I came to Mali with a mild fear of certain bugs. Fear might even be taking it too far: I could tolerate insects in almost all situations (exceptions being perhaps cockroaches…). My strategy for dealing with bugs most of the time was to make a deal with them that they would make no rash moves and generally stay away from me, and we would be ok. Mali has changed all of this.
First of all, bugs in Mali are plentiful and generally larger than most bugs in America (at least temperate America). I came to Mali very confident in my capabilities as a volunteer. I did not expect to encounter problems with minor details like insects because I could handle anything. Wrong. My fear of bugs has grown exponentially since coming here.
The bugs I encounter on a regular basis are spiders, scorpions, crickets, ants of various sizes, mosquitoes, millepedes, locusts, grasshoppers, and termites. Some of the spiders are acceptable: I know they eat other bugs and therefore I want them to be an ally. However. There are sun spiders/camel spiders here that can be almost as big as my hand and they scurry. I am terrified of them. Malians on the other hand are very aware of what is dangerous and what is not, and since sun/camel spiders don’t bite, Malians don’t mind them at all.
My house is like a war zone. It is infested with crickets (harmless but abundant) and thus infested with spiders and lizards (also both harmless) that eat the crickets. For some unknown reason, something doesn’t eat the crickets’ legs when they eat them, meaning I find cricket legs all around my hut like casualties.
At night I can hear the termites gnawing on the wood in my roof, and during the day I sit under a shower of saw dust as they devour my gwa. If anything, they are a blatant reminder of the impermanence of human creations.
I have thus far only killed 3 scorpions and only seen 4 at my house. The first one I saw was tiny, perhaps a centimeter long (less scary, but more dangerous). I was in my nyegen at dusk one night, and saw it crawling away as I was leaving. My first thoughts were, “Oh shit! That’s a scorpion!” followed by the recollection of a story I had heard from another volunteer: the first scorpions she saw she screamed until Malians came to her rescue. However, now she just kills them until they are beyond dead. I bravely took off my flipflop and smashed the life out of the scorpion and then some.
Ants are becoming an increasingly prevalent theme in my service. Multiple kinds live in my compound and every once in a while, they decide they want to have all their babies under my 20 gallon water jug. I wake up in the morning, groggy, and go to pour my bath water only to greeted by millions of little brown ants squirming chaotically, trying to save their tiny white babies from the morning sun. They are not ever a problem until they squirm in such abundance.
I do a lot of waiting in Mali, a lot of sitting in silence, and ants are a constant source of entertainment. One morning while waiting for a ride into San, I watched an army of ants attack a termite mound. One by one, the ants came and captured the tiny termites and took them away to their underground sanctuary.
Since rainy season has started, flying termites have started hatching. The day after a rain, they hatch out of the ground from holes that resemble ant holes. Their black bodies are roughly a centimeter long, and they crawl out of the hole, spread their wings, and begin their search for the only one night stand they are allotted in their short lives. They fly in abundance towards light and frolic until they lose their wings and shortly there after, their life. At some point, they make termite love, and the cycle continues. In the morning, piles of shedded wings cover their tiny corpses. I am told they are delicious: Malians eat them raw… I think that might be beyond me.
Another similar creature, but slightly larger sheds its wings in a similar fashion. One night at Tubani So (our training center) Michelle and I were walking back to our huts. We took turns using the facilities and noticed little black bugs following each other around in pairs. They were courting. We watched them for a while with interest. We even tried to lead two of them together [insect matchmaking] until we realized there was a third [insect love triangle] and it got too complicated. However, as I walked up to my hut, I realized that these bugs were covering the screen door which didn’t shut all the way, and consequently were infesting my hut. Michelle came to my rescue and heroically swept out my hut. It was quite the battle, as each time she felt close to conquering, more bugs would come in. She fought off at least 50 of them. She emerged from my hut after much work, and informed me, “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that I think I broke up a couple relationships. The good news is I think I got most of them out. The bad news is there are still some under KJ’s bed (my roommate); the good news is they are not under your bed.” In the morning, those that were left were in their last twitches of life as their worldly duties were completed.
Bugs will continue to be a struggle here in Mali, and I am less and less certain my fear will diminish over the next two years, but hopefully I can find better ways to manage it.← Culinary Adventures of Mali 300 Cups of Tea →