Sunday, February 3, 2008

Things That Go Bump in the Dark

Things that go bump in the dark

We have the sense that we are immersed in the strangest place we have ever known. There is an incredible richness of plant, animal, insect and other life. This richness also presents threats and many unknowns….those fearful sorts of things we call “things that go bump in the dark.”

The biggest threat seems to be malaria. The rainy season has made the proliferation of mosquitoes a real hazard. We are seeing the white workers—who sleep under nets—falling ill one after another. White and black children alike are suffering from it. It’s talked about as commonly as the flu back home, but the threat is much greater.

Then there are the spiders. This morning Alan pulled out his shoes and a big, brown, flat spider ran up his arm. I had seen one of these ugly monsters earlier in the week; Kendra assured me that “flat is your friend.” Evidently we should be on the lookout for the hairy spiders that stand up higher on their legs. These are the hunting spiders, such as scorpions.

We must be careful to dry our clothes for 15 minutes on the dryer’s hot setting in order to kill the larvae of putzie flies. These flies will lay their eggs on clothing hung out to dry (which we do) and then the larvae hatch into worms (otherwise known as maggots) under your skin. We have been careful to do this.

Alan has several boils on his skin right now; the question was whether they were bites of some kind, or putzie flies, or something else. It looks like this is something else, some systemic infection or allergic reaction working its way out of his body. If these do not stop, he may have to see a doctor.

For me, being here means being much more watchful of my feet. I tend to walk without paying much attention to my surroundings, generally thinking about something else. I am learning to watch for bumps and holes in the ground, as well as to remember that our cottage is on a couple levels. Our second night here I pitched head first down two steps, falling hard on the concrete floor. Fortunately the only damage was a discolored knee and shin.

But there are worse things than falling: snakes. We are told to not go out after dark. Evidently there are large, black, and very dangerous snakes that move about after dark—especially in the rainy season. I do not care to meet one; this is the sort of thing I would much rather just observe in a zoo.

Then there are ants. Little as they are, they can pack a punch here in Africa. A little red ant (it’s black but called red) has a painful bite and draws blood. They can swarm a person and then on some unknown signal bite at the same time. The army ants can be seen marching along; you really don’t want to get mixed up with this bunch. Swarming and painful, they can kill small animals with their ferocity. Knowing how painful these ants can be, I try not to get annoyed with the swarms of tiny ants that make their home with us. The pantry and kitchen have been a real problem, but they also swarm in other places—my least favorite is on the bathroom sink and my toothbrush.
Our home is also home to lizards, flying termites, small (& large) spiders, big, black millipedes, toads, and who knows what else. We sleep under nets, use a flashlight at night or turn on lights, tap our shoes before putting on, shake out clothing, continually battle the little ants, turn on outside lights at night (there are other threats than insects and spiders in this tucked away cottage); we watch and wonder what else might be out there going bump in the dark.

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