LIVING WITH ANIMALS
Singular or plural I hear you ask. Why isn’t it mouses you may say. At 10 pm the electric has gone out and ten minutes after we descend into a natural moonlit darkness there is a squeak followed by the patter of small claws as two mice run angrily across the supporting rafter of the house. It is as if to say “we’re here! notice us!” Well, the little so and sos have certainly achieved that aim as they run past me at 4 am, barely a foot from my bed!
We are staying in a rural village. Van is from a big city. She had never before seen cows in the dark. We fixed that. However, to my great peril a rat crossed our path as we approached the cow. Having only one torch between the three of us, I was left alone in the dark to fixate on my impending doom at the hands of the countless rats which were no doubt congregating nearby upon smelling my abject fear of them and their evil red eyes.
After Van had marveled at the cow, we returned home. I was still on high alert after the rat sighting, and my student says that he hates being scared of things and that I should calm down. I in turn tried to explain ‘irrational phobia’ but think I failed.
Fast forward to bedtime and I was alarmed by the sound of small feet on the wooden boards. It was a cockroach. Ugh. I dislike cockroaches who are less than 6 inches from my face. In a whispered shock I exclaimed “Oh my God!” and in rushed out host who clearly saw my sleep induced fear. Returning with a stick he proceeded to chase the cockroach around the wall trying to stab it to death while I obsessed over the Buddhist philosophy of not murdering things, the fact that the family of the roach would most certainly come to look for their lost member, and my still impending doom at the hands of the rats. Van awoke to some commotion. It was not my finest hour. Mind you, I had been quite content with my own plan of watching the roach’s every move until I became so physically exhausted that I collapsed under my own body weight into a fitful sleep. So, the fact that my trainee had decided on a much more violent course of action was somewhat unnerving to me.
A couple of nights on and there was a scurrying. The three of us; Van, our trainee and myself had enjoyed a relaxing cup of tea and a chat before retiring to bed for the night. The scurrying was distinctly close to the empty tea cups in which was resting a used tea bag. A sweet smell evidently emitting from the used glasses. Van leapt from her bed onto mine which was marginally further from the critter noise when in came our student. Bleary eyed we explained how something was moving over there. This time he exited the room and returned carrying a long javelin with a very pointed blade at the end. He proceeded to stab at the bamboo rafters. Pointing out the tiny dormouse that was responsible for the ruckus. Once again, my pacifist reaction was let’s not kill it, while Van advocated for the violent end of any and all living beings who had the cheek to take residence in our sleeping quarters. Of course, when being chased with a sharp javelin the mouse was afraid. In times of panic it is quite normal for any creature to empty its bladder. Over the bamboo ceiling. It turns out that fresh mouse urine is strong and unpleasant, especially at 1 am. The hunt seemed to be proving unfruitful, and was potentially doing more harm than good; now we had to contend with a furry visitor and the odor of our night time guest. Seizing the chance, I assured our host that we would be fine and tucked Van into our mosquito net, carefully ensuring not to rip the fine mesh as I tucked it under her blankets. I must admit, while I didn’t like seeing my colleague worried, I was pleased that it had not again been me making a fuss about the local wildlife.
After Van's departure, it seemed that our host still hadn't realized that while I screeched at the roach and became quite prostate over the visions of rats, it was Van who was nervous of geckos and mice inside the house. Not that I relish the thought of mice running over my bed and licking my face in the dark I will readily admit, but as long as there aren’t any rats, I will shut up and put up generally speaking. As we were sitting in the cool square inner sanctum I saw the spider who had been mere inches from my face the previous night. As the time I had felt a slight apprehension, but had tucked my limbs into my blanket, turned my body away and closed my mouth to ensure I didn’t swallow the hand-sized being in the dead of night. Now I held my torch close to the arachnid as I lower my face parallel to inspect the body and legs. It’s body looked like a kiwi fruit; brown and hairy. Its limbs were much more distinct than any spiders we have in England. We also had the pleasure of a large green and yellow striped gecko join us. I could see the confusion in the eyes of my student as I cooed over the being. “You’re not afraid of them?” he asked incredulously.
The mice are not my favorite thing. However, I am hoping that soon the pregnant cat will have lots of small hunters who are just primed to kill the critters. My student said that the mice will be very quiet after the birth of the kittens as the mother cat will be on the lookout for food and if there’s one thing that Tom and Jerry taught us it’s that a cat’s favorite meal is a nice plump mouse. The interaction with the animals is the price you pay I suppose for living in a rural village in a house made of wood and bamboo without doors or windows; how can you keep the outside out when you are but half a step from the outside?
NEH Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer
Life in the Monsoon Season
Visit to Htoo Chaung Village
Arriving in a Village
Photo Essay: Harvest Festival
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