Often when people think of Africa, their minds immediately go to the plethora of insect life found on this continent. Now, we all know that Africa does not have the corner of the market on bugs, but it sure seems, sometimes that there certainly appears to be an impressive variety, an excessive number, and worse, more of the carnivorous, venomous, and sinister types. This could be my imagination playing tricks on me, but it sure feels that way.

Take, for instance the variety, I call helicopter bugs. They are actually termites which come out of the ground in droves during the rainy season. They have these wings which make them look like mini helicopters when they fly about. To be fair to them, they are harmless to humans, but boy, do they make a mess of one’s home, being drawn to light and able to enter through the tiniest of spaces! Their wings, which detach shortly after the termites come out of the ground and begin crawling aimlessly around the floor, are flimsy and are nearly impossible to sweep out the door, preferring to float about. One of the funniest sights I’ve ever seen is when we were in language school and one evening, I had made it back to our house after a Sunday night chapel service before Chip. He came about 10 minutes later, having stayed behind to chat with a friend. He walked into the house that rainy evening, looking like he was about to take flight with so many insects clinging to his body and umbrella, all flapping their wings wildly!

I have declared continuous warfare with mosquitoes. I hate mossies (as they are affectionately called here) with a vengeance and will do anything to keep their population in our home at a minimum. It is impossible to be mossie-free, though. The worst thing about mosquitoes, besides their sheer numbers (it is a horrifying sound to hear swarms of them all humming menacingly) is the fact that they often carry malaria or sleeping sickness, or…you name it. Sorry, God…in my home, they must go!

But I cannot forget the safari ants. My first encounter with these adorable creatures was when we were house-sitting for friends in Kiganjo while they were in the U.S. We were very new and green here in Kenya. Interestingly, these ants also tend to take their safaris in the rainy season too. (All these creatures tend to mar an otherwise pleasant season in this country). We were standing in the early morning mist, in the front yard of the house in which we were staying, saying goodbye to some friends who were returning home. I stood there innocently, waving when suddenly I felt a painful pinching sensation on my leg, followed shortly thereafter by another further up my leg, then another and… I finally looked down wondering what was going on and was horrified to see ants lithely swarming up my legs, taking the occasional nip along the way! I ran into the house, tore off my clothing and proceeded to pluck the nasty creatures off, all the while yelping and stomping. Apparently, the house was situated right in the migratory path of these ants and frequently (we soon discovered) huge swarms of them would go right through the house, usually in the bathroom or the kitchen, consuming anything in their path. They are odd in that they always travel in neat columns, rarely deviating, except for the huge ‘guards’ who stand every few inches on the outside of the column of bodies, or when they find a victim to consume, whether a piece of fruit, a plate of leftover food, or a pet or human. These little guys left such an impression on my psyche that it got to the point that often in the middle of the night I would wake up and just ‘know’ they were in the house. I couldn’t hear anything. They never came in our bedroom, so I couldn’t see anything, but I knew they were there. Poor Chip was always the one who had to get up and check it out. Sure enough, there they would be – in the bathroom or the kitchen. Kerosene splashed about always took care of the problem but was a rather odoriferous solution.

Finally, there are the picture frame spiders. Now I know they are not true insects, but sorry, in my book arachnids still come under the general category of bugs. That is not the true name of these spiders, but what I always called them, as they are a frequent sight behind pictures on the walls. Too many times, I have nearly dropped a picture as I tried to straighten it on the wall or move it to a more appealing location, and one of these frightened creatures came scurrying from behind it (usually accompanied by a scream on my part). The scream, by the way helps, as it usually brings hubby running from the other room wondering what was killing me. These spiders, fortunately, are harmless and do not bite people. They simply startle the living daylights out of whomever just startled the living daylights out of them by presuming to move their nice, dark hideout. These days, I’ve gotten wise. If I need to do anything at all to a picture on the wall, I simply rattle it a bit first, quickly removing my hand, before trying to move it. That works just fine. Apparently, they must taste good too. We borrowed a cat once to try to get rid of a resident rat (that’s another story for another day) and this cat’s favorite food was the poor hapless picture frame spider. Chip got a real kick out of this. Once he called me into the office and told me to watch. Up in the corner of the ceiling was a big spider. Chip picked up the cat and before he had lifted it halfway to the ceiling, the cat spied the spider, leaped out of Chip’s arms, swiping his front paw and scooped the spider into his mouth. He landed on the floor, proudly mewing with his mouth full and ran off to enjoy his prize.

I have gotten mostly used to having to share my living space with all manner of 6 and 8 legged creatures, though there are some with whom I refuse to call a truce. It is just a part of life in Africa. Sometimes, when I’m in America visiting, I actually marvel and wonder where all the insect life is. Where are all the bugs?

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