(Peace Corps is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. In honor of this significant achievement, I will devote several of my travel blogs over the next few months to my own experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa when Peace Corps was still in its infancy, 1965-1967.)
Boy was a very bad dog; he didn’t like black people.
In fact, he didn’t like anybody very much. Boy lived with a Peace Corps Volunteer named Holly in the upcountry town of Gbarnga, Liberia where my wife and I were also Volunteers.
Holly had another dog named Lolita. When Lolita had puppies, she decided that Boy wanted to eat her children and drove him off. He decided to take up residence at our house.
Normally I wouldn’t have cared. We already had three dogs that didn’t belong to us. One more wouldn’t hurt. It was Boy’s attitude that bothered me. Having a large dog with a nasty attitude attack African friends and students was socially inappropriate not to mention un-Peace Corps like.
And there was more. Boy had an issue with my cat, Rasputin; he regarded him as prey. I initiated several discussions with the dog about his bad habits but all he did was growl.
Consequently, I lacked sympathy when the soldiers came. They were standing outside my house waving their guns when I arrived home from teaching.
“What’s up?” I asked in my most official Peace Corps voice. Messing with Liberian soldiers was not smart. Even the government refused to issue them bullets.
“Your dog ate one of the Superintendent’s Guinea Fowls,” their sergeant mumbled ominously. The Superintendent of Bong County was the equivalent to a governor except he had more power. He lived about a quarter of a mile away and his Guinea Fowls roamed around the government compound. It appears he was quite attached to them.
“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 one of the Supe’s Fowls. They preferred their food cooked.
“Why don’t you arrest him?” I offered helpfully.
“Not him,” he shouted. “You. You come with us!” Apparently the interview wasn’t going the way Sarge wanted. I decided it was time to end the conversation.
“Look,” I said, “that dog does not belong to me. I am not going anywhere with you.” With that I walked inside and closed the door. It was risky but not as risky as going off with the soldiers.
My wife and I didn’t rest easy 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 five o’clock in the morning.
WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! It happened again.
“Someone is pounding on our back door,” Jo Ann said, sounding as frightened as I felt.
I grabbed our baseball bat, ran 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.
“This time you are going with us!” he growled with emphasis on are.
In addition to being frightened, I was angry. “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.” John lived next door and was the high school principal.
Sometimes the bold approach is the only way to go. Sometimes it isn’t.
I closed the door and held my breath. Sarge was not happy. We could hear him and his soldiers buzzing around outside. It sounded like a hornets’ nest. Still, yanking a Peace Corps Volunteer out of his house and dragging him off in to the middle of the night could have serious consequences. I imagined the headlines:
Soldiers Beats Peace Corps Volunteer Because of Dog’s Fowl Deed Liberian Ambassador Called to White House to Explain
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 served him right for laughing when I had told him the story the night before. I also suspected he was awake and watching the action.
We had a very nervous 30 minutes with soldiers rumbling around outside but they finally marched off. Round two for us! I could hardly wait for round three. This is the point in the US where you would be calling your attorney, mother and the local TV station. My only backups were the Upcountry Peace Corps Representative and Doctor; one to get me out of jail and the other to stitch me back together.
Happily, our part of the ordeal was over. It turns out that Peter, a young man who worked for Holly, owned Boy. The soldiers finally had someone they could bully. Peter was hauled in to 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, he was guest of honor at a village feast. Being a Bad Dog in Liberia had serious consequences.