The Belly of the Beast

Let’s talk about crocodiles.

Am I making this up, about the crocodiles in Gambela, to scare you?because you don’t know anything about Africa, and it seemed like a good way to add suspense to Green Pastures, my first Global Village Mystery? The true answer is a resounding NO!

Crocodiles, like many other hard facts about sudden death, are things people deal with in daily life in Gambela, as in many parts of the globe. Everything I’ve put in the book about crocodiles I’ve either seen or heard about in Gambela or researched to the best of my ability.

Imagine a young woman straight from college in America, finding her feet in a place where very little is as she is used to things being. One night she goes with a fellow volunteer (later to become her husband and life partner) for some R & R at a local bunnabet (bar in Amharic, the language of the realm). Low shaky tables and stools, that could have been hammered together for a middle-school project from two-by-fours, placed on an earthen floor against earthen walls. She glances up, then stays riveted—her bira keuzkazza (cold beer) forgotten near her lips—by the framed photograph on the wall. It shows a cardboard carton with legs sticking out of it. Human legs. Various officials stand around, chests inflated, pointing or posing for the camera.

  “What is that?” I asked my husband-to-be.

  He always seems to know things like this. “The Peace Corps volunteer who was eaten by a crocodile.”

  “No,” I say, then, “Why have they put the picture on the wall here?”

  “It happened here.” He finishes his beer and licks his lips. “Last year. Right off the retaining wall at the end of our street.”


  “Yup. Bill Olsen. He ignored advice.”

  “I guess I’m not going swimming.”

  “Good idea. To answer your question, I think they have the picture up here for two reasons. One, it was a big event, drawing international attention. Gambela’s claim to fame, if you will.”


  “And, it’s an item of national pride that a white man got eaten by someone.”



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