“Rhonda, beware of the giant spider on the sink. He’s in here somewhere,” read the little note I had posted on the bathroom mirror of our fancy digs in Zanzibar. He had vanished while I ran off to scribble out a warning, the behemoth could be anywhere.
I had made a sleepy middle of the night visit to the washroom and soon realized I was being watched. I could see his face, all 700 eyes peering at me from across the bathroom, his hairy legs gripping the sink as he lurked. Thank goodness I was already on the toilet or I would have peed my pants. By far, the biggest spider on the planet, in the very same room with me. Worse yet, I was in my teeny pjs. I have rules about being fully clothed when bugs are around, a lesson hard learned.
I crawled back into bed, but there was no chance of sleep. I don’t know where he went, but I’m quite sure he had plans to visit again. The next day the cleaning staff spotted him, declared him extremely dangerous, and carefully remedied the situation.
My original “I want to see Africa” wish was all about the big critters. Safari days to see lions, sunset river cruises to see the elephants, sneaking up on hippos in the night. Had I known about the little critters, I’m not sure I would have been so anxious to go.
A saying I often heard throughout the 6 countries in Africa that I have visited attempted to explain it all. “This is Africa.” Basically, when you expect one thing, Africa immediately delivers you something else. Sometimes wonderful, sometimes ludicrous. I was drinking at a bar with some friends (This is how most of my stories get started…) when my Tanzanian host Mouddy says “Oh, look at the little mouse over there!” I glance over to see a rat the size of a small horse strolling through the bar. I immediately took another drink. Turns out these rats are rather fantastic, and can be trained to sniff out landmines and Tuberculosis. But I think this one just wanted a beer, and to scare the bejesus out of me.
Drinking only way to cope with these things. I’m sure I would never have survived otherwise. I had been crashing on a friend’s couch. When we arrived late one night and flicked on the lights, a beast the size of my hand quickly ran for cover. After I stopped squealing like a girl, Mouddy explained that it was only Jackson, a pet, nothing to worry about. It would likely cuddle up with me in the night. When you’re well infused with something called Konyagi (part jet fuel, part hellfire) this seems entirely acceptable.
Most places I ended up sleeping (aka passing out from Konyagi) offered a mosquito net to help keep you safe from the malaria infused mozzies. Which is all well and good until something sneaks into the net with you. I had finally tucked in after a long day, huddled safely in my bug net, in that happy place just before falling asleep. Then something smacked me in the face. I may have screamed, one of those guttural, I am going to die screams – much to the pleasure of the girls I was sharing the room with. I flicked on the flashlight to discover an enormous moth had shacked up with me. We had a talk, the moth and I.
“Look, I’m not cool with you being in here,” I declared.
“Ditto” said the giant moth.
“I realize I’m on your turf. Can we swing a deal? I won’t kill you, and you’ll stop bashing me in the face?”
We settled on no sudden movements and no swatting. Off went the flashlight. Our treaty lasted mere moments before he kamikazed into my face. Twice. The moth had to go. He felt otherwise. The bed and net were well torn apart, curses were yelled, and everyone was wide awake before the moth finally sauntered off. The unsettling part in this episode – the enormous earwig/centipede/demon creature that had been skulking on the outside of my net was nowhere to be found. It would be another sleepless night.
Sometimes the critters can’t be allowed to escape, they must die. Normally I’m cool with bugs. Spiders are let outside, worms are rescued from shriveling up on hot cement, and caterpillars are shooed off the sidewalk. But there are exceptions. My most deadly weapon is travelling sidekick Rhonda. When a particularly frightening bug appeared, Rhonda would make it disappear. She has big bug smashing boots. One night, after I had been a particularly difficult traveling partner (don’t drink the water…) I decided to conquer a cockroach all by my big brave self, giving sleeping Rhonda a reprieve. I borrowed her killing boot, snuck up on the little bastard and let him have it. I was fearless, and extremely impressed with myself. I was even courageous enough to tidy up the mess. I approached with the tissue, all proud of myself when the little fucker came back to life. He looked me in the eye and said “I know where you sleep, lady.” I screamed like a little girl, startling Rhonda awake. Which came in handy, she finished him off while I whimpered in the corner.
It’s not all bad though. While sitting on the step of my grass hut at Mikadi Beach in Dar es Salaam, I took a moment to look up (likely in silent prayer begging relief from the Konyagi hangover). Hanging from the thatched roof were seven large fruit bats dangling down, licking their eyes and having absolutely no concern about my intrusion. We stared at each other for a while and contemplated life. A warm breeze off the Indian Ocean rustled the grass hut, the bats and I swayed. After 3 and a half weeks of chaos, this was one of my most peaceful moments on the trip. Everyone was still, quiet and just enjoying the scenery. This was Africa.