Always in the deep woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is an ancient fear of the unknown and is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. -- Wendell Berry

The TRIP: GUINEA - wonkifong --> MALI - bamako, djenne, douentza, Dogon Country --> Burkina Faso - ouagadougou, bobo-dioulasso, bala, ouagadougou --> GHANA - tamale, mole national park, tamale, yeji, volta lake ferry, akosombo, accra, green turtle lodge, elmina, cape coast, accra, hohoe and wli falls --> TOGO - kpalime, atakpame, lome --> BENIN - cotonu (transport stop) --> NIGER - niamey, tahoua, agadez, camel trek in aiir mtns, niamey --> BENIN (abomey, grand popo, ouidah, ganvie, cotonou) --> CAMEROON (douala, buea, top of Mt Cameroon, limbe, sangelima, yaounde, kribi, douala) --> MAURITANIA (nouakchott, atar, chinguetti, camels into the sahara, terjit, choume, ride the coal train, nouadhibou) --> MOROCCO (western sahara, dakhla, agadir, essaouira, marrakesh, imlil, summit of jebel toubkal, fes, chefchaouen) --> cross the Strait of Gibraltar --> Malaga, Spain --> fly to Geneva, Switzerland --> Les Grangettes, France
Click for a map. Updated April 30, 2007

jeudi, décembre 07, 2006

Ant Armies (3-décembre 2006)

The view out of my kitchen window reflects the battle of the previous night. The sides of my neighbor’s (Tanti) house are blackened and the earth surrounding the house out to 15 feet is scorched black. Fortunately, there is no sign of the vanquished, the thousands and thousands of ants who laid siege to the house.

By chance, I was at the edge of my porch last night when I saw Tanti come out on her porch, notice something and with a shriek disappear quickly back into her house. What could it be? Instants later she returned on the veranda with the two girls who also live there. They all look and point towards the ground and then run down the stairs. As they reach the bottom of the stairs, each person jumps and runs quickly away from the house.

I yell, “What is happening?”

“They can kill a person. It’s not good,” Tanti replies.

Confused, I leave my porch and go over to where she stands. At the same time, the two girls run past me towards the opposite side of my house. They return in several moments with dried straw. The neighbor on my other side has recently moved out and there are piles of old, dried straw from what used to be their outside cooking hut.

“Look, look,” Tanti urges me as she flashes her flashlight beam on the ground. It takes my eyes a couple of seconds to focus on the moving earth. Nothing is fixed. Suddenly, a sharp pain on my foot helps me realize what is on the ground. Ants. Lots and lots of ants. There are so many ants that the dirt and rocks are almost covered. Apparently, at the end of the rainy season, hordes of ants leave their tunnels underneath the ground to forage around the neighborhood. They can swoop through a house and clean it out.

One of the girls is holding a bundle of the straw and Tanti lights it. She then attempts to light any debris on the ground. I join in and grab a bundle, light it and set the ground, ants, anything that burns on fire. We are soon joined by Bachir, a friend of the family who was just happening by.

Several minutes later finds us all standing on the porch, about 10 feet above the ground.

“They’re coming up! Don’t let them in the house,” shrieks Tanti.

The image of defenders of a medieval castle comes to my mind. As I look on the ground and the base of the walls to the house, the ground is blackened by the teeming ants starting to climb up the walls. The ants have laid siege to us. Running down the stairs to grab a bundle of straw, I am brushed by the heat of Bachir’s burning bundle as he races up the stairs. He reaches over the wall and uses the flame to repel ants coming up. One of the girls drops salt over the edge into the masses of ants while the other pours kerosene onto the ground to be followed by a flaming mass of straw. We are able to stop the upward progression of ants into the house and return to the ground to get the ants away from the building. Running around with bundles of flaming straw, each person is busy setting small fires while also trying to keep their feet moving constantly. These ants are not friendly. I pause for a second and my feet are instantly covered with biting ants. I drop my flaming bundle, retreat to safe ground and beat the ants off of my feet and legs. Some have crawled up my legs and are biting my back. I get the ants off and look at the scene around me.

The full moon has illuminated the area and the light is amplified by multiple fires burning red around the house. After almost an hour of battle, the ants finally disappear back into the earth. Who knows when they will reappear?

Post script: A few days later, I was told that the ants did reappear at another house and killed 5 chickens and were working on a few sheep that were saved. Mean little things...