It’s been about a week since Chelsi’s return from IST (In Service Training) and vacation at Lake Malawi. Upon her initial return home she had noticed some changes; the yard was cleaned up, there was not thatch everywhere, some of the bushes in the back that the goats were destroying were ripped out, the roof for her chim was covered in thatch! though it was still on the ground, some of the old rotten fence posts were gone. It looked better though not much had changed.
Daisy was not sitting on the porch waiting for her as she had hoped, but was second to greet her after Trigger, Daisy’s dog friend, came from across the compound to greet her first. Being gone for so long, almost four weeks, also posed great threats to the things inside of her house, almost more that the outside. In that time termites could have eaten her entire library, mice could have chewed through her food bins, ants could have then taken away any remaining content. Not to mention the inside of the house be covered in a layer of dust so thick from the thatched roof she could see mouse tracks across her table. But all and all she was pleased to find just about everything in good shape. There were no ants and no unusual termite activity. The mice were being no more mischievous then usual and by all accounts her mice were pretty tame.
They pooped just in two corners making it easy to sweep up, so far they had not chewed through any of her food containers, though one once gave a good try at a peanut butter jar once. After a little rearranging of her things they no longer found their way into her produce basket. If they did create a ruckus it was usually due to her error. Once shortly after posting Chelsi had forgotten to put the cheese back in the plastic basket, and all night she listened to the rustling of the plastic wrapper without realizing what it was before she woke up. The experience had taught her one other thing, though Zambians were not particularly fond of cheese, apparently mice, no matter their country of origin lived up to the stereotype.
There was one other thing that made Chelsi’s mice unique. Unlike the reports from many of her volunteer friends, Chelsi’s mice were easy to catch. If she heard a mouse at night while lying in her bed she could have it eliminated by the morning of the second day. A clean house and a well-placed trap was all she needed. She was more careful now about leaving food unprotected, no more rustling of plastic wrappers, but the mouse would still make noise as it move around the house. So, she would lie still and listen. Was there a rustling of thatch? Was there a gnawing sound by the food bins? Could she hear feet running across the wooden handles of her tools or table? If there was a squeak that means there are two. The next night she would place a trap where she heard the mouse spend most of its time and almost without fail, before she would even fall asleep she would hear the powerful SNAP of the trap closing around its prey.
She remembered the pride she felt when she caught her first one, shortly after she first moved in. She had taken the whole set over to her show one of her host sisters sitting in the chinzanza just next hers. With Chelsi beaming, her host sister had taken the trap from her hand when Chelsi offered it to her. She freed the limp little body from the trap and stroked it with both of her hands. The fur was soft and clean, the little mouse had taken good care of itself, she thought. What happen next though surprised her. Wilson, her host sister’s son, who could not have yet been four, wandered over to see what they were up too. When he had come close enough, her host sister extended the mouse towards him in one cupped hand.
‘Muja?’ she asked; ‘you eat?’
The little boy nodded his head vigorously, scooped up the little mouse and ran off towards the next chinzanza over where the fire was already going. Her host sister smiled and handed the empty trap back to Chelsi, who accepted it and went back to her house.
Zambians eat mice, people eat mice, she knew that. But she had never thought of it happening quiet like that. She thought about the children, who she had met on her brief visit to Eastern Provence back in February, that had trained her hosting volunteer’s dog to catch the mice in the fields and bring them back live, or plumped up dormice being served up in European antiquity. A mouse that had be crush in a trap though did not seem as appealing somehow. Subsequently, all mice, and there have been very many, have been bequeathed to Daisy, who will eat them slowly and most disturbingly over the course of three or four days.
Dealing with mice, both dead and live, where just part of daily life in the village and it had not bother Chelsi, until one incident just the other week.
It was the second of a pair of mice that had moved in during her long absence. They had made a nest together in the thatch of her roof and were no doubt responsible for the chewed up ant traps she found scattered around and missing probiotics from their blister pack. No wonder they are so regular, Chelsi had thought to herself as she swept up the piles of poop in the corners shortly after returning. The first of the pair, a male (a vast majority of the mice she caught in her house were male), had been pretty simple. She heard the rustle in the thatch, so they would mostly be getting around using the tops of the walls, but unlike most of the mice that came through the roof, these two were using the back wall instead of the front. Not a problem, Chelsi cleared a little space on the top of the back wall and that night, SNAP! A clean kill. The little female mouse was a little more clever, and evaded the trap the next night. Chelsi had heard her chew on the bait, interact with the trap, and then abandon it shortly after.
“Alright, perhaps if I just turn it a little this way. When she comes from the corner she feel like the trap is something she just has to get around. And more like some she’ll want to investigate more closely.” Daisy, sitting on the floor next to the stool looked up at Chelsi wagging her tail as she talked. “We’re done eating, there’s no food left. Kafwako.” Daisy harshly huffed some air out her nose and walked back out into the night. Now that she had grown a little and exhibited responsible night time behavior, Chelsi gave her more freedom to come and go from the house before they go in to bed. She looked at her watch, 20:20, which would be in another hour or two. She pick up and put away all the pots and dishes, bathed, read her book some then under the mosquito net with her pup. Her eyes were closed but her ears were open, waiting for the SNAP.
Her mind startled awake to the sound of metal crashing to the floor.
“Squeak! Hiss hiss hiss,” came a few moments later. The sound had woken Daisy too, and was now scooching herself closer to the head of the bed.
“Hmmm, that was strange,” her voice haze. She rubbed the dog on the top of the head. In the fog of her mind she constructed picture of what must have happened. She pictured the trap up on the wall the mouse caught by the tail. She entertain the idea briefly to get up and verify the scenario. Only bad things come from getting out of bed before the sun come up, she thought thinking back to her experience with the impazhi. She heard just a few more squeak before she drifted off again. I’ll deal with it in the morning.
“Rustle, rustle, crinkle,” the sound of thin plastic, like a plastic bag. Maybe there’s three of them? She thought, still refusing to open her eyes. No that can’t be right… But how it is making that sound? She imagined that the mouse had somehow been able to free itself and in an act of revenge have veraciously chewed through her food contains. Where else would it have found the plastic food bags? If it had chewed through the bins, there would be nothing that Chelsi could do about it tonight, but still she could imagine what had happened and could not sleep with insistent rustling of plastic. She pulled the mosquito net out of the bed frame and got up.
Fumbling in the dark, she found the light on the wall and switched it on. The light stung her eyes as he plucked it off the wall and carried it in to the next room. Alright, it has to be over here… looking around, the only plastic bag left out was the one her 5 liter jug of cooking oil was in. Surprisingly enough the animals never messed with it. So why now? Chelsi thought. She mentally prepared herself for what she might find: a mouse with a mangled tail, trailing blood… Damn it.
The little beast screeched. Just next to the cooking oil container on the floor, the trap sat up right. The mouse was strapped like it was a passenger on the roller coaster of death; the safety bar securely fastened across its lap, its paws reaching into the air, waiting for the downhill wind, screeching at the top of its lungs. Until it stopped, leaning forward it began to gnaw on its hind feet. Little bits of blood dribbled down it leg.
Chelsi was no stranger to ending the lives on animals. It’s not a difficult thing to do, I just have to do. She psyched herself up. You can’t leave it like that. It’s suffering too much. She reached to the top of the wall where her one remaining leather glove sat. I wonder why Peace Corps Medical Office didn’t get us training on handling rodents. She wondered this often, but especially now with this one still up and fight. People in Zambia are still catching Plague, not to mention Hanta Virus. She reimagined being fitted for a respirator at university before being allowed to handle rodents in the field. She them remembered having been bitten by a squirrel. Okay, you just have to do it. Just grab its head and pull. She conjured up the feeling in her hand and reached out with the leather glove on. The mouse abandoned the gnawing of it and reached out to her fingers with its mouth open.
“OW!” she exclaimed for the third time. “Fine, if you want to stay like that! I’m not going to deal with you.” She was tired, and even with the glove the bits hurt. She picked up the trap from the back end. The mouse stretched for her fingers squealing. Unlocking the door she stepped outside. It would still be dark for another four hours. She would stay in bed for at least another five. She put the setup on the dish rack where the dogs would not get it before she got up. It’s not being easy, but it doesn’t deserve that. And maybe it’ll just die on its own. She did not look back as she returned to bed.
“Daisy, DAISY STOP.” Every morning, between six and six thirty Daisy scooted up the bed so her head was on the pillow and deliberately stretched out her legs so her paws punched Chelsi in the face. Every morning. Sometimes multiple times. Normally she would just throw the dog off the bed, put out some food and prop open the door before getting back under the covers for another hour or two. But the mouse for the night before was still on her mind. So today, as she rose she put on some cloths and follow the dog outside.
She looked over at the dish rack. The little mouse was slumped forwards, ants were crawling on it face, dangling off its nose. I totally forgot about the ants. But it looked dead. She reached to free the body from the trap. Daisy sat, waiting for her treat.
“EEEEK!” the little beast burst to life, chomping its ant cover teeth towards her fingers.
“Damn it.” She looked around. Most Zambians have been up for at least an hour at this point, and many of them were already on their way to their farms. But she spied one of her host sisters milling out the chinzanza next to Chelsi’s. It’s because I feel animals that evade the most deadly of circumstances should be allowed to continue living in peace. She stretched her inner self, looking for the reason why she was struggling to kill this mouse. She loitered around a bit trying to decide what to do. All the while glancing over at her host sister.
Alright, I gatta just take care of this. She pick up the trap from where the mouse could not reach her and carried across the compound. The little beast remained slump over for the journey.
“Mwakonsha kukwash?” Chelsi extended the trap towards her sister. She probably thinks I’m an idiot. “Kechi nakonsha ne.” Her sister looked from her to the trap. And what a way to say good morning, having realized she had forgotten the all-important ceremony of morning greetings. Her sister reached out to take the trap, and as she did the mouse sprang back to life. Her sister jumped a little in surprise but was otherwise un-phased. She picked up a stick lying nearby, leaning over with the trap just on the ground, but still in her hand she WHACKED, WHACKED, WHACKED it on the head. I really am an idiot. I should have thought of that. I could have done that.
Feeling totally defeat, Chelsi accepted the set as it was handed her. “Ba Daisy, kaja?” her host sister asked.
“Yea, she eats them,” Chelsi replied, freeing the body from the trap. To go along with its bloody back paws, one of its eyes was now hanging out of the socket. “Sit!” She dangle the mouse by its tail. Her puppy backed up, bending her hind legs but her tail was wagging so furiously her butt was not really touching the ground. “Sssit.” Chelsi trying once more, Daisy butt planted more firmly on the ground. Good enough, she dropped the mouse into her mouth and Daisy ran off.
“Twasanta,” Chelsi thanked her sister. Washed her hands and got back into bed.