It was about 9:00 pm and I working late a few days ago when our guard burst into my office and exclaimed in French “Il y a des fourmis et nous allons mettre le fue!”. The direct translation is “there are ants over there and we are going to place the fire!” and that is enough to get my attention! I closed my laptop and took off with the guard to check it out.
I had just finished reading “The Poisonwood Bible” (by Barbara Kingsolver) so images of ants swarming the compound and devouring everything in their path immediately jumped to my mind. There are always two guards on duty at night and when we arrived at the far back corner of our compound the second one was already hard at work.
Ok, so it wasn’t really a swarm… but, by using my headlamp, I could make out a column of large black ants snaking its way from the bamboo fence that surrounds the compound and heading towards the tukul where the expats eat their meals. At about 1 cm long, these are big ants and the column was 10 wide and rushing forward with purpose, determination and a sense of urgency. CHARGE! I could almost hear their leader yelling out from behind as he tries to motivate his troops to push forward!
“Attention, ça pique!” the guard warned and he joined his colleague in the battle. They were busy using a shovel to take coals out of our fuel-drum bush oven, still warm from the fire used to make bread earlier that day and glowing in the darkness. Sprinkling the coals in an unbroken line, they formed a barrier between the ants and the rest of the compound and waited.
When the front of the column reached this line, chaos broke out in this seemingly well formed and disciplined group. As if they had suddenly slammed into a wall, the ants scattered and frantically searched for a way around the coals. There were literally hundreds of ants in a panic running back and forth, running into each other, not sure what to do.
With no immediate solution available, the column disintegrated and the ants simply retreated back into the night. As quick as they had materialized, they were gone. I heard that they tried again a few nights later around the logistics store and then again down by the feeding center but each time the guards were successful in their defense of the premises.
…imagine “defend against onslaught of ants” appearing in YOUR job description!