Amazon. It’s taken a while to get the print copy. To celebrate, I decided to post a sample chapter from the book and feature the story that gave the book its name. Every month or so, I will post another chapter.

Here is this month’s chapter:

Sam, the young man who worked for us in Liberia, was enamored with western culture. It fired his imagination. He spent hours listening to the Kingston Trio get Charlie off the MTA and dove into peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like a frog dives into water. Still, for all of his excitement about things modern, ancient African was an integral part of who he was. He had the scars to prove it. They marched down his chest in two neat rows.

“How did you get those,” Jo (my former wife) asked with ten percent concern and ninety percent curiosity.

“I can’t tell you,” Sam replied with obvious nervousness as Jo’s eyebrows rose. “But I can tell Mr. Mekemson.”

Aha, I thought, Sam and I belong to the same organization, the Men’s Club! Actually Sam belonged to a very exclusive men’s organization, the Poro Society, which I wasn’t allowed to join. Its functions were to pass on tribal traditions, teach useful skills, and keep errant tribe members in line. Everything about the organization was hush-hush. Tribal members who revealed secrets could be banned and even executed.

Political power on the local level was closely tied to membership in the Poro Society. On the national level, President Tubman assumed leadership of all Poro Societies in Liberia. Tribal women had a similar secret organization called the Sande Society, which prepared young women for adulthood and marriage. A controversial aspect of the Sande initiation ceremony was female genital mutilation— cutting off the clitoris.

Sam got off easy.

He had been to Bush School the previous summer and learned how to be a good Kpelle man. Graduation to adulthood consisted of an all-consuming encounter with the Poro Society’s Bush Devil. It ate him— metaphorically speaking. Sam was consumed as a child and spit out as a man. The scarification marks had been left by the devil’s ‘teeth.’ It seemed like a tough way to achieve adulthood, but at least it was fast and definitive. Maybe we should introduce the process to our kids in the US and skip the teenage years. Think of all of the angst it would avoid.

The Bush Devil was a very important tribal figure who was part religious leader, part cultural cop and part political hack. Non-Kpelle types weren’t allowed to see him. When the Devil came to visit outlying villages, a frontman preceded him and ran circles around the local Peace Corps Volunteer’s house while blowing a whistle. The Volunteer was expected to go inside, shut the door, close the shutters and stay there. No peeking.

We did get to see a Grebo Devil once. The Grebo Tribe was less secretive, or at least more mercenary. Some Peace Corps Volunteers had hired the local Devil for a Haight-Ashbury style African party. It was, after all, 1967, the “summer of love” in San Francisco and the “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” Along with several other Volunteers, we hired a money bus to get to the party. Had we been thinking, we would have painted the bus with Day-Glo, like Ken Kesey’s bus, Further.

The Devil was all decked out in his regalia. His persona was somewhere between a voodoo nightmare and walking haystack. Grebo men scurried in front of him with brooms, clearing his path and grunting a lot. We stayed out of the way and took pictures.

The Grebo men carefully tended the Bush Devil.

The Grebo men carefully tended the Bush Devil.

Another area where Sam showed his tribal side was his fear of the newly dead. A person’s spirit was considered particularly powerful and dangerous right after he or she died. Later, the spirit would move away into the bush and fade. But first it had to be tamed with appropriate mourning, an all-night bash. One didn’t take chances. When Sam worked late for us after someone had died, he would borrow a knife and a flashlight in case he had to fight off the malevolent ghost on his way home. I had grown up next to a graveyard and was sympathetic with his concern.

Juju, or African witch doctor medicine, was another area where African reality varied from modern Western reality. Late one evening, in the middle of a tropical downpour, one of my high school students appeared on our doorstep very wet and very frightened. Mamadee Wattee was running for student body president. His opponent had purchased ‘medicine’ from a Juju man to make him sick.

It was serious business; people were known to die in similar circumstances. Had the opposition slandered Mamadee or stuffed the ballot box, I could have helped, but countering a magic potion wasn’t taught at Berkeley, at least not officially. I took the issue to Mr. Bonal, the high school principal, and he dealt with it. Mamadee stayed well and won the election.

The use of Juju medicine represents the darker side of tribal culture. Human body parts derived from ritual human sacrifice are reputed to be particularly effective in creating potions. Cannibalism may be involved. On the lighter side, my students once obtained a less potent ‘medicine’ and buried it under the goal post on the football (soccer) field with the belief that it would cause the other team to miss goals. Apparently, it wasn’t potent enough; the other team won.

This is my senior class. Mamadee is second form the left. Later he would become an elementary school principal in New Jersey.

This is my senior class. Mamadee is second from the left. Later he would become an elementary school principal in New Jersey.

Mamadee was also the reason behind our introduction to the Lightning Man. When Jo and I went on vacation to East Africa, we left Mamadee with $50 to buy a 50-gallon drum of kerosene. When we returned there was neither kerosene nor $50, but Mamadee was sitting on our doorstep. Someone had stolen the money and Mamadee was extremely upset. Fifty dollars represented a month’s income for a Kpelle farmer. Mamadee’s father, a chief of the Kpelle tribe, was even more upset and wanted to assure us that his son had nothing to do with the missing fortune. It was a matter of honor. He offered to have Mamadee submit to the Lightning Man to prove his innocence.

The Lightning Man had a unique power; he could make lighting strike whoever was guilty of a crime. If someone stole your cow or your spouse, zap! Since we were in the tropics, there was lots of lightning. Whenever anyone was struck, people would shake their heads knowingly. Another bad guy had been cooked; justice had been served.

We didn’t believe Mamadee had taken the money, and even if he had, we certainly didn’t want him fried, or even singed. We passed on the offer. The Chief insisted on giving us $50 to replace the stolen money.

Another Liberian Peace Corps Volunteer in a similar situation chose a different path. Here’s how the story was told to us. The Volunteer had just purchased a brand new $70 radio so he could listen to the BBC and keep track of what was happening in the world. The money represented close to half of the Volunteer’s monthly income. He had owned his new toy for two days when it disappeared.

“I am going to get my radio back,” he announced to anyone who would listen and then walked into the village where he quickly gathered some of his students to take him to the Lightning Man. Off he and half the town went, winding through the rainforest to the Lighting Man’s hut. The Volunteer took out five dollars and gave it to the Lighting Man. (Lighting Men have to eat, too.)

“I want you to make lighting strike whoever stole my radio,” he said.

The Volunteer and his substantial entourage then returned home. By this time, everyone in the village knew about the trip, including, undoubtedly, the person who had stolen the radio.

That night, there was a tremendous thunder and lightning storm. Ignoring for the moment that it was in the middle of the rainy season and there were always tremendous thunder and lightning storms, place yourself in the shoes of the thief who believed in the Lightning Man’s power. Each clap of thunder would have been shouting his name.

In the morning the Volunteer got up, had breakfast and went out on his porch. There was his radio.

NEXT BLOG: Wednesday’s photo essay.

Thank You Bill and Hilary*… for Your Fine Words

Basenji dog in Liberia, West Africa.

Do You Part, the Liberian named Basenji that adopted me in the Peace Corps and that Bill Guerrant refers to in his book review below, is the small dog with the curly tail standing in the forefront. One of her many exploits was slipping behind me into the grand opening of a mosque in Gbarnga— almost causing a riot.

I am tickled that two of my favorite Word Press bloggers enabled me to create the above headline. Now, before you dash off a note to me that I have misspelled Hillary, the *Hilary I am talking about is not Hillary Clinton. It’s Hilary Custance Green, a writer and author living in England. Bill is Bill Guerrant, a one time attorney, now farmer, and soon to be author living in Virginia. Both have recently written unsolicited reviews of my book, a fact for which I am both grateful and somewhat humbled.

Writing a book is hard work. At least it was for me, and I am sure it is for most authors. Thousands of hours, even years, can be spent on the project. The page that takes a few minutes to read probably required several hours to write, or longer. Sometimes words flow; I have those minutes when my fingers dance over the keyboard. But more often than not, the process is painfully slow, like sitting in a dentist’s chair and waiting for the dentist to get his hand and drill out of your mouth.

As an aside, I was sitting in my dentist’s chair last week when my dental hygienist started giggling while she was reading my chart. “What?” I asked grumpily. My mouth is no giggling matter. Usually dentists start planning their next trip around the world when they look inside. “I see,” she said laughing, “that you have listed dentists under things you are allergic to.” Yep, that would have been me.

There is more to the book process than hard work. Call it an ego thing, if you must, but most writers are an insecure bunch, especially first time authors. We don’t have a clue how our book is going to be received. It is somewhat akin to having your child on stage for her first big solo performance. By the time I had finished The Bush Devil Ate Sam, I had put so much effort into writing the book, and so much of myself, that I was prepared to head for the cooking sherry at the slightest criticism. I am ever so thankful that I didn’t have to live with me. (Peggy nods in agreement.)

Fortunately people have been kind. It’s true that my book isn’t out there in the world where the professional critics are paid big bucks to be nasty, but people I care about and respect seem to genuinely enjoy the book. What I had hoped for— that it would introduce readers to Liberia and her people, that it would provide insight into what being a Peace Corps Volunteer is like, and that it would provide some laughs along the way, seem to be happening.

I reblogged Hilary’s post a week ago. Here’s what Bill has to say:

Just before starting Ben Falk’s book I read frequent-commenter Curt’s book The Bush Devil Ate Sam, a delightfully entertaining (and informative) memoir of his time in the Peace Corps in Liberia in the 1960s. The book is a page-turner, and I highly recommend it.  Curt enrolled at UC-Berkeley just in time for the beginnings of the student rebellion there, putting him on the frontlines at the beginning of one of the world’s greatest movements for social justice. Some of that story is told in his book, and a fascinating story it is. Most of the book tells the story of the time he and his wife spent in Liberia.  I laughed out loud and I learned a lot, which only happens with good books. The story of his dog Do Your Part crashing the grand opening of the community’s first mosque (Curt having been mistaken for “the international media”) is alone worth the price of the book.

The book closes with some insightful thoughts about Liberia’s tragic history of the past few decades.  It caused me to think of a Liberian woman who was a classmate of mine in seminary, a kind and gentle person who lived through the horrors of the civil war there.  Whenever she tried to talk about it, she cried. Something she said about Americans has stuck with me.  She said that here when we say grace before a meal (if we bother), it just seems perfunctory. In Liberia, she said, people are truly grateful for every meal and they offer thanks with joy at the miracle that food is.  I wish I could recall her exact words, because I’m not doing them justice.  Suffice it to say that Curt’s concern for Liberia and the Liberian people resonated with me, even though I’ve never been there.

By the way, Curt is also one of the rock-stars of the blogosphere. Go check out his blog. You can buy his book from Amazon, but I recommend you contact him directly for a copy.**

Hilary and Bill are both caring and highly productive people, contributing to and making a difference in the world. Hilary is a sculptor and the author of two books that are available on Amazon. Presently she is working on Letters from Relatives of Far East POWS—Writing to a Ghost, a book that explores an almost forgotten aspect of World War II involving Far East Japanese prisoners of war and their families. It is a story that deserves to be remembered. Her blog is the Green Writing Room.

Bill is a farmer who is a leader in the movement to reintroduce America to the natural and healthy foods being grown on small farms across the country. In his own words: “Our produce is grown naturally, without pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers. Our animals are raised humanely.” His blog is Practicing Resurrection.

** For those of you that do your reading in EBooks, The Bush Devil Ate Sam is available on Amazon and a number of other sites around the world. Simply click on the cover of the book in the right hand column above. It will take you to my author’s page and the sites. If you prefer a written copy, the book will eventually be available on Amazon and several other sites as print on demand copies. In the mean time you can write me at and I will be glad to send you a copy while supplies last. Please include your address. I will send an invoice with the book. You pay when you receive the book. The cost is presently $13 plus mailing costs, normally $3.00 in the US.

“The Bush Devil Ate Sam” Is Now Published…

Facebook Bush Devil

The Bush Devil Ate Sam is now available on a number of sites worldwide as an eBook including Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo— plus several others you can find by visiting my author’s page. It will also soon be available as a print on demand book on several sites including Amazon and Barnes and Noble for those of you who prefer a printed version.

In the meantime, you can Email me at for printed and signed books. I have two versions, an original ‘beta’ copy with a few mistakes for $10 plus shipping, and a revised copy for $13 plus shipping. Tell me which book you would prefer and provide your address. We will mail it to you along with an invoice (as long as the books last).

Sam and I cut back weeds with machetes in front of our house in Gbarnga, Liberia. Our outhouse is off to the left.

Sam and I cut back weeds with machetes in front of our house in Gbarnga, Liberia. Our outhouse is off to the left.

Ready to eat monkey meat in Ganta, Liberia.

Monkey meat anyone?

The "Bush Devil" featured on the cover of my book was created by Freddy the Carver shown here. Freddy was a leper who lived in a leper colony in Ganta, Liberia circa 1965.

The “Bush Devil” featured on the cover of my book was created by Freddy the Carver shown here. Freddy was a leper who lived in a leper colony in Ganta, Liberia circa 1965.


For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, here is a brief summary of what it is about:

In 1965 I left the chaotic world of UC Berkeley and the student revolution of the mid 60s to become a Peace Corps Volunteer in the even stranger world of Liberia, West Africa. When I arrived, descendants of freed slaves from America ruled the country with an iron grip while the tribal people were caught in a struggle between modern culture and ancient Africa.

I quickly discovered that being a Peace Corps Volunteer was anything but dull. Army ants invaded our house. Students strolled into class with cans of squirming termites for breakfast, and Sam, the young man who worked for me, calmly announced that the scars running down his chest were the teeth marks of the Poro Bush Devil.

On the teaching front, my seniors took top national honors in social studies, but the national government determined a student government I created to teach democracy was a threat to Liberia’s one party state. My students were to be arrested; I was told to pack my bags.

These and many other stories are included in The Bush Devil Ate Sam. If you enjoy my blog, I think you will like the book. I conclude with an epilogue that traces the history of Liberia since I served in the country including the recent Ebola crisis. The book is designed to capture both the humor and challenges of serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Half of the profits from this book will be donated to Friends of Liberia, a nonprofit organization that has been in existence since 1980 and is made up of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, people who have served on missions in Liberia, experts on international development, and Liberians. The goal of the organization is “to positively affect Liberia by supporting education, social, economic and humanitarian programs.”

To say that I am excited (or maybe relieved?) about finally publishing the book is a gigantic understatement. (Grin) I had no idea about how much work was involved. Now I get to jump into marketing. Woohoo. Last week, I held my first book signing in Sacramento, California (75 people attended). Today is my blog’s turn. A whole series of other activities are to follow. And of course, I get to start on my next book. It’s going to be on Burning Man.

One bit of fun news. I recently received an Email from Steven Spatz, the president of BookBaby. BookBaby is the largest distributer of eBooks in the US and I worked with the company in publishing my book. He wanted to feature The Bush Devil Ate Sam on his blog as a perspective on the range of books BookBaby produces. Go here to see what Steven had to say.

My thanks to each of you who purchase a book and a special thanks to those of you who helped me pick out the name of the book several months ago. One request, if you do the download from Amazon, please do the review. It impacts how Amazon places the book.

Book signing in Sacramento. I am off in the corner working.

Book signing in Sacramento. I am off in the corner working. (Photo by Wayne Cox, my nephew.)

The main street of Gbarnga, Liberia in 1966 where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

The main street of Gbarnga, Liberia in 1966 where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Coming Soon… The Bush Devil Ate Sam— and Other Tales of a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, West Africa

Cover for book by Curtis Mekemson.

It’s countdown time here at the Mekemson household. The Bush Devil Ate Sam will be available worldwide as an E-book by the end of they year. Below is a promotion piece I’ve written for the book.


Scruffy soldiers with guns pointed in all directions were scattered around my yard when I returned from teaching. “What’s up?” I asked in a shaky voice. Liberian soldiers were scary.

     “Your dog ate one of the Superintendent’s guinea fowl,” the sergeant growled. The Superintendent was the governor of Bong County. Apparently, he was quite fond of his fowl birds. But Boy, the perpetrator of the crime, didn’t belong to me— and he regarded my cat Rasputin as dinner.

     “Why don’t you arrest him,” I suggested helpfully. “Not him. You!” the sergeant roared.

In 1965 I left the chaotic world of UC Berkeley and the student revolution of the mid 60s to become a Peace Corps Volunteer in the even stranger world of Liberia, West Africa. The Bush Devil Ate Sam is the story of my experience. When I arrived, descendants of freed slaves from America ruled the country with an iron grip while the tribal people were caught in a struggle between modern culture and ancient Africa.

I quickly discovered that being a Peace Corps Volunteer was anything but dull. Army ants invaded our house. Students snacked on squirming termites for breakfast, and the young man who worked for me, announced that the scars running down his chest were the teeth marks of the Poro Bush Devil.

On the teaching front, my seniors took top national honors in social studies, but the national government determined that a student government I had created to teach students about democracy was a threat to Liberia’s one party state. I was told my students would be arrested and I should pack my bags.

These are only the beginning of the tales you will find in The Bush Devil Ate Sam.

Half of the profits from this book will be donated to Friends of Liberia, a nonprofit organization that has been in existence since 1980 and is made up of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, people who have served on missions in Liberia, experts on international development, and Liberians. In addition to supporting the fight against Ebola, the goal of the organization is “to positively affect Liberia by supporting education, social, economic and humanitarian programs.”

A Devilishly Hard Decision… The Title to My Peace Corps Africa Book

Pat hay stack and part voodoo nightmare, a Liberian Bush Devil shuffles through the dirt toward me.

A fading photo from 1967 captures a Liberian Bush Devil, part hay stack and part voodoo nightmare, as it shuffles toward me through the red laterite dirt.

So, I’ve been struggling with the title of the book about my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, West Africa. As part of the process, I asked for help from my fellow bloggers and friends.

Step one included developing four options and providing backstories. Step two involved reviewing and summarizing the input.

Now it’s my turn.

I have two objectives for my title. First, it needs to be catchy. Unless people are familiar with an author or have recommendations from a trusted source (friend, author they enjoy, media), the first thing that leads them to choose a book is its title.

Second, the title needs to reflect my Peace Corps Africa experience.

For example, on the one level, The Dead Chicken Dance is about cutting the head off a chicken and watching it dance– slightly unusual and a little macabre. As such, the title might gain attention. But there was more. Early Peace Corps was struggling with how to prepare people to jump into another culture that was totally foreign to them. Killing, gutting, and plucking a chicken was guaranteed to provide trainees with a challenging experience that few of them had ever had but might face as a Volunteer. It’s a long ways between buying a pasty white, pre-packaged chicken in the grocery store and picking up a hatchet to cut the head off a feathered, clucking Henny Penny.

The Bush Devil Ate Sam and The Lightning Man Strikes Again reflected two aspects of African culture that were quite real to tribal Liberians. Both of these titles were designed to capture attention, but they also represented the dramatically dissimilar world that tribal Liberians existed in. Understanding Liberia, in fact understanding much of Africa, depends upon recognizing these differences.

How Boy the Bad Dog Ended Up in Soup represents a sharp break from our Western dog-centric world… of which I am very much a part. Dogs were a legitimate food source in Liberia. Students would tease me by coming by and pinching my cat, Rasputin. “Sweet meat, Mr. Mekemson” they would say while smacking their lips. They were cautious, however. Rasputin could take care of himself: “Pinch me once and I’ll squawk a warning. Pinch me twice and I’ll take off your finger.” As with each of my other titles,  there was more to the story with Boy than a gastronomical challenge.  It went beyond scary that soldiers would show up at my house in the middle of the night solely because the dog had eaten a guinea fowl.  It was strange with a strangeness that I would think of more than once when Liberia fell into the tragedy of its civil wars.

As I noted when I summarized the responses on titles, each title received strong support but Boy received the fewest ‘votes.’ Part of this may because we are so dog centric. As one blogger observed, the title might turn people off. I get that.

Support for the other three titles was evenly split. For me, it finally came down to either the Bush Devil or the Lightning Man. The Dead Chicken relayed an insight into early Peace Corps and cross-cultural challenges, but the other two did more to capture the Africa experience. Tossing a mental coin, I’m going with the Bush Devil. As my blogging friends James and Terri Gallivance, who have lived in Africa, noted: “We’re voting for The Bush Devil Ate Sam because we feel it embraces the mystery that is Africa.” The mystery that is Africa seems like a good place to start.

On a more prosaic level, I am adding “And Other Peace Corps Tales of West Africa” as a subtitle because it is important to have both Peace Corps and Africa included. Next up: the cover. As soon as I develop examples, I’ll post them.

NEXT BLOGs: Peggy and I will soon be heading into Nevada where I have several posts I am thinking about including 1) an art hotel in Reno created by Burners from Burning Man, 2) the remote town of Hawthorn with its history of being America’s primary ordnance depot (bunkers fill the desert), 3) the Extraterrestrial Highway and Area 51– subject of more conspiracy theories than there are people in Nevada, 4) Death Valley in the spring, 4) the Valley of Fire, 5) Red Rock Canyon, and 6) Las Vegas being Las Vegas. BUT, IN THE MEANTIME, I will post on another of my favorite petroglyph sites, Painted Rocks out of Yuma Arizona. I think I will also revisit the actual Big Foot trap about three miles from my home and see if Bigfoot is hanging out there. (It sort of goes along with the ET Highway.)