Paralyzed, I sat in the corner of the room, waiting for the ferocious eight-legged monster to make its move. I couldn’t see his eight eyeballs from my haven (20 feet away in the living room), but I knew they were all pointed at me and he was preparing to strike.
Why do spiders need eight legs and eight eyes? That’s an unfair ratio to my two and two!
A staring contest commenced and I glared fiercely while trying not to flinch a muscle. I used my peripherals in attempt to locate nearby heavy objects while contemplating which object was best shaped and weighted for killing the spider, based on the African arachnid’s gargantuan size.
Settling on Lonely Planet’s Guide to Africa (roughly twice the thickness of a King James Bible), I spent an additional five minutes planning the execution and escape route, should the attack fail.
Plan A: The Husband
Gabriel was to karate kick the spider with his bare feet, as he did one time during our first year of marriage (confirming his bravery and raw virility). But he was not feeling well and I did not want to wake him to save me. No, I wanted to defeat the beast. Even if it was a solid 3x the size of the karate-splatted spider.
Plan B: A Blunt (Force) Bye-Bye
Move forward to execute by whatever means necessary, as the thing was blocking me from my coffee.
It had scurried across the kitchen floor, right as I prepared to pour boiled water into my french press. The fact it almost caused me to spill my patiently waited on water (forget the health concerns if the boiled water had actually spilled all over me), only irked me more.
Here, I have no electric kettle, no on-demand water heater attached to my sink. I had been up for 12 minutes and 42 seconds, watching the water come to a boil in a pan on the stove. And that was 12 minutes and 42 seconds too long without my coffee.
Get out of my house.
My battle cry reverberated off the concrete walls as I lunged forward at my colossus adversary with one of Gabriel’s shoes raised high. I swiftly slammed the weapon down, crushing air into the concrete floor. My opponent used its eight eyeballs to anticipate the attack. Then it used its eight legs to jump at least 10 inches in the air to miss the shoe’s fall and land safely, a foot out of reach.
I used my two legs to put another 10 feet of distance between us.
During the process, it scurried further until it ran out of floor and got cozy underneath the bottom of a cabinet. Worried my boiled water would cool and it would be another 15+ minutes before I could have coffee, I decided to end the battle once and for all.
Plan C: A Stylish Sayonara
Tip-toeing out of the room, I made my way to the bathroom, where I retrieved my precious, limited supply of American hairspray. It was to be reserved for special occasions, but declaring triumph over this monstrosity of an arachnid seemed special enough, so the bottle returned with me to the kitchen.
I aimed and pushed my finger down on the button, diffusing a cloud of chemicals throughout the kitchen. But the cabinet’s lip was too big, and the spider remained unaffected.
Plan D: One, Two, Three Strikes...
Next, I grabbed a cup of water, planning to just splash it under the cabinet and scare the thing back out into the open. But the cabinet’s lip protected the spider once more, and all I was left with was a puddle of water on the floor.
Dejected at my failed attempts, I went in search of our mop. When I finally located it (which was more difficult than one would think, in 700 sq ft of space), I spent a few minutes wracking my brain for a new plan.
Plan E: Revert Back to Plan A, The Husband
Still unsure of what my next move would be, I prepared to return to the battlefield, just as a loud thump sounded from the kitchen. I rounded the corner to find Gabriel out of bed, on his hands and knees, scooping up the smushed spider to deposit outside.
And there was much rejoicing in the Sams’s household.
Unfortunately, the spider was only one of many recent squatters in our home. And although its eviction notice was served with final authority, some of the other hooligans in its gang of creepy crawlers have been a bit reluctant to remove themselves from the comfort of our home. Specifically, some large African crickets, beetles the length of my palm, unidentified flying insects, millipedes half the length of my forearm and mosquitos.
Just last week, a flying beetle, disguised as a helicopter, buzzed across the room and was caught in the air stream of our fan... which happened to be pointed at my face. It collided with my forehead, causing me to shriek and fall off my perch on the sofa. It also provided quite the entertainment for the chirping crickets that laughed at me from behind the bookshelf.
But nothing — and I mean nothing, not even the spider — could have prepared me for The White Ant Invasion.
It started last week when the rains came.
The white ants (named for their nearly translucent wings) are actually African termites that build large mounds of red dirt that sprinkle the landscape. These mounds can be more than two meters in height and house thousands within a colony — terrifying facts I wish I had known two weeks ago.
Ignorant to the behaviors of white ants, I was excited to see a mound built near our home. I thought, how exciting! We can watch it and see how tall the ants build it. Pure mzungu ignorance.
The ants stayed inside of their mound and we lived happily as cohabitants on the land for several weeks. But then it drizzled one afternoon. That evening at dusk, the ants started swarming, leaving their citadel and immigrating to our verandah where they were drawn to light.
We watched as hundreds fought to get closer to the verandah lights. And like Icarus, they soared high for some time, enjoying their gift of flight. But slowly, one by one, their wings started to fall off and they plunged to the ground.
Gabriel pointed out how terrible it would be to have the ability to fly, then become grounded for the rest of your life.
I watched as some of our girls scurried to scoop up the fallen ants from the verandah’s concrete floor and pop them in their mouths as a dessert. If I hadn't been afraid one would fly into my gaping mouth, it would have remained hanging open in surprise for several minutes.
“Auntie Sarah, they’re so sweet! Like a special treat.” Unconvinced, I politely declined their offers to catch some for me.
Shortly after dusk, the insects disappeared and I thought little of them. But then the next week came, and with it, heavier rain. It was around 6 am, when the sun was contemplating getting out of bed, that I walked out of our bedroom and into the kitchen. Two steps into the room, something grazed my left cheek. I swatted at the assailant, taking another step. Next, my right arm was hit twice and I jumped back, my foot crunching something small and smearing guts between my heel and the concrete floor beneath.
I flipped the light on to see hundreds of ants flying around the kitchen and living room area. Another hundred more piled in through the cracks in the kitchen window’s screen. Half lost their wings in the process, falling into the sink where they were trapped. The other half continued to fly around overhead until they made their descent to the floor below and scattered to the other rooms in the house.
Overwhelmed with fury at their audacity to come into my home and distraught because they completely upturned my plans for the morning, I couldn’t decide whether to sit down and cry or to fight back. But it’s not in my nature to stand down when challenged, and their silent intrusion in the night was just that: a challenge.
Re-enacting J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Battle of Helm’s Deep, I positioned myself in the doorway between the kitchen and hallway, funneling my opponents to attack in the most narrow area of the house where I had the strongest hold. There, they would have to come at me in fewer numbers to fit through the doorway.
Then, I turned off the kitchen light and turned on the hallway light and waited. It only took a few seconds for the front line to make its advance. Fly swatter in one hand and battery-powered bug zapper in the other, I welded my weapons mercilessly through the air, slicing and dicing and electrocuting anything that came near.
I left a neat little pile of ant carcasses to boast to Gabriel of my victory.
When I thought I had defeated them all, I braved a few steps in the kitchen and flipped on the lights. Only a few remaining survivors scattered the ground, easy targets. But when I stepped over to the sink, I immediately drew back in disgust and fear as I watched another hundred ants pile in through the window and trap themselves along the window sill and in the sink.
I changed tactics and decided it was best not to electrocute near water. Those stuck in the metal basins were drowned instead. The battle finally ended, I looked at the clock on the wall to discover almost an entire hour had passed.
Gabriel came out of the bedroom shortly after. Seeing my victims scattered, his first reaction was wanting to know why I hadn’t called him for reinforcement? I thought about it and decided — just like the spider — fighting the ants was a fear I wanted to overcome on my own.
Later in the morning, once the girls were awake, I told them of my epic battle. Completely unimpressed, and looking borderline bored, they patiently waited for me to finish the saga. Then they asked me where the ants were?
“I scooped them up in a pile on the floor.”
“Can we have them?”
“Can we have them? To take to the cook to roast.”
I realized that, during the entire extent of my story, they had been focused on what had happened to the ants, rather than the trauma the ants put me through. I just shook my head and laughed. They hunted down the remaining ants outside (and the live ones that escaped from me inside) and put them in a container to take to the canteen. Later on, they returned with a heaping bowl of roasted ants, which they devoured before sundown.
Our perspectives are always changing and we try to be as open as possible to learning about Ugandan culture. But as fascinating as it was to watch the girls get so excited about the ants, I will have to report that I felt no desire to try the “delicacy.”
For now, I think it’s best to treat our neighboring African termite mound with respect from a distance. Because I would hate for the remaining clan to get wind we ate all of their cousins and come after us!