I can remember drawing plot diagrams of stories when I was in school. We were taught to identify the protagonist, the antagonist, and the type of conflict. In the story of my new life in South Sudan, I am quickly finding one of the bigger conflicts to be between nature and myself. It’s too early for me to tell whether I’m the antagonist or protagonist, but maybe it’s a bit of both.
The first real battle took place several days after I arrived. Angie, my dad, and I were preparing to settle in for the night, so I grabbed my headlamp and made one last trip out to the latrine. Angie had consented to let me go first since she had to stop and get a flashlight of her own, and I had promised to be back quickly as to not let either of us get eaten alive by mosquitoes. Upon entering the restroom, I found myself in head-to-head combat with a rather large cockroach. He had claimed the toilet as his own territory, and despite my attempts to knock him off of it with a toothpick I just happened to be carrying, he solidly stood his ground. Little did he know that I was quite happy to discover that he lacked the ability to fly like his cousins I met in Taiwan. So there I stood, my only weapon against him having been dropped in the pit, wondering what I to do next. I contemplated just walking away and leaving Angie to deal with the problem, but as I turned and released him from the glare of my headlamp, he quickly scurried off the seat and into a corner. I silently thanked God that he hadn’t run across my foot and was very happy with the unexpected surrender. I made a mental note about the effects of my headlamp and marked this up as a small victory.
The next small war against the soldiers of nature took place inside my house. My little cottage sat empty for about three months before I arrived, and I had been noticing that several families of spiders had decided that my ceiling made of local materials makes a nice home. They are not noticeable at first sight, but all too often I would catch a glimpse of a daddy-long-legs moving in on a snack. Even though I know that on some level I should be allies with these creatures since they eat many of the other things I don’t want flying around, I could not see myself allowing them to be my roommates. My weapon of choice against spiders is usually my Dyson sweeper, but seeing as how there were such strict luggage requirements, I hadn’t seen that as a logical item to pack. I like for my second line of defense against eight-legged creatures to be someone else- anyone else, actually. I contemplated calling Steve or Diantha to come help me, but knew that I would not like the teasing that was sure follow. I could have kicked myself for not having my dad do it before he left. So here I was, working alone to reclaim my house from these spiders. I am not too proud to say that I suited up in a pair of rubber gloves I found under my sink and a bottle of bug spray for clothing that Jenny had left in the closet. The spray didn’t claim to work against spiders, but I decided that with all the warnings about putting it on human skin, it was probably strong enough to do the job. I must interject here and explain that these spiders in my house were nothing compared to the banana spider in Taiwan whose life ended with a baseball bat several years ago, but still they were unwanted. I quickly developed a pretty good strategy against Charlotte’s offspring: I would first douse them with some spray and then wait until they could no longer run around frantically. I would then knock them and their web off the ceiling with my homemade swiffer (a wooden spoon with a damp dishtowel wrapped around it). Finally, I would grab the broom and ensure that the spider would not make any more webs, in my ceiling or anywhere else for that matter. The gloves served their purpose well- although several spiders scurried across my hand in a last ditch effort to find safety, I didn’t have to feel a single one doing it! When I no longer had fight in me and had gotten the biggest and scariest of the spiders, I took off my gloves and called an end to this battle. I hadn’t gotten them all, but am working to invite in a couple of the small geckoes that tend to roam around here in hopes they will help me to control the spider population.
I’m not sure why nature has such an impact on me here. I continually tell myself that things aren’t different than the months I spent backpacking in a tent in Rocky Mountain National Park or the many nights we spent sleeping in horse campgrounds, but somehow it’s a bit harder to deal with in this still unfamiliar place. The ambush of nature here is seemingly relentless. From the mosquitoes constantly buzzing around my ankles to the startling sound of nuts dropping on my tin roof in the middle of the night, I feel like I must constantly be on my guard. I know from what I learned in school many years ago that all conflicts eventually find resolution so I am certain that at some point these things will become commonplace and I will no longer get the willies when I see an unidentified bug crawling across my patio floor. But until that falling action in my story begins, I will continue to look forward to being able to crawl into bed under my ‘force field of bug protection,’ aka my insect repellent treated mosquito net, where I know that none of these small beasts of nature can get me. Some things in life just seem too good to be true.