“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 cvmekemson@gmail.com 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.

Chapter 28: A Night Time Invasion Equals A Day Time Feast

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.


The day after the invasion of the bug-a-bugs (termites), our next door neighbor spread the bug-a-bugs out to dry so they could be preserved fro future meals.

The day after the invasion of the bug-a-bugs, our next door neighbor spread the termites she and her family had harvested out to dry so they could be preserved for future meals.

It’s almost impossible to contemplate life in the jungle without thinking bugs. Think of every jungle movie you have ever seen, documentary you have watched, or National Geographic article you have read; tropical rainforests are creepy, crawly places.

Leeches that suck your blood, ants that march in armies, and mosquitoes that ooze with malaria are all legendary representatives of jungle lore. Anyone who writes about the jungle is expected to include bug stories. Editors and their lawyers write it into the contract. So here are some bug tales.

I’ve already introduced you to bug-a-bugs or termites as we more prosaically call them. If we listened very quietly in our first house, we could almost hear them dismantling the place around us, bite by bite. They were everywhere. The rainforest was full of their skyscrapers, huge mounds that have been known to reach forty feet into the air. An equivalent human building would be over nine miles high.

Americans are of course familiar with the voracious appetite of termites but they may not be aware that termites in turn are considered to be tasty treats by a substantial portion of the animal kingdom.

Jo Ann and I learned this at the beginning of rainy season. This is when the little buggers sprout wings and fly in the millions to set up new colonies. We had a vague concept of what insect migration meant. We had seen ladybugs and other insects swarm when we were growing up. What we weren’t prepared for was the sheer massiveness of the invasion.

Somewhere in the middle of night, we woke up with rain pounding against our shutters. At least we thought it was rain until we realized that it was only pounding on one shutter, the one protected by our porch roof. Curiosity led me to go exploring.

When I opened the door, the first thing I noticed was that we had left the porch light on. The second was that the sky was alive with flying termites, all of which seemed determined to land on the wall and shutters next to the light. Once landed, they immediately begin to move downward, making room for more bugs. I’m sure their greedy little minds were contemplating the wood beams that held up the porch.

Whether they could get to the beams was something else. Every animal in the neighborhood including Do Your Part, Brownie Girl, Puppy Doodle, Rasputin and Les Cohen’s dog, Thorazine, were scarfing up bug-a-bugs as fast as their tongues and mouths could work. What they missed was being taken care of by a huge army of toads that ranged in size from teeny-tiny to humongous. There were so many termites that no one was going away hungry.

I called for Jo to come out and watch the carnage for a few minutes and then we retired back to bed, leaving the light on. We didn’t have the heart to deprive the animals of their feast.

The next morning I headed out to survey the damage. Not a termite was to be seen. It appeared that the animals and toads had hung around until the last bug-a-bug had disappeared off the platter. I was eager to get to school that morning so I could learn more about the termites swarming habits from my students.

What I learned was that my students enjoyed eating the bug-a-bugs as much as the animals. Many of the students, in fact, showed up in class carrying cans loaded with the still alive and squirming termites, which they proceeded to pop into their mouths for breakfast as we went through the day’s first lesson.

“Sweet meat, Mr. Mekemson,” they reported while making a smacking sound with their lips. “Would you like to try some?”

I primly informed them I preferred my food a little less rambunctious and without quite so many legs.

“The queens are best,” one of the students stated authoritatively and was immediately backed up by a chorus of agreement.

Queen termites are huge egg laying machines with fist-sized abdomens capable of popping out 30,000 kiddos a day. The Liberians caught them by tearing apart the termite mounds.  Appropriate eating etiquette involved biting off their tails and sucking out their innards. Sweet meat indeed!

Later that day I watched as Mr. Bonal’s sister-in-law spread out mats for drying dead termites. The termites were then stored away for later feasting. Nothing edible was ever wasted in Liberia, whether it was meat flying, meat running, meat swimming or meat crawling.

And yes we did get to try dried bug-a-bugs in Liberian chop. They were crunchy.

Chapter 21: Do Your Part, the Good Dog

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.


The usual assortment of dogs follows me up a jungle trail. Do Your Part, as always, is right on my heals.

The usual assortment of dogs follows me up a jungle trail. Do Your Part, as always, is right on my heals.

The conclusion of our other vacation project, the painting of our green, purple and orange house, was much more satisfying than my second grade reader. I started by buying a case of Club Beer. I didn’t know much about painting but I knew house painters found inspiration in hops.

While I was sipping a brew and pondering what paint best covered purple, Mr. Bonal came over and assured me there wasn’t anything that a bucket of white wash couldn’t cure. Jo and I dutifully trotted down to the Lebanese store and were soon applying white wash with our broom. We were quite pleased with the finished project and ourselves.

As our summer vacation drew to a close, we started preparing for our career as high school teachers where I would continue my efforts to get booted out of the country.

First, however, I am going to share stories about our everyday life in Liberia. I’ll talk about the animals that amused us, look into tribal culture, discuss the creepy, crawly things that exist in a tropical jungle, and escape to East Africa for a safari vacation in a VW Beetle.

As for the animals, you are about to meet Do Your Part the good dog, Boy the bad dog, Rasputin the terrorist cat, and Rooster, the foulest of fowls. Consider this the Alf Wight, aka James Harriot, section of my book.

John Bonal lived in a cement-block house that was the twin of ours. His brother’s family lived behind the house in an attached shed. Being successful in Liberia meant that your relatives came over and lived with you. It was the ultimate share-the-wealth-social-welfare program.

Part of John’s extended family included three dogs creatively named Puppy Doodle, Brownie Girl and Do Your Part. They came over to watch the white washing action and decided to stay. They became our extended family. We fed them. If I have my genealogy correct, Brownie Girl was Do your Part’s mom who in turn was Puppy Doodle’s mother.

This three-generation family dug foxholes around the outside of our house and quickly established that they were our pets. Other dogs need not apply. Mr. Bonal’s brother was more than happy to have us take over feeding responsibilities and Rasputin was pleased to have someone to terrorize. So everyone was happy.

Do Your Part took things a step further and became ‘my’ dog. She was a charming little Basenji with impeccable manners. Everywhere I went, she went, including school.  Normally this amused my students. I would walk into the class with DYP a respectful three feet behind. She would immediately arrange herself under my desk and quietly remain there until I left the classroom.

This worked fine until she had puppies. They started following her as soon as they could walk the 100 yards to the school. Then I would arrive in my class followed by DYP who in turn was followed by four puppies. It was quite the parade. Unfortunately, the puppies lacked Do Your Part’s decorum and considered the classroom a playpen. The students decided it was not an appropriate learning environment and I had to agree.

DYP and company had to go. It was not a happy parting.

“Take your puppies and go,” I ordered firmly. Do Your Part looked at me in disbelief.

“Out!” I said.

Sad eyes stared back accusingly. But I held firm. She didn’t let it get her down, however. As soon as the puppies had departed she was back in class. One time her insistence on following me had more drastic consequences.

Gbarnga had a sizeable population of Mandingoes, most of whom were Muslims. They had been gradually sifting into Liberia from across the Guinea border. Originally the Americo-Liberians had blocked their entrance to the country, fearing they might pose a threat to their power. American Missionary influence may also have played a role.

Tubman’s open door policy changed that and by the time we had arrived their numbers had reached the point where they decided to build a mosque in town. I’d wander over on occasion to check their progress. The mosque was an impressive building by Gbarnga standards, easily five times larger than any other structure on the main road.

The new mosque was much larger than other buildings on Gbarnga's main street. (1966)

The new mosque was much larger than other buildings on Gbarnga’s main street. (1966)

At last the day came for its grand opening. Having watched the mosque being built, I decided it would be interesting to attend the festivities. I put on my tie, grabbed our two cameras and headed out the door. Do Your Part was waiting and ready to go along.

This was not a Do Your Part type of celebration, however. Muslims aren’t particularly fond of dogs and consider them unclean. I figured this meant they didn’t want any dogs, even polite dogs, attending their holy ceremony. I suggested to Do Your Part she stay home. Fat chance. I walked 100 yards and glanced back over my shoulder. There was DYP, slinking along behind. I knew there was no way I would make it to the ceremony without a little brown dog lurking in the background.

Do Your Part would have to be left in our house. The action was drastic; the only time we let her in was to eat dead insects in the evening. She would come in just before we went to bed and wander around crunching down sausage bugs. It eliminated sweeping. She had never been locked inside.

Since Jo was reading to her blind friend and Sam was off for the day, I couldn’t even leave her with company. I reluctantly shoved her inside and marched off to the sounds of doggy protest.

It seemed to work. I reached the mosque just as the outside ceremonies were concluding and people were preparing to move inside. Dignitaries were everywhere. It was my intention to hang out on the periphery and remain inconspicuous. This is hard when you are the only white person in the crowd and you have two cameras hanging around your neck.

It took about thirty seconds for a tall, official looking man in a white robe to approach me and express in broken English how pleased he was that the international press from Monrovia had decided to cover the event. While I struggled to inform him that I was only a local Peace Corps Volunteer, he ushered me into the mosque to a seat of honor. I looked around nervously. The podium was about 10 feet away and I was in the front row.

A hush descended on the crowd as an obviously important dignitary approached the podium. Liberia’s top Muslim Cleric had come to town to officiate at the opening ceremony. He gave me his best media smile and I dutifully took his picture.

Unexpectedly, there was a disturbance at the back of the mosque. Several men were trying to capture a little brown dog that was deftly eluding them and was making a beeline for me. Do Your Part had managed to escape from the house. Now she was escaping from half of Islam. In seconds that seemed like hours she was in front of me, wagging her tail and prancing around like she hadn’t seen me in six months. Hot on her tail were three huge Mandingo men.

“Is this your dog?” their leader managed to stammer out in barely repressed fury as he gave DYP a tentative boot in the butt. Fortunately she figured out that the situation was hazardous and decided there were other parts of town she wanted to see. I was amazed at her ability to avoid lunging people. I dearly wished I could have escaped with her. It wasn’t to be. It was my job to stay behind and be glared at. I was so embarrassed I don’t remember a single part of the ceremony.

Later when I arrived home, Do Your Part was outside the house, all wiggles and waggles, obviously no worse for her adventure. Jo Ann greeted me.

“It was the strangest thing when I got home,” she said. “Do Your Part was inside and frantic to get out. When I let her loose she took off like our house was on fire. I wonder if Sam let her in by mistake.” The best laid plans of mice and men…

Chapter 8: Armies of the Night… 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 in book format.

When I have finished, I will publish the book digitally and in print.

A view of Monrovia from Bob and Gerry Branch’s apartment.

Bob and Gerry Branch, friends from training in San Francisco, generously agreed to host our stay in Monrovia. They lived in a second floor apartment that overlooked a busy Monrovia street. It provided a birds-eye view of life in the city.

Monrovia was bursting at the seams with young people escaping from rural areas. The poverty was intense. Tin shacks fought for space as extended families struggled to find shelter from tropical downpours. Taxi and money-bus drivers used their horns for brakes and competed with barking mongrels in creating unceasing noise. Evening air was tainted with the unique smell of cooked palm oil, smoke and moldering garbage.

On the plus side, Monrovia had several good restaurants, a modern movie theater, an air-conditioned supermarket and a large paperback bookstore, all of which we came to appreciate over the next two years.

Most Americo-Liberians did quite well and the top families lived in luxury. They owned mansions in Monrovia and large farms Upcountry. Many had second homes overseas. Their children went to college in Europe and America and dressed in the latest fashions. President Tubman’s official residence, located on the edge of town, cost the Liberian people $15 million. This was approximately half of Liberia’s total government budget the year it was built.

We were quite relieved to learn that our teaching jobs weren’t in Monrovia. Originally, we had been assigned to an elementary school down the coast in Buchanan. It was supposed to be a plum location complete with golden beaches and palm trees swaying in the breeze. The Director told us our top rating in training had earned us the assignment. The rating was news to us.

Naturally another couple grabbed it when we failed to turn up on time. We were left with their jobs; Jo would teach first grade and I would teach second in the upcountry town of Gbarnga. Apparently this was our punishment for partying too long in Auburn.

Gbarnga was a long 120 miles out of Monrovia on the nation’s primary dirt road. With a population approaching 5000, it was Liberia’s largest upcountry town and the center of government for Bong County.

We were eager to get there and escaped from Monrovia as soon as the Director said go. Wellington Sirleaf, the Peace Corps’ driver, carted our minimal belongings and us up to our new home. We arrived in Gbarnga just before dark… tired, hungry, and nervous.

Our feelings ran the gamut from “wow, we are finally here” to “what in the heck we have gotten ourselves into?”

What Gbarnga had that other upcountry sights lacked, however, was an official Peace Corps staff person, Bob Cohen, and an official Peace Corps doctor, Less Cohen (not related). I assumed this would make our life officially easier. Sirleaf took us straight to Bob’s trailer. It was located on a well-maintained USAID (United States for International Development) compound. Bob came out to greet us.

Bob Cohen and Les Cohen (not related). Bob was our upcountry Peace Corps Representative and Les was the Peace Corps Doctor.

“Welcome to Gbarnga,” he said. “Your house is located across town.”

Using mental telepathy, I beamed at him, “Invite us in for dinner. It’s the proper thing to do.”

“The Volunteers had a work party and cleaned your house last week,” he went on, oblivious to my sendings. I urged Jo Ann to look hungry. “And, they even drew you a bucket of water.”

This seemed to impress Bob, so I mumbled something like, “They shouldn’t have.”

“Wellington will drive you over so you can get settled in. Enjoy your evening.” And with that, Bob returned to his trailer. I pictured his filet mignon getting cold.

There was one more stop before we got there. This time it was to see Shirley Penchef, another Peace Corps Volunteer. She was waiting at her house with a young Liberian of the Kpelle tribe and a surprise. It wasn’t food.

“This is Sam,” she bubbled (Shirley always bubbled). “Sam is so excited you are here! He has been waiting weeks for you! He is going to be your houseboy!”

Jo and I were speechless. We had talked about the possibility; it was common practice among PCVs. A young Liberian would help with chores, earn spending money, and often eat with the volunteer. Both the Liberian and the PCV gained from the experience. We recognized the value of the arrangement but had decided that having a houseboy didn’t fit the Peace Corps image.

I mean how do you tell the folks back home you are roughing it out here in the jungle and doing ‘good’ while someone cooks your dinner, washes your clothes, and cuts your grass?

On the other hand, how do you tell a woman who talks in exclamation points and a 13-year old boy who is grinning from ear to ear that you don’t want what they are selling?

“Uh, gee, uh, well, why doesn’t Sam help us get settled in and then we’ll see,” we managed to stutter. It was one of the better decisions we were to make in Liberia.

“It’s time to go,” Wellington announced impatiently. I surmised that a delicious plate of hot Liberian food was waiting for him somewhere in Gbarnga as soon as he could lose us. Sam, Jo Ann and I climbed in the jeep, waved goodbye to Shirley, and went bouncing off down the road.

I don’t want to be melodramatic about the introduction to our new home but a little horror movie music might be appropriate. The sun had just set when we arrived. In the tropics, that’s like someone turned off the lights on a dark night. Twilight doesn’t exist.  Fortunately we had a flashlight.

Outward appearances weren’t bad. Our new home was a typical Liberian town house. Two sets of closed shutters and a door stared out at us. A zinc roof capped the whitewashed walls. Off to the left was a hole in the ground that Sam informed us was our well. Peeking out from behind on the right was the outhouse. All in all, it was pretty much what we expected.

A day time view of the house with me standing on the left.

Then we opened the door.

It was a full-scale Armies of the Night scene straight out of Hollywood: the type of scene Bella Lugosi drooled over. Our noses were assailed with the scent of something that had been entombed for a thousand years. The floor writhed with life. Hundreds of small tunnels etched their way up the walls. I jumped back a foot. Jo Ann qualified for the Olympics.

Sam laughed…

Next post: We learn about what lives in our house; Jo Ann masters the levitating squat routine; and drums and screams make for a restless night.

Chapter 4: The Dead Chicken Dance… 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 in book format.

When I have finished, I will publish the book digitally and in print.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains about 20 miles south of where we did our training and at a slightly higher elevation.

Graduation from Berkeley, marriage in Auburn, a three-day honeymoon in Monterey, and reporting for Liberia VI Peace Corps training at San Francisco State College transpired in one whirlwind week.

My best man, Frank Martin, played his role superbly… from hosting the bachelor party at the Diamond Springs Hotel to making sure our escape car was appropriately decorated.

Frank grew up with me in Diamond Springs, California. We also attended Sierra College together. Somewhere along the line he discovered he was gay. Later on, he and his partner Hank would host several elegant but offbeat anniversary parties for us at their home on Clay Street in San Francisco.

Given our three-day honeymoon, Jo and I figured we would hold the record for newlyweds arriving at Peace Corps training. But we didn’t. One couple spent their honeymoon night flying out to the San Francisco State.

“Gee, Hon, let’s check out the airplane’s toilet again.”

Upon arrival, the married couples were crammed into one wing of Merced Hall, a student dormitory. Tiny rooms, paper-thin walls and a communal bathroom became our new home. We soon knew a lot about each other.

Peace Corps staff wanted to know even more; Beebo the psychologist was assigned to follow us around and take notes. First, however, they pumped us full of gamma globulin and explained deselection. Our job was to decide whether Peace Corps was something we really wanted to do. Their job was to provide stress to help make the decision. Initially this came in the form of a SF State football coach hired to shape us up.

“Okay you guys, let’s see how fast you can run up and down the stadium steps five times!” I hadn’t liked that particular sport during my brief football career in high school and still didn’t.

Beyond mini-boot camp, our time was filled with attending classes designed to teach us about Liberia and elementary school education. We were even given a stint at practice teaching in South San Francisco. There wasn’t much for Beebo to write about.

In case Peace Corps missed anything, we were given a battery of psychological tests to probe our miscellaneous neuroses. These were followed by in-depth interviews. “Answer honestly. Say the first thing that pops into your mind.” Yeah, sure I will.

A few people did wash out and were whisked away. Naturally it was a topic of conversation. What had they done wrong? Were we next?

The true stress test was supposed to be a camping trip up in the Sierras. This may have been true for the kids straight out of the Bronx who had rarely seen stars much less slept out in the woods but Jo and I considered it a vacation. We had been raised in the foothills of the Sierras and were going home.

The ante was upped when the camp leader arrived the first night.

“Here’s dinner,” he announced casually as he unloaded a crate of live chickens from the back of his pickup. They clucked a greeting.

Fortunately, I had chopped off a few chicken heads in my youth and knew about such things as chicken plucking and gutting. I couldn’t appear too eager in the chopping department, though. Beebo might write something like “displays obvious psychopathic tendencies.”

“Close the door, lock and latch it, here comes Curt with a brand new hatchet!”

My chicken spurted blood from its neck and performed a jerky little death dance, turning the city boys and girls a chalky white. Their appetites made a quick exit in pursuit of their color when I reached inside a still warm Henny Penny to yank out her slippery innards. It seemed that my fellow trainees were lacking in intestinal fortitude. If so, it was fine with me; I got more chicken.

Beebo’s biggest day came when we faced the wilderness obstacle course. Our first challenge was to cross a bouncy rope bridge over a deep gorge. Beebo stood nearby scratching away on his pad. We then rappelled down a cliff… scratch, scratch, scratch. Our every move was to be scrutinized and subjected to psychological analysis. We rebelled.

“Beebo, you’ve been following us around and taking notes for two months. Now it’s your turn. See that cliff. Climb down it.”

“Uh, no.”

“Beebo, you don’t understand,” we were laughing, “you have to take your turn.”

Reluctantly, very reluctantly, Beebo agreed. About half way down he froze and became glued to rock with all of the tenacity of a tick on a hound. We tried to talk him down and we tried to talk him up. We even tried talking him sideways. Nothing worked. Finally we climbed up and hauled him down. Note taking was finished. We wrapped up our wilderness week and our training was complete. Jo Ann and I took the oath and became official Peace Corps Volunteers.

We were allowed one week at home to complete any unfinished business before flying to New York City and reporting to the Pan Am desk at JFK. Since there wasn’t much to do, Jo and I relaxed and recovered from our tumultuous year that had begun ever so long ago with the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley.

We wrapped up our brief visit with a going away party in Jo Ann’s back yard in Auburn. Surrounded by friends and family, we talked into the night. It was one of those perfect summer evenings that California is famous for, complete with a warm breeze tainted with a hint of honeysuckle flowers.

Chapter 2: The FBI is Told I Run Communist Cell Meetings… 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 in book format.

When I have finished, I will publish the book digitally and in print.

The mid-60s were a time of turmoil at UC Berkeley when the University blocked on-campus support for the Civil Right’s Movement. Here, I am one of many protesters opposing Administration policy by picketing at Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue.

In the last post, my first wife, Jo Ann, and I applied for the Peace Corps when we were students at UC Berkeley in 1965. We were tentatively accepted as teachers in Liberia, West Africa.

There were still hurdles. They were tied to the illusive if. We could go if we could get through the background security check, if we weren’t deselected during training, and if we could pass the physical. Training wasn’t a worry. We had enough confidence in ourselves to assume we would float through. How hard could it be after Berkeley?

The Security Check was something else. Jo Ann was squeaky clean but I had been up to mischief at Berkeley, hung out with the wrong people, been seen in a few places where law-abiding people weren’t supposed to be, and had my name on a number of petitions.

“And where were you Mr. Mekemson the night the students took over the Administration Building?”

Maybe there was even a file somewhere; maybe it was labeled Radical. J. Edgar Hoover saw Red when he looked at Berkeley.

Soon I started hearing from friends. The man with the badge had been by to see them. The background security check was underway. One day I came home to the apartment and found my roommate Jerry there. He was pale and agitated. His eyes bounced around the room.

“I have to talk to you Curtis,” he blurted out. “The FBI was by today doing your Peace Corps background check and I told them you had been holding communist cell meetings in our apartment.”

Jerry was deadly serious; Jerry was dead.

“What in the hell are you talking about?” I yelled, seeing all of our hopes dashed and me rotting in jail. I knew that Jerry disagreed with me over my involvement in Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement (FSM) and probably disagreed with me over the Vietnam War, but I hadn’t a clue on how deep that disagreement went. Or what he based his information on.

My degree in International Relations had included a close look at Communism. I found nothing attractive about repressive totalitarian states.

The closest I came to joining a leftist group had been the Free Student Union. Yes I had held committee meetings at our apartment but I had also severed my relationship with the organization. The folks behind the Union apparently believed that confrontation with authority was a good thing in and of itself. Getting bashed on the head with a nightstick made students angry. FSU wanted to radicalize the student body, not serve it.

I was not happy with Jerry that night or for some time after. I assumed the Peace Corps option was out and begin thinking of alternatives. They were bleak.

As it turned out, we received final notification from the Peace Corps a few weeks later. We were accepted. Jerry could live. The people who said good things about me must have outweighed the people who said bad things. Either that or Jo looked so good they didn’t want to throw the babe out with the bath water.

Or possibly the majority of other students who signed up for the Peace Corps from Berkeley in 1965 had rap sheets similar to mine.

There was one final hitch. I was to report to the Army Induction Center in Oakland for my physical. It was an experience not worth repeating. I lined up with a bunch of naked men to be poked and prodded.

“Turn your head and cough. Now, bend over.”

I took it like a man and escaped as soon as the opportunity presented itself. A couple of days later I came back from class and there was a scribbled note from my other roommate, Cliff, who was also going into the Peace Corps.

“The Induction Center called,” he wrote, “and there is a problem with your urinalysis.” I was to call them.

“Damn,” I thought. “Why is this so difficult?” So I called the Center and resigned myself to peeing in another jar. With really good luck, I might avoid the naked-man line.

I got a very cooperative secretary who quickly bounced me to a very cooperative nurse who quickly bounced me to a very cooperative technician who quickly bounced me to a very cooperative doctor… and none of them could find any record of my errant urinalysis.

They didn’t see any problems and they didn’t know who had called. They suggested I call back later and be bounced around again. More than a little worried, I rushed off to my next class.

That evening I reported my lack of success to Cliff. He got this strange little smile on his face and asked me what day it was.

“April 1st,” I replied as recognition of having been seriously screwed dawned in my mind. “You little ass!” I screamed, as Cliff shot for the door with me in fast pursuit. He made it to Telegraph Avenue before I caught him. The damage wasn’t all that bad, considering.

Chapter 1: An Ugly War Encourages Me to Join the Peace Corps

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 in book format.

When I have finished, I will publish the book digitally and in print.

The main street of Gbarnga Liberia in 1965 where I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Tears tracked across Jo Ann’s cheeks and I struggled to be sympathetic. It wasn’t easy.

We had just left her parents in San Francisco and boarded a United Airlines jet bound for New York City. Except for the time I surrendered five hard-earned dollars for a helicopter ride at the El Dorado County Fair, it was my first flight ever.

The jet taxied out on to the runway, climbed above the bay, and banked toward the east. We were leaving family, friends and life in the US behind. While Jo wrestled with the past, my thoughts were on the future.

Africa, teaching and adventure beckoned.

For seven hours we would be winging across America and gazing down on cotton clouds, mountain ranges, deserts, plains, cities, towns, farms and forests.

We waved goodbye to California as the plane flew over the Sierra-Nevada Mountains. The towering granite of the Crystal Range gave way to the deep blue of Lake Tahoe. My mind turned to our new status as Peace Corps Volunteers. Six months earlier we had serious doubts this day would arrive.

It was the spring of 1965 and Uncle Sam was looking for recruits. He’d bought a used colonial war from the French and needed soldiers to fight. Being a 22-year-old male about to graduate from college, I was a prime but reluctant candidate.

The conflict in Vietnam dated back to 1946. It was born ugly. France had lost her colonial empire in Indochina to the Japanese during World War II and Charles de Gaulle wanted it back. The Vietnamese Marxist Ho Chi Minh wanted independence. War was the result. Russia sided with the North Vietnamese in hopes of expanding her influence. NATO and the US jumped in to thwart Russia and support France in her colonial ambitions.

By 1955 France had abandoned the fight as a costly, no-win disaster that had sucked up more and more of the nation’s human and financial resources. Now, it was our turn. We would provide ‘military advisors’ and financial aid to the politically corrupt but anti-communist regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam. Over the next ten years our support continued to grow.

By the time I was ready to graduate, the US was ready to send in the troops.

The Cold War was raging. America’s leaders saw Vietnam as a critical step in stopping the spread of communism and communism was seen as an anti-capitalist, anti-Christian, and anti-democratic evil extending its cancerous tentacles throughout the world. Lose Vietnam, the Domino Theory argued, and all of Southeast Asia would follow.

My political science professors in International Relations at UC Berkeley had a different perspective. Communism was changing. It was no longer monolithic in nature but had taken on a nationalist flavor. Communism in Russia was different from communism in China. The Russians were as fearful of Chinese massing on their border as they were of the US’s nuclear weapons.

One day I arrived at my class on Comparative Communism and learned my professor had been invited to Washington to provide advice on Vietnam. The message he carried was that Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist first and a Marxist second. He was seeking independence for his nation. He was no more interested in being dominated by Russia than he had been in being dominated by France.

Becoming involved in a full-scale war was not in the best interest of the United States and might prove to be a costly mistake.

Washington refused to listen. America’s leaders had grown up on a steady diet of Cold War rhetoric. Not even the insanity of McCarthyism had shaken their faith. Being ‘soft on communism’ was political suicide. When Khrushchev banged his shoe on his desk at the United Nations and said he would bury us, we banged back.

But I was convinced there was more to the fight in Vietnam than a communist grab for power. My International Relations major was focused on Africa and the news out of Africa in 1965 was on the struggle for independence from colonial powers.  I felt Ho Chi Minh was involved in a similar fight.

I decided Vietnam was not for me. Fighting in a war I didn’t believe in and killing people I didn’t want to kill was at the very bottom of my bucket list. And there was more. I am allergic to taking orders and can’t stand being yelled at. I’d make a lousy soldier.

I saw a court-martial in my future.

If drafted, I would go, however. I couldn’t imagine burning my draft card, running off to Canada or hiding out in the National Guard. I actually believe we owe our country service. Luckily, a temporary solution popped up. Peace Corps Recruiters were coming to Berkeley.

John Kennedy proposed this idealistic organization to a crowd of 5,000 students during a campaign speech at he University of Michigan on October 14, 1960. He was running four hours late and it was two in the morning. The response was overwhelming. One of his first acts as President was to create the agency.

Peace Corps service would not eliminate my military obligation but it might buy time for the Vietnam War to end. Of more importance, I felt the Peace Corps provided a unique opportunity to travel, represent the US in a positive way, and hopefully, do some good.

I talked the idea over with my fiancé. “Let’s do it!” Jo Ann responded. She and I would go together as a husband and wife team. When the Peace Corps recruiters opened their booth in front of the Berkeley Student Union, we were there to greet them.

“Sign us up,” we urged.

“Fill these out,” the recruiter responded, handing us two umpteen page blue applications. “You will also have to pass a language aptitude test in Kurdish and provide letters of recommendation.” I had my doubts about the Kurdish.

Apparently we looked good on paper. In a few weeks the Peace Corps informed us that we had been tentatively selected to serve as teachers in Liberia, West Africa. My brain did a jig. The age-old question of what you do when you graduate from school and enter the real world had been answered, or at least postponed.

Uncle Sam with his growing hunger for bodies to fight the Vietnam War would have to wait.

Next blog: My roommate at Cal tells the FBI and Peace Corps I am running Communist Cell Block meetings in our apartment.

At Home in the Woods of Southern Oregon


This view from our patio features the first snow of the year. You are looking south at the Red Buttes, which are part of the Siskiyou Mountains that form the border between California and Oregon.

Two years ago Peggy and I decided to ‘settle down’ in Southern Oregon after travelling around North America for three years in our small RV. It was a good decision. We ended up purchasing five acres of property. The beautiful Applegate River flows in front of our house. Our back property line is the gateway to over a million acres of National Forest land.

The Applegate River, in front of our property, displays fall colors.

Walking out the back door and up our road leads to over a million acres of National Forest Land.

This graceful Madrone with its strange, pealing bark, provides shade for our home. It is one of numerous trees on our property. Other trees include Douglas Fir, Ponderosa Pine, White Oak and Red Cedar.

Morning mist outlines one of the Douglas Firs.

The same Douglas Fir, this time set off by the evening sky.

Peggy loves rivers and I love wilderness. It is a perfect match. Every morning we wake up with smiles on our faces.

Deer, bear, squirrels, foxes and numerous species of birds consider our property as part of their territory or at least a convenient stop off place. Last year a bear tipped over our bar-b-que. A couple of weeks ago a skunk let go under our house. This summer Peggy waged an unceasing war against ground squirrels that discovered her garden.

It all comes with country living. Mainly, we are amused by the antics of our furred and feathered friends.

Which way is the garden?

Is it here on your back porch? ( Junior has a better idea about where to find food.)

Surely you can’t resist feeding me? “Our” deer herd has trails running all over the property. Every day we get to see bucks, does, fawns and teenagers go about their lives.

At 2000 feet, we don’t get much snow… just enough to create a beautiful white wonderland. The deer, BTW, are Black Tail Deer. (Note the far deer.)

I used a Have-a-Heart trap to catch the ground squirrels and founded a new colony down the road and across the river on BLM land. The little buggers always went for the zucchini bait. I told them Peggy would be much less merciful. She was starting to practice with her pellet pistol.

We have been enjoying a beautiful fall and feel a slight tinge of regret that we are leaving to travel. I suspect the cruise of the Mediterranean with its extensive stop offs will make up for any regrets. Peggy and I do love to wander.

Gorgeous fall colors keep me running outside with my camera. I am admiring this beautiful Oregon Maple out the window as I type this post.

Another view from my writing chair. With fall arriving and temperatures dropping to freezing, this Geranium is one of Peggy’s last flowers of the season.

I thought about blogging while in Europe but I want to spend my time exploring.

So I’ve decided to focus my blog, Wandering in Time and Place, on my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, West Africa. The stories are already written. Every other day I will post a new one chronologically in chapter format. When I get back in two months, I intend to publish the tales both digitally and in print as a book.

In the stories you will meet Boy the Bad Dog who ends up as guest of honor at a village feast, learn how to wage war against Army Ants, attend the hot machete trial of the Woman Who Wore No Underpants, and discover why the Liberian government felt the second grade reader I wrote was a dangerous revolutionary document. And that’s only the beginning…

I hope you will join me on the adventure.

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