Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Should I be worried about a mamba?

Just like every other night, I walked through the moon-shadows of coconut palms from my house to the school to wrestle my laptop away from the students. People can usually pick out my ghostlike figure from the darkness to wish me a good night's rest, but on this particular occasion the kids were frantic with excitement. "Tams! A snake!"

As luck would have it, I keep a tiny LCD light on my keychain for emergency lockouts, or in this case, late-night snake identification. The oil stain on the road transformed into a slithering red knot when I shined my light on it, and the kids jumped back several meters. When I praised their observation skills and tried to thank them for saving me from an accident, they thought that I wanted to step on the creature.

"Do you know how to kill it?" They asked next, which I unfortunately don't. Instead I asked the same sensible question to the guards, who rose from the bench with inflated macho chests and strode over to the oil stain with heroic confidence. Their confidence deflated as soon as I shone my light on the squirming knot of venom and they realized that it's actually time to kill the viper. They retreated to find a stick, when a tiny old man appeared with a thick wooden pole and pounded the snake into a pulp. "Strange to see a snake in the cold weather," he comments as he flicked the carcass into the long grass. "This mamba can do some damage, your whole body swells up." Fascinated, I asked him if he knew how to cure snakebites, and he confirmed that he knew how to remove the teeth from the skin and how to make a poultice. He repeated the saying, "snakes are snakes," which means that they all deserve to die.

My colleagues always wondered how I could stumble around in the pitch dark, and my response was always that "I don't believe that anything will bite me." Ignorance is bliss, but from now on, I'm going to scour the ground rather than the stars when I walk at night.

Oh, and as a sidenote, the school is going through a huge upheaval. This is the six-month mark for me, and so my teammate (and jokester buddy) Johnny left. The specialization period began. Eighty new students started the school and are sleeping in the classrooms. Last Saturday two new teachers and two new foreigners arrived with their child and all moved in to the same large house, which the Mozambican family kindly evacuated by cramming into a three-room apartment. (Two people sleep in the kitchen, which is not essential when people cook on a fire outside.) Professor Profilio made me switch rooms so that he wasn't surrounded by women (although I'm sure he would have adored the opportunity). The headmaster is suspended indefinitely, blamed for complications with admitting students that didn't pass entrance exams. And two of my teammates will visit this week. We will also hold another open Saturday event before we've settled into the new routine.

Keep me posted "mum." Yes, I really am the big sister to this band of "ragamuffins."