Chapter 15: A Short Lesson on Cats and Guacamole… Peace Corps Tales

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.

James Gibbs is one of the world’s leading experts on the Kpelle people. In this photo, a Kpelle woman and her daughter take turns mashing palm nuts into palm butter… one of my all-time favorite foods.

Now is the time for a good guacamole story.

The anthropologist James Gibbs was living in Gbarnga while he was studying the Kpelle people. Sam worked for him as an informant about Kpelle customs. It was where he had learned the ‘taboo’ word he applied to the snails he didn’t want to eat.

One evening James and his wife Jewelle invited Jo Ann and me over for dinner. It was our first invitation out as Peace Corps Volunteers.  I should also note we were still at the point of being recent college graduates and somewhat awed by academicians. We dressed up in our best clothes and headed off down the road past Massaquoi School to where they lived.

The Gibbs had an impressive house for upcountry Liberia. They were sophisticated, nice folks who quickly put us at ease. Among the hors d’oeuvres they were serving was a concoction of mashed avocado, tomatoes and peppers that Jo and I found quite tasteful. We made the mistake of asking what it was.

“Why it’s guacamole of course,” Dr. Gibbs declared in an “I can’t believe you asked that question” tone of voice. We must have looked blank because he went on, “Surely anyone from California knows what guacamole is.”

Surely we didn’t. I felt like Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl when she learned that pate was mashed chicken liver. It was 1965 and Mexican food had yet to storm Northern California. Yes, we’d been to the UC Berkeley but dining out there on a survival budget meant beer and pizza at La Val’s or a greasy hamburger at Kip’s. To change the subject I called attention to their cat.

“Nice cat,” I noted.

Mrs. Gibbs gushed. “She’s in love.”

Dr. Gibbs jumped in, obviously glad to leave the subject of guacamole. “The boys are coming by every night to visit. We hear them yowl their affection up on the roof.”

The cat looked quite proud of her accomplishments. Having been properly introduced, she strolled over and rubbed up against my legs. I reached down and scratched her head, which served as an invitation to climb into my lap. While arranging herself she provided me with a tails-eye view. Staring back at me was the anatomy of the most impressive tomcat I’ve ever seen. She had the balls of a goat!

I could hardly contain myself. “Um, she isn’t a she,” I managed to get out while struggling to maintain a straight face.

“What do you mean?” Dr. Gibbs asked in his best professorial voice. Rather than respond verbally, I turned the cat around and aimed his tail at Dr. Gibbs. Understanding flitted across his face.

“We never thought to look,” he mumbled lamely. We were even. While the kids from the hills might not know their guacamole from mashed avocados, they did know basic anatomy.

4 comments on “Chapter 15: A Short Lesson on Cats and Guacamole… Peace Corps Tales

  1. Love it! And it confirms my belief that your first mistake was to be “awed by academicians.” ….and as usual, wonderful photo!

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