The Rats are Taking Over

In the last few days we have been invaded by moths. I counted 63 in the cold chain room this morning, and 17 in the hallway that leads to my bedroom. This morning, as I brushed past a hedge outside our base, I watched the lips of one of my colleagues call out my name in greeting, but heard only the thrumming of hundreds of tiny wings. The moths billowed around me, and I held my breath for fear of inhaling them before I could get back inside.

I’m wondering what’s next in the pageant of plagues to which we are currently being subjected. Our living quarters are infested with cockroaches, mice and rats. One wall of the office that I share with the clinical team has been entirely claimed by at least 3 species of ants. When I work late into the evening, as I routinely do, I also share the office with the half dozen geckos that live, until the sun goes down, in the light fixtures and behind the “Know Your HIV Status!” posters.

Our team has implemented a multi-faceted strategy to deal with the rats, the major thrust of which is humour. Our new Australian doctor informed us that giant, Gambian rats are actually used as landmine detectors as they are highly trainable and, while giant, not heavy enough to detonate the landmines. This is convenient, given the significant investment that is made in capturing, then training them. However, this knowledge is of little practical use to us here as, in spite of the high level of violence and militancy throughout Nigeria, landmines are not one of the security issues that we have to deal with. Besides, I have no interest in developing a professional relationship with the rats, and would prefer that they just hit the road. I am, however, ready to propose marriage to my mosquito net. Although we have very few mosquitoes here (I think they’ve all been eaten by the moths, the cockroaches, the mice and the rats), when tucked around my mattress, it does protect me from the biblical procession of these other species with which I am required to cohabit.

Last night I was sure that the locusts were also finally on their way. However, the giant preying mantis I saw was, in fact, a solitary, wounded traveller, having come into traumatic union with our ceiling fan.

The besieged flavour here was enhanced the last couple of weekends because we could not leave our compound at all, due to insecurity and violence surrounding the state and federal elections. Ordinarily, the attentiveness required to navigate the insane Lagos traffic between our base and our clinic provides a welcome psychological break from the endless insect and rodent encounters. And now a third election has been called for this weekend, because two rounds of resounding condemnation from national and international election observers isn’t enough, and Nigeria is going for a hat trick.

But Pablo Neruda was right – they can cut down all the flowers, but they can not stop the spring

8 Responses to “The Rats are Taking Over”

  1. Jacky Says:

    Great blog – keep it up!
    Certainly puts the "plagues" of downtown Toronto in perspective.. the "major" irritant of my morning was dealign with an up-ended garbage can, thanks to the neighbourhood raccoons…..
    Jacky (Mel’s sister)

  2. Sylvia Fukami Says:

    You must be a master in concentration , The phrase, "driving me buggy" takes on a whole new meaning!My one sellfish thought when you mentioned the mantra was "wow I wish I had a macro and was able to shoot one"
    Really, I commend you for your dedication and yes humour is a great asset in life .We were commenting on its value yesterday.I told my friends that I had quit reading political news and criminal news .Not enough politicians pay attention to serious stuff in the world and I have no control over thier stupid bickering .I just know who I vote for and why ,help with elections then quit reading about things I cannot control . As for news on crime, or crime on TV I don’t need to know the gory details nor do I need to become paranoid of going out alone .I was getting nervous about asking strangers if I could come on their property to do photography so I had to give my head a shake and just get out there and live.Consequently I have been bringing home books that are funny or books I can learn from.Life feels freer .
    We went to a coffee house a couple of weeks ago I poured myself a coffee and said "thankyou"I was nearly back to my seat when I realised how absurb! That is taking Canadian politeness to a new level ! I laughingly told Tom " At least I didn’t say "You’re welcome !"
    Thankyou for your blog , I follow MSF closely but blogs bring things closer to home.
    Sylvia i

  3. Nathalie McIntosh Says:

    Mel- Finally figured out how to leave a comment on your blog! I’ll echo Jacky by saying that it is great- really gives a sense of your experiences in Lagos. Looking forward to the next one!

  4. Theresa and Wayne Says:

    Hi Mel.
    I don’t think I’ll ever complain again about the spiders on my balcony!
    I don’t have any experience of Nigeria, as you know, but Wayne’s reading of your blog, reminds him of what Nigeria was like when he was there….he’s trying to suppress the memories!

  5. Sarah Says:

    You have a great way of describing the animals you have to live with, i hope it improves and you continue to write. Bless you

  6. Colin Says:


    Re Rats, some 20 years ago, I worked in an East African hospital that had – how should we put it – ” limited ” facilities. One particular issue was the lack of x-ray. Eventually some well meaning people stumped up the cash and the long awaited x-ray machine got air freighted out from the US in boxes. So far so good. A year later it was still sitting round the back of the canteen because nobody knew how to put it together. The up side however is that it did provide a very good home for a family of rats who would otherwise have probably been living in the canteen. Result (?).
    Keep smiling.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Yucky ducky… I had a mouse in my Toronto appartment, and I had my co workers grimacing at the stories of my mouse friend today…. a city full of rats- Most people would call in sick.

  8. Mary Zolinski Says:

    Very interesting article and many ways to look at this subject. Many are closed in their thoughts and need to open up a little.

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