There is a chapter in The Poisonwood Bible in which some fiery type of ants overtake a village and everyone has to run across the river to avoid them and when they return everything is picked bone-dry, including chickens. There is a scene in The Mummy in which some human beings are in an ancient tomb and because of some curse all these mutant scarabs emerge and crawl all over the humans and burrow into their skin. Something analogous happened yesterday, but it was not fiction, it was my actual real life and that situation is the subject of this blog post.
So the pit latrine in my new house had a lot of cockroaches. Like, a lot. Every time I lifted the lid there were maybe thirty or so hanging around the opening and they would mostly scatter (somewhat slowly) when exposed to light, but I could still see their little wriggling antennae poking out as I lowered some of the most important and vulnerable parts of my body—completely exposed—to just inches above their lair.
A Peace Corps volunteer here told me about how he regularly unloads an entire can of Bop (Gambian equivalent of Raid) down his pit latrine, drops a lit match, and then BOOM, no more cockroaches for like a month. This seemed like a good idea, but also a scary idea so I decided to forgo the match step and just use Bop and if it was a little less effective that was okay with me. A quick, easy, after work home improvement project.
Freshly purchased can of Bop in hand I moved quickly—lifting the lid, spraying all around inside, trying to get them before they rushed back down to the depths. But that was the flaw in my logic: down was not where they rushed at all, they rushed out. I sprayed them on the ground around the pit latrine, on the cinderblock wall around that, but they kept coming. They were swarming me, rushing around my feet, the shrubs nearby were rustling with their escape.
I honestly cannot describe exactly what happened over the next couple hours. I must have blocked out the details, I only know that they kept coming. My house is just a few feet away from the pit latrine and their move to that location was most likely swift. When the Bop ran out my weapon of choice shifted to a combination of my flip flops and a cutlass. And they kept coming—crawling under the door, jumping from the space between my walls and my grass roof.
Cell phone records show that I texted my friend Jenna: “Two really important questions. 1 can a human die of fear 2 are cockroaches attracted to light. Please respond asap.”
But there was no response so I turned off the light, just in case. With my headlamp on my head and a cutlass in my hand I stood silently in the dark, all my senses attuned to the hunt of them, each kill initiated by the subtle clatter of their exoskeletons across my concrete floor after falling from the ceiling. But they were falling far too quickly. Two fell noiselessly into my hair, one down the back of my shirt and then I crouched on my floor, hugging my knees and started crying a little, segueing into hyperventilating. They kept coming.
Jenna called, “Do I need to come over? What’s going on? I’m coming over.” Upon her arrival she laid out a really solid plan: 1. Hug 2. Get rid of the hundred or so dead cockroaches I’d piled up 3. Beer 4. Sleep at her house 5. Damage control in the morning.
After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and anti-anxiety medicine (for me), Jenna and I spent hours squashing more cockroaches, sweeping up bodies, shaking out every item of everything that I own, bleaching every surface in sight. By afternoon we had finished and while drinking a victory cup of coffee a drop spilled on my leg and I nearly leapt into Jenna’s arms out of fear.
The breeze is scary now, but I definitely will not have any more cockroaches in my pit latrine for at least four days. If you’re keeping track at home: This was far worse than malaria.
(Pictures are of cockroach corpses collected the following morning.)
(A different cockroach story that makes me long for my youthful naïveté.)