Monday, January 01, 2007

Animal House

One of the things I’ve had to get used to here are the animals. I used to think I could have more control over them. After all in the States a lot of animal you see are pets or cute neighborhood animals like birds and squirrels. It’s not quite like that here.

Shortly after I moved into my house at my permanent site a rat moved in above my ceiling. I couldn’t believe it! I thought my family would be more than happy to help me. My 18 year old brother perhaps thought I was a little crazy but communicated to my family that it was bothering me and tried to help by buying ‘medicine’ for the rat. The worst part of him living above my ceiling was that I could see him entering my home from outside and I saw his very long tail more than once dangling in one corner or another. This was a bush rat and happened to be the size of a cat—no joke. I even know where he was building his nest. I remember waking up one night and being convinced that he had found a way into my house and was eating my food. I started crying since I didn’t know how to get rid of him. At best I could chase him out but he would know how to get back in so it seemed hopeless. Luckily the chewing sound I heard was coming from above my ceiling. I was still a little outraged that my family didn’t seem to be doing more to help me out. This animal was keeping me awake half the night running around on my cement bag ceiling and chewing on the wood support beams of my roof. Since I wasn’t sleeping I would sometimes chase him around poking at my ceiling with something that could reach it. I would hear him run to one end or another and poke again. I’m convinced he finally moved out because he couldn’t take it anymore. At least I have more patience than a bush rat.

Then sometime in the spring maybe a mouse moved into my house—not above my ceiling. At first he was chewing on anything he could find. I would find little bites taken out of my lid of my oatmeal container and every other container I had whether or not it had food in it. It was the beginning of mango season and he managed to take little bites out of every mango if I didn’t put it on top of my water filter—I figured that was about the only thing tall enough that he could climb on top of. I forgot about some sunflower seeds I was eating and he went through those in one night. They had gotten stale anyway. I went away for a weekend and when I came back he’d chewed through the cord on a pair of headphones (luckily I’d brought 3 or 4 pair with me) and the cord on my little speakers. I fixed the speakers but haven’t had any luck with the headphones. I found him twice building a nest between a 3 inch thick foam and the wall the foam was next to. He had chewed a hole through my back screen door which I had seen him going out of and when I patched it there was a nearly identical hole chewed through the screen right next to the first hole it the next day. I put a bigger patch on it and haven’t gotten a new hole since. Eventually he stopped chewing on everything. I knew he was still there since I’d hear him sometimes in the night but it was only sometimes and he wasn’t getting into everything anymore so I let him be. Mousetraps are hard to come by here and I really didn’t want to poison him and not know where he was. Dead rotting mouse in my home is just not very appealing. I remember telling my sister Binta about this mouse running around keeping me awake. I’d convinced myself there were baby mice, too. She kinda laughed at me and told me to see their mouse. We were near the kitchen and she showed me the small food store room next to the kitchen where the mouse was. It was dark so she shone her flashlight around the room a few times. There were dozens of mice running around the rafters, the walls the floors. I was disgusted. She didn’t know the plural for mouse. And here I was complaining about one mouse. After living with me for so long one night I heard a little splash in one of the half full buckets of water sitting next to my bed. I immediately knew what it was. I was a little disturbed, a little panicked. I got up to use my toilet (hole) in my backyard. I shone my flashlight in the bucket on my way in. There he was swimming silently in circles unable to get out. When I woke up in the morning he was dead. I was relieved and saddened at the same time. However, I won’t miss him.

Gambians hate cats. Even though cats can catch and kill mice and rats that get into food stores they also sometimes get into food if it’s not properly covered so in the end the cats lose. Living with mice and rats is not a big deal since they can’t get rid of them. However lizards and geckos they are very afraid of. I’ve seen them screaming and jumping to avoid them and tear my house apart trying to kill one. I’m a little indifferent to the lizards and geckos since they don’t bother me by getting into everything and destroying things. They are also very afraid of snakes. There are a few poisonous ones here. I’ve heard some good stories about them but Gambians will kill any and every snake they see. I’ve also seen pictures of a snake that had eaten an entire adult goat. The snakes do eat chicken eggs and chickens so a hatred of them is not unwarranted. I managed to get a hold of a green rubber snake and I’ve had a lot of fun with that. Women and children running and screaming and me laughing very hard. When the other kids and adults started egging me on when someone new came to the compound who hadn’t seen the rubber snake I knew it really was funny and not just me.

I hate roosters. They don’t just crow at dawn but a few hours before dawn and then all day. I live with too many. Last year in my compound there was at least a half dozen or more. They compete for loudest crow and once they start they don’t stop crowing. There aren’t as many this year and I’m very thankful for that.

The goats aren’t so bad. The babies are pretty cute. Goats get sick just like humans especially during the dry season with all the dust being stirred up every day. I remember one goat who every night would wake up and go to the middle of our compound and baa. BaaAAH-SNEEZE, baaAAH-SNEEZE for half the night. Or maybe he was just outside my window near my bed. Either way I didn’t sleep much my first year at site for all the animals keeping me awake half the night.

Other animals that I live with can be classified as bugs. The ants are annoying but don't do much damage unless they are sugar ants that find a stash of candy. There are also black ants that I call 'bitey ants' because they bite and it stings and later it itches for a few days. They build in my mud brick walls and occasionally break through and I'll have little ant hills around my house. The termites live in the walls, too, and only bother me when they eat my door and window frames. The main problem with that is finding a carpenter that will finish repairing the windows and doors. I had a carpenter come maybe November 2005 and from time to time he'll stop by to do an hours' worth of work and still hasn't finished the work. I was mad at first but have stopped caring mostly because I made some of the repairs myself since he left wood in my house. It's a good thing I brought a Leatherman with a little saw.

I think that's most of the animals that I live with. I'm sure there are some smaller ones that live inside me that I won't get rid of until I go home but that's only 6 1/2 months away.