The Rats are Taking Over

29 April 2007 Comments

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