I am in a perpetual low intensity conflict with the rodents in my hut. They chew holes in my clothes and eat my zip-loc bags while I respond with a clever strategy of brinksmanship relying on fierce name-calling and fist-shaking. Every so often, however, one gets a bit too cheeky (running up the inside of my roof in broad daylight, for example), and an immediate—if fleeting—victory becomes a matter of pride.
A rat pushed me to this point a few weeks ago when I woke up one night to a scratching sound. I turned on my flashlight to find him calmly sitting on top of my cabinet, returning my glare with a look that said, “Yes, and?”
Me: “You cheeky bastard!”
Let it be known that I don’t enjoy killing rats and mice, partly because I’ve had both as pets and know that they can be quite companionable—when they aren’t chewing on your furniture at 3am—and partly because killing them is such an ordeal. I don’t want to use poison because I’m positive either Bandi or the kitten would eat a dead poisoned rat without a second thought, and I don’t have the skills (or stomach) to go after them with a machete. (Josh has done this; one of the mice, mortally wounded, got its revenge by bleeding to death in his shoe.)
That leaves rat goo. The basic rat goo procedure is to coat a piece of cardboard, perhaps leaving a spot in the center for bait, and then position it in a high-rodent-traffic area. So I found a piece of cardboard, covered one side with goo, and put it where I’d seen the rat, wedging one edge underneath my seed-weighing scale.
That night, when I said goodnight around 8:30pm, the music was still going strong out in the compound; the cotton money recently arrived, so all the guys have bought boom boxes and new tapes. I couldn’t fall asleep. I read; I listened to my iPod, trying to cancel out the other music; I tossed and turned. I refused to count sheep because sheep are disgusting, ugly animals who deserve to be roasting on a spit, not jumping and frolicking about. Finally, finally, I was asleep.
And then I wasn’t.
I knew it was a noise that woke me up, and sure enough I heard a desperate scratching and rustling. I pointed my flashlight in the noise’s direction and saw Cheeky Bastard firmly stuck to my clever cardboard trap.
Now, while rat goo claims to be “suitable for the catch of big rats,” big rats caught in rat goo sometimes have a wide enough range of movement to flail about or scratch noisily. Which is what this guy was doing, as he had a good two or three appendages free to flail with.
It was 2am. I had just gotten to sleep. The rat could wait until morning. I turned off my light and lay down, determined to ignore the scratching sound and go back to sleep.
I wish I knew some acoustical engineers, because they would have a field day with whatever property of thatched mud huts it is that amplifies sounds, particularly at night, to perfect Dolby 5.1 Surround sound quality. Crickets sound like they are performing in a concert hall. Rats gnawing on any of the countless things rats find to gnaw on might as well be operating heavy machinery.
I couldn’t go back to sleep.
So I sighed, got up, wrapped myself in a pagne, and gingerly transported the cardboard/rat goo/rat combo to my backyard, where I flipped it rat-side-down on the ground—after which I planned to smite it mightily with my shovel. This is my preferred method of rodent execution, as I don’t have to look at the rat during the procedure and, even when I miss the first few times (I couldn’t figure out how that one guy was still able to squeak, until I realized I’d been smacking the wrong end of the cardboard), I eventually make the rat dead enough to not feel bad about dropping him into my pit toilet.
That was the plan. The rat had other ideas, however, because as soon as I put the cardboard down, the cardboard took off, propelled by the rat’s three free legs. It wedged itself against my douche fence and a supporting pole.
Hunh. Ok, no problem. I got the shovel and gave the cardboard a good whack. Then I poked the cardboard to see if I’d been successful. Unfortunately, no; the cardboard jerked against the fence as the rat tried to scurry away. So I whacked it again, with the same result.
I should note at this point that the village was now completely silent. No music, no conversation—just the occasional hacking goat to cover up the sounds of my ongoing attempted murder. I heard Bomel coming out of her hut next to mine, so I gave the rat/cardboard another good thump and then went back inside. Surely he must have sustained enough injuries to leave him (silently) bleeding to death.
No such luck. More rustling. So I sighed, got up, wrapped myself in a pagne, and went back outside. Aren’t these guys supposed to have soft skulls? I let loose with a few more whacks followed by a tentative poke, and damn if he wasn’t still alive and trying to run away, cardboard and all. Sadly for him, he was still trying to run into the fence.
Sigh. I switched my headlamp off for a minute and paused to appreciate the brilliant sea of stars above me. On moonless nights in the village, you can see not only the Big Dipper and Orion but also a zillion other constellations I never learned, as well as the Milky Way. It really is quite stunning.
I turned back to the task at hand and gave the cardboard another poke. Sure enough, the damn thing twitched back at me (Still?!). I tried a quick series of jabs with the tip of the shovel blade, both for variety and because it’s significantly quieter than the resounding thwacks from the flat of the blade. I tried to move the cardboard again, but it was now somehow rat-gooed to the ground, or else the rat had a death grip on the dirt. Either way, the rat/cardboard didn’t seem to be actively struggling as much, so I decided it was safe to go back in and resume my attempts at sleep.
I was back in bed—writing this down, actually, on the assumption that if I ever got back to sleep I wouldn’t want to wake up in the morning and think it was all just a bad dream—when I heard a cat meowing outside.
I immediately had visions of trying to pry a yowling kitten off of a dead-or-possibly-not-dead rat that was itself stuck to piece of impossibly sticky cardboard.
Right. So I sighed, got up, wrapped myself in a pagne, and went outside to give the cardboard another cautious poke. It responded—not much, but enough to necessitate further action.
I picked the rat/cardboard up to move it about a foot away from the fence so as to get a better swing—what I hoped would be the death blow. But damned if that piece of cardboard didn’t take off for the far corner of the yard, spurred on by a rat who just wouldn’t accept defeat. It scurried headlong into my compost pile, where it got stuck in some twigs.
You have got to be kidding me.
I followed, determined to end this thing. I moved the cardboard back out into the open, this time putting a foot on the non-rat side to hold him in place. A few more whacks, but he was somehow still just not quite dead enough to go peaceably into my pit toilet. I settled for putting a large-ish chunk of mud brick on top of the cardboard (stomping on it a few times with my foot, just for good measure) before finally saying goodnight.
In the morning, I shoved a piece of cardboard, coated with goo and a rather flattened rat, down the douche hole. Victory was mine.