I’ve had a bit of a problem with ants lately. The other evening I went down to the river to take my bath and hung my towel on a tree limb. I would usually use my flashlight but on this night the moon was out so I romantically bathed by moonlight. When I was finished I grabbed my towel, dried off and wrapped it around my waist. Then suddenly I felt a lot of movement on my body, initially thinking it was beads of water but then soon realizing the reality of the situation; I was covered in ants that had been busy colonizing my towel. There are a variety of ants here and these ones were relatively small and although they were of the biting variety, their bites don’t carry a harsh sting nor do they itch for a very long time. And strangely, it was advantageous that I was already naked since most of the time when you unknowingly are standing on an ants nest it requires you to strip down to your knickers to ensure all ants are removed. So in all reality it was more of an inconvenience than a horrible ant attack.
The next ant incident was a bit more of a pain, no pun intended. I was working in the village of Owai, by far the most basic and isolated of the village we work with. When staying there I live in a two room mud house with a thatched bamboo roof and dirt floors. It’s very simple and aside from the constant traffic of lizards and insects (and occasional snake) that have unrestricted access through the variety of open spaces, it’s really not so bad. The previous evening I had bought some food items I intended to eat for breakfast, things like bananas, peanuts and a few rolls of bread. I had them secured in a plastic bag and thought nothing of it. Seeing as it was Sunday, I was jolted awake at 5AM by a seemingly lone preacher shouting prayers into his speaker system. Inconveniently, it was in very close proximity to where I was staying. I’ve fought this battle here many times before and I figured I might as well wake up and do something to keep my mind occupied knowing full well the alternative was laying in bed cursing the preacher and not really sleeping anyway. Owai does not have electricity (preacher’s stereo system run by a generator) and the morning light was not yet strong enough to fully illuminate the place, though strong enough for me to foolishly choose not to use a flashlight. I began to eat my rolls, peanuts and bananas and it wasn’t until I was nearly finished that I began to feel very faint crawling sensations on my face. At first I thought it was just debris that had maybe fallen from the thatched roof but then soon realized it was live activity of some sorts. When I wiped my face I didn’t see any remnants of insects but the activity seemed to increase. I took up my flashlight and illuminated my food bag. Sure enough, it was covered in a type of ant I had never seen before, a tiny almost transparent red ant. Well great, now I’ve not only ingested about a thousand ants but now knowing of their presence, I began to see they were everywhere. I breathed a sigh of relief thinking they were the non biting variety. And then I felt a pinch. And another. As previously mentioned, I began the frantic disrobing that only ants can induce. When this happens I always feel a bit like a superhero changing from civilian clothes to uniform, ripping off my shirt while simultaneously kicking my pants off with alarming speed, all the while doing a little jig to shake the ants off. Laugh all you want for now, some day you’ll find yourself unknowingly standing on an ants nest and you’ll be glad you know the drill. I took a towel and wiped down my body about twenty times and finally surveyed the damage. I had a few random bites here and there but they managed to bite my lips quite a few times. And it seemed that my lips were having a small allergic reaction to the bites. So I spent the rest of the day meeting with groups with a pair of oversized lips though the swelling subsided by afternoon.
Later that evening I foolishly put on my clothes that were next to the bag of food. I didn’t think twice when I changed clothes as I was in a rush to meet some people, most notably the Traditional Head who I had not seen in my previous visits due to his travel. When I arrived to his house he greeted me with his usual hospitality and I began to fill him in on the recent activities. And then it began. A little itch on my left thigh, another on my right. I put two and two together and realized that the ants had infiltrated my pants. It’s not like I could excuse myself to go to the toilet (there is no toilet) and we had begun a very important conversation. So I basically sat there and attempted to kill the ants by discretely rubbing my pants and squirming on the chair. I’m sure I looked absolutely ridiculous but in the end I succeeded. By the time I left his house I reckoned that all the ants had stopped biting, though they had done their damage. When I got back to the house I did a quick check and they did a bit of a number on my thighs but spared my genital area. These days, it’s all about the small victories!