A word on the morning commute....But first, I should mention that Liz and I started taking Snake Alley a mere 4 or 5 days after arriving here. Yes, Snake Alley is, in fact, the shortcut across the hospital grounds that is allegedly home to small, deadly, green snakes just waiting to eat American medical students. We were eventually informed by multiple Gabonese people that this path is frequented by enough humans to be snake-free. It is hard to tell whether that whole story about the path being snake-infested was simply the Europeans here freaking out a bit, but ultimately I was very tired one afternoon after a trip with the PMI and Maman Sophie insisted that this path was safe. From that time on, Liz and I have been using it regularly, and we have informally dubbed it as mentioned above. We do have some limitations, however, and we avoid Snake Alley at night. To paint a picture of how routine our lives are here, one morning Liz and I stepped outside to walk to the cafeteria and both exclaimed, basically at the same time, "They mowed Snake Alley!" The less foliage on that path the better because we haven't totally let our guard down about the snakes and it is therefore good to be able to see where you are putting your feet.
Getting back to the commute....It never gets old how much stuff I see while walking the paths around the hospital. Not long ago, I paused on Snake Alley to allow a hen and her little brood (?) of chicks to cross the path in front of me. I keep at least one eye trained on the ground at all times, not only to look out for snakes, but also because one has to be very careful to step over the parades of ants crossing the path. They really do follow one another, in an unbelievably organized fashion, and you do NOT want to be the person to cause them to become lost and confused; This results in ants, ants, everywhere.
One morning during my third week here, I was sitting in the PMI office with Marie-Benoitte when she suddenly exclaimed "A millipede!" I looked at the sidewalk just outside and saw a giant black THING moving along the ledge. I hopped up to go take a closer look, but didn't get very far before she screamed "Don't touch it!!!" Now, do not ask me what made her think I was even contemplating touching a millipede, but when I asked her why not, she told me that they are extremely deadly when they bite you and that there is no cure. Naturally, this made me even more curious, so I went to the doorway to watch this thing, which actually looked like a train with rolling wheels for feet. Even more exciting than the mere presence of a bug so enormous it might as well have been an animal was the reaction of all the passersby. Gabonese natives on their own morning commutes exclaimed "Millepatte!" and swerved to avoid it. Better yet, it wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. It wove in and out of the brush next to the sidewalk and crossed the dirt path twice before deciding to come back again. We finally hopped into the van to head out into a village and Hortense cried "Oh! It's still there!" I turned around and noted that it was actually still visible 10 feet away through the back window of the van. I then asked Hortense in a low, dramatic voice if she knew anyone who had been killed tragically by a millipede and she responded that no, they were not really that dangerous. I said, "Really, not even if they bite you like this?" I gave her a little pinch on the leg, and she screamed. To this day, I don't really know why Marie-Benoitte thinks the millipedes here can kill you, but I am finding that it's hard to get the real skinny on a lot of the dangers here (Case in Point: Snake Alley.)
Just when I start to think the ant trails are getting commonplace, something new pops up. Several days ago, I was on a jog and a CHIMPANZEE walked in front of me. I teetered between wanting to pet it and wondering if it had rabies, because it was sort of just meandering aimlessly across the road. I suddenly had this flashback to high school, when my dad drove me to school in the mornings on his way to work. We had a pretty spectacular commute, driving through the hills of Marin, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and into the city of San Francisco. The only thing we ever saw that came close to an animal, however, was this lady with HUGE hair and giant sunglasses, driving a red convertible (always with the top down), with a vanity plate that read "All (STAR) Bev". She was there nearly every morning, passing us at the same spot on the bridge, and just like with the millipede, I felt compelled to look at her until she was gone from sight. There are some things on my morning commute that I will just never get used to, no matter how many times they appear.....