July 13, 2003 - Lane Community College: First Night in the Bush by Liberia RPCV Helen Hollyer

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Liberia: Peace Corps Liberia : The Peace Corps in Liberia: July 13, 2003 - Lane Community College: First Night in the Bush by Liberia RPCV Helen Hollyer

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First Night in the Bush by Liberia RPCV Helen Hollyer

First Night in the Bush by Liberia RPCV Helen Hollyer

First Night in the Bush by Liberia RPCV Helen Hollyer

Light-seeking moths and beetles hurled themselves against the glass chimney of my kerosene lamp, as I wrote 8up the notes of my first day living among the Bassa people of Liberia, West Africa. Dinner had been an unheated can of Franco-American spaghetti in tomato sauce, chased by a bottle of tepid mineral water.

After brushing my teeth with the remnants of the same mineral water, I lay down on my cot, carefully arranging the mosquito net suspended from a hut rafter above. I anted to reduce the chances of being bitten by a possibly rabid rat, in case one fell from the rafter while being pursued by a hungry snake. I reminded myself to check my shoes for scorpions before putting them on in the morning.

Darkness had completely swallowed both the 30-foot wide band of denuded earth around my hut and the surrounding lush rainforest vegetation. I lay in my cot, too tense to sleep. It had been an energy -draining day.

I had persuaded the driver of the truck that made a weekly trip upcountry to carry me, along with my belongings, with mail and supplies for the only Peace Corps volunteer in Grand Bassa County. The 60-mile trip, from Liberia’s on "city" Monrovia, to the few huts straggling along the roadside designated on my map as Compound No. 3, had consumed most o f a day, since most of it involved unpaved dirt roads in barely passable condition.

My future home was situated several hundred yards off the road on a narrow trail running through a farm plot and on into the rainforest toward the St. Johns River. I spent the remainder o f the day unloading my meager belongings, recruiting several small boys to help me carry them, and moving them into the whitewashed mud hut I would be living in. Alone among the people whose language I couldn’t yet speak, with out such amenities as electricity and running water, I knew that the next three months would be the lengthiest and most daunting camping trip I had ever taken.

Soon the calls of rainforest animals were suppressed by West African "talking drums" speaking in the night. Perhaps the booming sounds were announcing my arrival. I pinched my self to make certain that I wasn’t dreaming that I was trapped in a B grade Tarzan film. Later I fell asleep to the percussive rhythm of heavy rain pounding on the hut’s corrugated metal roof.

emerging from the hut the next morning, I brushed against the headless body of a rooster suspended by a woven cord around its wrinkled yellow feet from a roof eave near the door. Blood still dripped from it slit throat and trickled down his dusty rumpled feathers.

"That wasn’t here last nigh!" I thought with surprise. My eyes involuntarily followed the blood droplets down to the ground.

"What are those holes? They weren’t there last night either!" With mounting alarm, I followed a row of precisely placed inch-deep puncture marks in the red laterite soil around the entire perimeter of the hut.

I could taste acrid adrenaline as panic gradually spread throughout my body. This was West Africa, source of the malevolent spirits later featured in sinister Caribbean voodoo cults. The drums I had heard must have been communicating the message that a white-skinned witch had taken up residence. The dead chicken was probably a warning sign. The line of holes around the hut could be a symbolic attempt to isolate and contain me within. Why had I been so foolish as to choose this part of Africa for anthropological research into the marriage patterns of a slash and burn agricultural people?

Nature’s call was insistent. I stepped hesitantly over the neatly drilled holes, walked across the hundred feet to my stick and mud latrine, and cautiously pushed open the rickety door. Once inside, I had to force myself to relax.

Walking back to my hut, I paused about halfway, tried to slow my breathing, and attempted to decipher the situation. I noted the deeply corrugated metal roof. The spacing of the holes in the ground appeared to correspond exactly to the channels in the roofing material. Heavy rain must have run off the roof in parallel rivulets and drilled neatly spaced hole in to the red clay soil.

Although I never learned why they had chosen my hut from which to hang the slaughtered chicken, the farm workers staying in a hut a few hundred feet from mine enjoyed an unusually sumptuous meal of rice with chicken that night.

Later that morning I asked my houseboy, who has learned English from the Peace Corps volunteer, about the drums in the night. "Next time there is drumming, " I said, "would you come get me and take me to where they are speaking to one another? I would like to watch them being played."

"Oh, no, missy," he replied dismissively in the bored tones of a blase music critic, "they sound much better from a distance!"

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Story Source: Lane Community College

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Liberia; Stories - Liberia



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