I lock the padlock to the door of my house. I look to the left and see fog rolling over the rainforest. I look to my right and see orchids blooming in my compound garden. I hope there is never a normalcy to this. I hope that split second of amazement never wears off. It reminds me of visiting my uncle Dan’s parents when I was living in Denver. They live in the town, Evergreen, at the foothills of the Rockies. Driving there seeing the sheer rock walls, snow capped mountains and evergreen forest always left me awe inspired. I was envious of them, living their daily lives in serene beauty. In the back of my mind planning how one day I would live in a similar place. Little did I know it wasn’t as far off as I dreamed.
Living in the Rainforest isn’t all monkeys, birds, beauty and flowers. As I have joked with other Peace Corps friends I have the entire Animal Kingdom living with me. On my mud bricked walls I have slow, almond shaped bugs with thick shells and 12 legs. They remind me of trilobite fossils that I have seen in museums. They don’t seem to do much, but they are everywhere. At any given time I can find 5-10 on my walls. My first couple of nights, I went on hunting missions, but have since then I have given up trying to reduce the number. When I try to fall asleep I can hear these clumsy prehistoric critters falling off my wall with a small thwack when they hit the floor.
On my third night here in Lalo, I heard a scratching on my plastic floor. I could tell it was something larger than the average beetle. It took me10 minutes of staring into the darkness praying, pleading that the unwanted visitor would leave and never come back. After awhile I built up the bravery to grab my broom, phone flashlight and go hunting.
In the corner of my room was my food supply. It was my third day so I have no chairs, table or much of anything besides a mattress and my courage. Using the handle of the broom as a poker I stab at my potatoes, nothing. Maybe I was just imagining the sounds. Next the onions, nothing, wait. Out of the corner of my eye I see movement.
Yep, there it is, the culprit – a roach. We have roaches in Florida, or as Floridians like to lie to themselves “Palmetto Bugs.” I corner the roach and use the broom, as a poker and poke the roach. Phew, problem dealt with.
I lay back in bed close my eyes, proud of how I handled this situation. Right as I’m drifting off I hear the same scratching. Crap. I turn my phone flashlight on and roll over. There it is. A rat staring me straight in the eyes.
I’m frozen. He meanders around the room. I snap into freakout mode, snatch my broom and chase the rat. There’s a gap underneath the frame of my door. Nothing makes you decide which article of clothing is least important than the necessity of plugging a rat hole.
A pair of pants that was too big for me before Ethiopia. Now I’m down 4 belt loops already, there is a higher calling for those pants. I plug the hole as tightly as possible, then scan for other openings.
Okay, time for bed, I hope.
I lay down staring straight into the darkness unnerved. Now, I can hear the mouse trying to scratch at my barrier. At least it’s holding. It goes quiet for a few minutes and I think I might be able to attempt to go to sleep, maybe. I close my eyes. I hear the pitter-patter of the rat in my room again, not in the corner of my room but right next to my mattress, on the ground.
I’d be lying if I say there wasn’t a shriek. I fumble for my phone, snatch the broom. Fear, anger, vulnerability are in my eyes. I smash at the rat like Tom chasing after Jerry with the same odds of success. I corral him out of the room and see an opening to the right of my door. I plug the hole with a dirty sock. I scan every centimeter of the room for any possible opening, stuffing any crevice with the closest available barrier.
I lay down in bed staring into the darkness any sentiment of being pride washed away with terror. Constantly reminded by the rat’s persistent gnawing at my barriers.
Sleep did not come my third night. Every night now I hear him trying to violate my room and sanity. I hear him running across the ceiling and down the exterior wall.
They say my area doesn’t have too much malaria. But, my mosquito net is as much a psychological barrier to the outside world as it is a physical.