CREATURES I MET WHILE LIVING IN MALI AS A PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER
Photos are not mine, but are quite accurate.
- •MonkeysThere's a river near my village, where I used to go and eat bread and honey and watch bats in the trees. Fulani cattle herders would pass through to water their herds, and there were occasional fishermen with handmade wire traps. There was always something to see. A Peace Corps staffer visited me once and we drove down to the river for a little sightseeing. We surprised an enormous group of monkeys in the baobab trees. They moved like a school of fish, fleeing sharks.
- •Those fish you learned about in elementary school that can go into hibernation during dry seasonI spent a morning working in the fields with my host mom and on the way back she spotted a sad, skimpy looking puddle, starting to crust at the edges. She dropped to her hands and knees and started to dig in the still-soft mud at the perimeter. She pulled out softball-sized, lethargic fish and dropped them nonchalantly into her basket of peanuts. She was super excited. Probably the easiest meat to come by.
- •Black mambaI lived in a mud hut with a corrugated aluminum roof. During the rainy season, the walls would melt a bit, leaving holes and seams where creatures came to visit. One afternoon I came back to my hut, feverish from dehydration and maybe malaria. I walked in and saw a frog, four feet off the ground, suspending itself in the corner of my hut like a bizarre Mission Impossible sequence. I decided I was hallucinating, stripped to my undies, and went to sleep. After awhile, I heard a loud thwap.
- •Black mamba part 2 (fuck yo character limits)I looked down next to my cot and saw a big, writhing black snake. There are two scenarios: it came through a hole in the wall while I was sleeping and fell to the floor-thwap!- or it was already in my hut and had scared the frog into climbing walls. Neither scenario has soothed my night terrors. I stood on my bed and started to scream. The snake hustled its way under my bookshelf, next to the door. I was stuck, near-naked in a conservative village, with a frog-hungry mamba.
- •Black mamba part 3I wrapped my sheet around me, jumped from my bed to the door, and ran barefoot and screaming like only a useless white girl can do through my village. My nearest at-home neighbor grabbed his snake-beating piece of rebar (more on this later) and beat the fucker to death with no ceremony whatsoever. He walked out of my hut with the snake hanging, shredded and bloody, from the rebar and told me not to be afraid.
- •Livestock: chickens, donkeys, cows sometimes, sheep, goatsHorses are rare in tsetse endemic areas, as they're pretty disease susceptible. My community was Muslim, so we didn't have pigs. But in the northern Animist areas there are tons of pigs!
- •Egyptian cobraSo I met two of these motherfuckers, once on my turf, and once on theirs. The first cobra found me. It was raining, and I was reading the economist in my hut. I heard a sound, like a librarian shh-Ing. I looked around and saw a fat, two foot snake with a very big head slithering under my screen door. I stood on my chair and screamed - and the fucker turned and me and hissed like an angry cat. I stopped fucking around, crawled into my mosquito net, and screamed some more.
- •Egyptian cobra part deuxAll my neighbors came this time. The snake fought, snapping and striking, but eventually succumbed to the same piece of rebar that crushed the mamba. The second cobra I found on a bush path, facing down a squirrel. I startled them both, letting the squirrel escape and costing the cobra dinner. Ran for my life.
- •Green mambaPeace Corps gives rural volunteers a mountain bike for transport. I used to bike everywhere, for fun and sightseeing. One day cruising by the school in my town I saw a green flash on the path, so unbelievably fast and bright. I waited a minute, quiet and listening, til I heard grass move again. Took three passes till I realized the grass was a snake. It got away before I could find someone to kill it.
- •Bush ratIn hot season, I slept outside, under a mosquito net on my straw-shaded porch. One night a bunch of little neighbor boys were out late playing. And then I heard them negotiating about who was going to wake me up. They knocked on my gate to tell me there was a toto in my shed. This seems informative until you realize you have no idea what a toto is, even though you've lived in your village for a year. Turns out it's a bushrat, the size of a hefty cat, that's delicious roasted over an open fire.
- •Lobster scorpionsThese are big, dumb land lobsters.
- •Little red scorpionsSo the big ones are terrifying but the little ones move at unbelievable speeds. They are worse. Helps to sneak up on them without casting a shadow.
- •Spiders that looked like crabsI can't find a good photo of these. Their legs curve forwards and they sort of scuttle rather than creep. I killed these assholes with more gusto than any of the other pests in my hut.
- •HedgehogJust one time! My host family had caught a baby hedgehog and they kept it as a pet. It was the size of my fist and cuter than pie. In Bambara, "juguni".
- •So many birdsCattle egrets, sunbirds, vultures, songbirds. So many stunning, elegant birds. I got a book and I used to know all their names.