In the U.S., we have more or less conquered the wild. We decide what can grow inside and outside our homes. Our lawns are perfectly manicured, and we plant our flowers neatly in boxes and rows. Here in tropical, equatorial Africa, we humans are merely guests of nature. Liz and I have decided that the sooner we give in to this reality, the easier life will be for us here.
Nils tells us as we walk to the pool yesterday that one cannot enter the jungle without a machete; It is simply too dense. Furthermore, wherever there is not enough foot or auto traffic, even when paved, foliage will quickly begin to overtake the road.
The hospital compound is definitely more farm than hospital to me as of right now; I have only been here for two days, and I don't start working in La Pediatrie until tomorrow, so as far as I can tell there are no patients here, only animals. Cats and dogs roam freely, and no more than a half hour ago, a goat watched me write part of this blog entry as I sat on the patio outside the laboratoire with my computer. There are chickens and roosters everywhere, but it is obviously the roosters that are the most noticeable; They are incredibly noisy. There is one that hangs out right by our house, and Liz remarked yesterday that that rooster is sadly unaware of how much he is incurring my wrath. Arnaud, a French doctor living next door to us, and I, have agreed that we will be getting together sometime soon to enjoy a nice "coq au vin" for dinner. I am not sure to what degree we are actually kidding.
Liz and I are not just sharing our house and yard with roosters and hens, but also with bats and bugs. The bats are nesting right by (in?) our bathroom. We hear them squeeking all night long, and the medical fellows who lived here before us were obliged to duct tape sturdy plastic over a hole in the bathroom ceiling through which bat poop falls continuously onto the water heater below. The bat guano is still collecting into that plastic bag, and would make fantastic fertilizer but is undoubtedly very bad for the lungs.
As I mentioned previously in this entry, Liz and I had determined on Day 1 that we would never win the battle against the spiders, the mosquitos and the roaches, and so we therefore planned to instead strive towards acceptance. I thought we were doing famously until last night, as we were walking back from dinner, I heard a tremendous crunch under my foot. I turned with my headlamp to look at the path (Nils says you can always tell who the Americans are here because they are the only ones wearing headlamps) and saw what was, quite possibly, the largest snail I have ever seen in my life. "WAS" being the correct term, as part of it was now on the bottom of my sandal. For some reason, Liz and I had an awfully hard time that night upon returning to our house. Almost immediately, she discovered a giant lizard behind her window curtain, and the only thing I could suggest was that she just pretend like she had never peeked behind that curtain in the first place. A few minutes later, she asked if I wouldn't mind helping her duct tape some of the holes in the screens and walls the next day, just as a small measure towards keeping some of the wildlife out of her room. I replied that yes, I would be happy to help, and would it seem like a fair trade to ask her to assist me in getting rid of some of the dead roaches on the floor of my bedroom?
Even more interesting is the threat of snakes here. Although it would be decidedly faster for us to cut across a large, grassy field to get from our house to the cafeteria, we have been advised to remain on the dirt roads that wind around the long way. I had been expecting to hear that there were giant, tree trunk-sized pythons waiting for us, but soon learned that the snakes in that field are tiny green snakes that can kill you within minutes to hours after biting. In short, we stick to the windy dirt roads. This field, booby-trapped with its deadly little green snakes, instantly made me think of the house I lived in for 3 years back in Hanover, NH. It was far quicker for our undergraduate neighbors, seven or eight of whom shared a house, to get to their place by cutting across our front lawn. This meant that they always walked right underneath my bedroom window. Our landlord had placed a tiny sign on the lawn that said "Private Property--no cut-throughs" and I finally took my roommate's giant "Save Darfur" sign and planted it right near my window where the trespassers would exit. Neither of these measures ever deterred anyone, and it occurs to me now that all we needed to do was post a sign warning of poisonous snakes....