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.
Another denizen of the rain forest that receives considerable press is the snake. As a youth I had become aware of their treacherous ways by reading Tarzan comic books.
We encountered a number of the wily serpents in our two years. They came in a myriad of sizes, shapes and colors. I already mentioned the tiny orange snake in the driver ants’ nest. “Very poisonous,” Sam had said.
I also found a black one coiled up in our flower garden and another poised in a tree above my classroom door. One dark, rainy night Jo and I were walking home from chaperoning a high school dance. Our flashlight was on the verge of dying. I looked down and found my foot three inches away from landing on top of a snake that stretched all the way across the road… which was just about the distance I managed to hop on one leg.
The Liberians assumed that all snakes were poisonous. We decided while in Liberia to do as the Liberians did. The only good snake was one with its head chopped off.
The most poisonous was reportedly the cassava snake. This ugly pit viper was about as long as your arm and twice as thick. It was supposedly sluggish; you had to step on it to get a reaction. When you did, it was all over though. Sluggishness disappeared. It whipped around and struck causing instant death. On my jungle hikes I always encouraged the dogs to go first and watched them closely. Like Rasputin, they were snake-wise. They detoured; I detoured.
We even had a giant boa constrictor hanging out in the neighborhood. It lived in the reservoir just down the hill from our house. Town folks would spot it occasionally slithering through lake like the Loch Ness monster. I started calling it Nessie. Whenever a local dog or cat disappeared, it was assumed the snake had eaten it. My thoughts tended more toward a hungry Liberian, but this didn’t discourage me from suggesting to Boy the Bad Dog that he go play in the lake. He refused.
Soldiers eventually drained the lake in an unsuccessful attempt at finding the boa. Maybe it had developed a taste for Guinea Fowl and moved up the Superintendent’s compound.
The green mamba was an even more feared snake. It was said to climb trees, leap from limb to limb, and chase people. Jo Ann and I assumed that the Liberian who told us this story had been sipping too much fermented cane juice.
At least we did until we looked out the window one day and saw a green mamba climbing our tree. Faster than I could say, “Let’s sit this dance out,” Jo had grabbed our machete and was through the door. The mamba saw her coming and wisely made a prodigious leap for a higher limb. It missed.
Down it came amidst a mad flurry of machete strokes. Not even the three musketeers could have withstood that attack. It was instant minced snake. After that I learned to have more respect for Jo Ann when she was irritated.
In a slight reversal of roles, a snake did manage to ‘tree’ Jo once. I was happily ensconced in my favorite chair when I heard a scream from our outdoor bathroom. Talk about primitive male instincts. Hair on end, adrenaline pumping and blood rushing, I grabbed the machete and charged outside.
I threw open the bathroom door and there was Jo Ann, standing on the toilet with her pants down. Meanwhile a small black snake was merrily slithering around on the floor in hot pursuit of the little toads who considered our bathroom home. It had crawled under the door and across Jo’s foot while she was sitting on the pot. Had it happened to me, I might have been on the toilet, too.
Needless to say, I quickly dispatched the snake and saved the day. What a man!