Sunday, December 2, 2012

Of Mice and Man


Most of my blogposts spring from Sunzu, so very slightly east of Eden, an enchanted place where I am building a home and editing dreams. But I must acknowledge that there was no dreaming my first night in my charming traditional mud hut, complete with wall-to-wall dirt floors. 

Everyday at 6 pm (give or take 10 minutes), the sun sets upon Sunzu, an earthly paradise just 2° south of the equator. No summer or winter solstice celebrations here. So, with all the workers and children long gone, I sat down to enjoy a beer and spit a pack of sunflower seeds, and I listen to the bullfrog and cricket choir, with the lowing of cattle occasionally coming in as bass.

So what do you do after a long day of farming, a beer, and no remaining human companionship in a Village that now sleeps? You do as they do in the Village: Go to sleep and prepare for an early rise and another day of honest farm work. But 8 pm? What does 8 pm + 7 hours equal? That’s 3 am. But I might sleep 8 hours, rise very early, experience the heart of Africa in the 4 am darkness, pray, and await the sunrise at 6 am (give or take 10 minutes).

I crawled under my unzipped sleeping bag and in my fatigue fell fast asleep, not noticing those curious noises that would soon become so familiar. I know I mentioned that beer, but did I acknowledge that it was a “big” bottle? Think 40 oz. Life is good,... nearly perfect so very slightly east of Eden.

Ahhh, sweet slumber, until… in the middle of the night… a friggin’ mouse ran across my face, from ear to ear, across one closed eye, the bridge of my nose, across one startled open eye, and then misstepped in the canal of the other ear. I have never known anyone to awaken so fast since I poured a bucket of ice water upon a sleeping Craig Black for one of his many misdeeds. With blood pressure soaring, I could hear my heart pound, and I knew that I would not be getting back to sleep.

O, well, who cares? I shall have my wish of experiencing the heart of Africa at 4 am, praying in deafening silence, awaiting the sunrise at 6 am (give or take 10 minutes).

What time is it? 4:00? Maybe 4:30 (I hope!) I fumbled for my phone in the darkness and the camera went off, capturing a frightening image in the Blair Witch Project genre.
WHAT!?! 9:12!?! Not a.m., but rather p.m., that is, still the night before. I shouldn’t even be in bed, and yet I’m getting up! Ugh! This, my fist night in my ever so charming new home, was sure to be a very long one. And those curious noises to which I had paid no attention. It was a mouse riot!

But catching sight of a mouse is harder than catching sight of a cockroach. Turn the light on (if, unlike me, you happen to have lights), and they vanish. But you can hear them giggle at you from their hiding places.

Speaking of their hiding places, did you know that mice actually have mouse holes just like Walt Disney always depicted? I never noticed them in my house until I was crawling around on the dirt floor with my phone for my light in the middle of the night (that is, almost 10 pm).
Indeed, it was a very challenging night. I was quite out manned, or out moused. I spent the night wiiiiide awake, listening to mice gnaw on everything in the house,… including my duffel bags, my sleeping bag, my foil wrapped Cliff bars, even my shirt. If you do not already know, mice indiscriminately taste test ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. One for the mice. I departed the next day in ruins.

But I was not to be so easily defeated. I came back loaded for bear. Traditional mousetraps. Rat poison. Untraditional mousetraps. My Rwandan friends marveled at my ingenuity in placing peanut butter on the end of a long 2” wide piece of cardboard, set up as a teeter tottering gangplank over a 5-gallon bucket with 6 inches of water in it. The unsuspecting mouse scampers out upon the gangplank for the peanut butter, splash, and drowns! My Rwandan friends would have thought it even more ingenious if it actually worked. Which makes me think that mice are really stupid, because it was such a great idea.

What has worked best is the good ole traditional mousetrap. I have a dozen set all around my 150 sq. ft. dream home. Now I crawl under my sleeping bag cover and grin like the Cheshire cat as I listen to the sound of popping corn.

But it has been and continues to be a battle commendably well fought by the combatants. I recently pulled my cover back to go to sleep and an amazingly large mouse (dare I call it a rat) had crawled in before me. It scurried off, leaving me a bit unsettled, but undaunted,… undaunted until I put on Ed Kushin’s 1985 “Fairway Salvage” sweatshirt which I stored under my sleeping bag and was overwhelmed by malodorous mouse urine. You may think that cat spray smells bad, but I now know where cat’s learned that trick.

And these mice taunt and mock me. Today I was standing just outside my front door talking to Theogene and a mouse ran between my legs safely into the bushes. I asked Theogene “Where did that mouse come from?!?” and he responded that it had just come out of my house.
Three sprung mice (traps), but the thieves
all got away with the bait
 I must also grant my worthy opponents that they have often stolen and eaten the bait from my traps with impunity. But to add insult to injury, I once discovered that some mighty mouse actually stole one of my traps. Or so I thought.

And then my bedroom began to smell pretty bad (and I am not talking about hiking boots and socks worn 4 days). Not quite as bad as a mouse urine soaked sweatshirt, but the unmistakable putrid smell of death. I knew I got him, but where is he? I searched high and low. My d├ęcor is quite Spartan, so how difficult could it be? I launched search after search, and ultimately even enlisted the help of some of the students. Twice we carefully searched under my bed. Nothing! Nothing? Then what is that smell, and where is my damn mousetrap? Finally, during exhaustive search #4, I lifted my mattress and found that the trapped mouse had pulled himself and my trap far under my mattress, yet remained upon the bed frame, where he permanently retired.
These mice even taunt me in death: "Bye, but know that others are coming."


But I still have one more smell to share with you: Three days ago Chantal made for me a concoction of fish and rat poison, … lots of poison.  Well that old expression about house guests and three-day old (unrefrigerated) fish has taken on new meaning as I sit outside my house and write this tonight. I stuffed every mouse hole (like 10 of ‘em) with this horrible stuff that now has super-fine  “cotton” growing all over it. If the mice don’t eat it and die, surely they will just vacate the house to escape the smell, as have I.

I hope it doesn’t rain tonight.

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Postscript:

This is getting absolutely ridiculous. These mice do not fight fair: