This week marks the beginning of a new blog about my experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia West Africa from 1965-67. I am using a WordPress theme designed to look and read like a book. Each week I will post a new chapter. When I have completed the book, I will publish it both digitally and in print. Visit me at http://liberiapeacecorps.com/ to read the first and subsequent chapters.
This week I will post three different short stories about Liberia on this blog, “Wandering in Time and Place,” to give my readers a sample of what to expect on the new blog and in the book. Today’s story: My Name Is Captain Die and This is My Dog Rover.
In our two years of living in Liberia as Peace Corps Volunteers, Peace Corps we would have many unusual experiences. One of our more unusual took place within our first week of living in Gbarnga, the town where we were assigned. It involved meeting Captain Die and his dog Rover.
Captain Die was a well digger who was reported to have spent too much time in dark holes. Our well was one of his jobs. He had dug it for our predecessors, two female Volunteers. Afterwards, he began stopping by to visit the women and bum cigarettes.
Therefore, it wasn’t surprising when he appeared on our doorstep shortly after we moved in. His introduction was unique.
“Hello, my name is Captain Die. My name is Captain Die because I am going to die someday. This is my dog, Rover. Roll over Rover. Give me a cigarette.” Rover, who was a big ugly dog of indeterminate parenthood, dutifully rolled over.
It made quite an impression.
We explained to Captain Die that neither of us smoked but invited him in to share some ice tea we had just brewed. We gave the Captain a glass and he took a huge swallow. I have no idea what he thought he was getting but it wasn’t Lipton’s. He thought we were trying to poison him.
A look of terror crossed his face and he spit the ice tea out in a forceful spray that covered half the kitchen and us. Dripping wet, we found ourselves caught between concern, laughter and dismay. The Captain marched out of our house in disgust with Rover close behind.
In addition to having found our predecessors an excellent supply of tobacco, Captain Die had been quite taken with one of them. The story was told to us how he appeared at the door when Maryanne’s parents were visiting from the States. Captain Die was a man on a mission. He was going to request Maryanne’s hand in marriage.
I’ve always imagined the scene as follows.
Maryanne’s parents are sitting in the living room on folding chairs making a game attempt at hiding their culture shock when this big black man and his ugly dog appear at the screen door.
Maryanne jumps up and says, “Oh Mom and Dad, I would like you to meet my friend, Captain Die.” Mom and Dad, brainwashed by Emily Post and wishing to appear nonchalant, quickly stand up with strained smiles on their faces.
Captain Die grabs Dad’s hand and tries to snap his finger at the same time proclaiming, “Hello, my name is Captain Die. My name is Captain Die because I am going to die some day. This is my dog Rover. Roll over Rover. Give me your daughter.”
No one told me how Maryanne’s parents responded to the good Captain’s offer so I will leave the ending up to the reader’s imagination. I can report that Maryanne was not whisked out of the country by her mom and dad.
While Captain Die’s visit had a purpose, there were a lot of folks who were just plain curious about how we lived. One little girl would have put a cat to shame. I never could figure out where she came from.
She would stand on our porch with her nose pressed against the screen door and stare at us for what seemed like hours. After a while it would become disconcerting and I’d suggest she go home. She would disappear but then I’d look up and there she’d be again, little nose pressed flat.
Finally, deciding more drastic measures were called for, I picked up my favorite folding chair and plopped it down a foot from the door. Then I sat down and initiated a stare back campaign. I lowered my head and moved forward until I was even with her head and about five inches away. The little nose slowly moved backward, suddenly turned around and took off at a fast gallop.
After that she watched the weird people from across the street.