Friday, January 14, 2011

Na Talanoa ni Kalavo (The Story of the Rat)

As we enter the New Year, I have found myself an interesting house guest. To catch everyone up, I have had rat issues for some time now. I think that since Simba died, they have found my house to be most … hospitable. Though I doubt Simba did much to rid the house of rats in an active sense, he may have scared them away simply by being there. The rats in Fiji have a delicate taste palate, eating only the finest of foods including, but not limited to: fly swatters, tank tops, soap of all varieties, ziplock bags, clay face mask (including the tube in which it is housed), triple antibiotic ointment (again, including the tube), brand new tampons, plastic of ANY KIND, carrots, toothbrush handles, popcorn, beans, couscous, papaya, mango, peanut butter. They also like to eat away at my sanity. The most recent battles of WWIII – aka, Na I Valu ni Kalavo (The War of the Rat) – get a bit more personal.

On the morning of Christmas Eve I woke at 3am to catch the ferry that takes me off this island (see previous blog for travel details). What is the first thing all of us do in the mornings? Use the facilities. I went to my (thankfully indoor) facility and saw something … inside. My first thought is “FROG” because they are so ubiquitous in my home (I just chased one under the bed, FYI). Then my first instinct is “FLUSH!” I do, and as I watch the “frog” spin round and round I realize – this is not a frog! No no … it is a kalavo!!! A rat!!! IN MY TOILET! What is the first thing I did after realizing there was a RAT IN MY TOILET? I called my mommy of course! It was 3 am Fiji time … who else would be awake, so no judgments please. And what does she say? “Did you try flushing it?” YES MOM! What else would I do!? The slippery little bastard, still being alive, was able to remain un-flushed. I tried again. No luck. Mom’s next suggestion? “Do you have any poison around?” Really? Raise your hands if you have spare poison lying around your house? Wow … that many of you … hmmm. Well I don’t, so I just poured blue toilet cleaner on it, then added a spritz of Febreez (hoping to suffocate it, not make it smell nice). Oh, and this was AFTER I tried to beat it into submission with a large stick, but then freaked out thinking it could get purchase and crawl up the stick to get revenge for trying to flush it … twice. Might I remind everyone that this is all happening at 3 AM! How lucid are most of you at that hour? My next dilemma (btw, at this point I probably only have 15 more minutes before I need to be by the road awaiting my transport) is … where in G-d’s name do I pee. I have a 20 min truck ride and then a 1 hour bus ride before I have access to one of the world’s most smelly toilets. I’d like to pee first. So … I go in my yard. Outside under the stars. Now, I know that since I am in Peace Corps most of you think me a big outdoorsy hippy. I like outdoors, yes … but I very much prefer to not use the bathroom there. Especially if I have a toilet so easily accessible. But I cannot pee on top of a rat. What if it gets a giant burst of energy and leaps up while I am sitting?! What if it bites me … there?! NOOOOOO! So I do what anyone would … pop a squat in my yard. How classy. I got dressed, finished last minute packing, and then caught my truck on time, leaving the rat behind. I left the spare key above the door and called my neighbor on Christmas day, asking for one of the biggest kerekeres (favors) I may ever ask for.

Do you think this story ends here? No no, my friends. It’s not over. I was away from the village for the holidays for about 2 weeks (It was great fun, and probably worth a blog …). I returned to a house run amuck by critters of all sorts. The frogs had left several piles of dried feces on the floor for me … one of which was less dry than I would have liked. Then there is the kalavo. He left a rather interesting gift I never would have expected. First, this monster rat (as it must be at this point) managed to cart my bottle of oil from the shelf on the wall over to the sink, where it kept company with an old wine bottle that I am not sure why I am still holding on to. Then the rat proceeded to chew the cap off the oil. Yum. When I saw the bottle, I approached slowly because there seemed to be something OTHER than oil inside. My first thought was maggots, but that didn’t seem right – this is oil, not decaying matter. As I got closer, I saw that it was hermit crabs! Yes, the kasikasi as they are called here in Fiji like to crawl towards food. I have seen them clamor towards the spot on the ground where I have just poured old used oil or food scraps. These guys did indeed clamor towards the oil, not realizing once they did … there was no way out. So I return to my home for the first time in 2011 to find a bottle filled with canola oil and hermit crab carcasses. And piles of frog poop. Who is jealous of me now for living in Fiji? Anyone? Beuller?

On the other hand … I am still shocked that this is indeed the year in which I will have to return to the real world. I’m scared and excited all at the same time. The simple act of opening a can will trigger me to think “what will it be like to open a can in America again?” I also look out my door and see the lone coconut tree on a hill that always makes me smile because for some reason, I think of it as MY coconut tree. And then I wonder what sort of thing I will see out my backdoor in America. And at night when I get frustrated with all the noises I hear (moths beating at my mosquito net, kasikasi scraping their legs against my tin walls, rats bustling about, dogs barking in the night), I wonder if sleeping in America will be too quiet and what kind of artificial noises I may have to create in order to fall asleep. I also am scared I will not fit in when I return. How many people will get sick of hearing stories of mine that start “oh yeah … when I was in Peace Corps ….” Or “back when I lived in Fiji … blah blah blah.” And will I be overwhelmed the first time I walk into a grocery store with more than 2 aisles and choices beyond tinned fish and piles of potatoes and onions? And will I yearn for the days of cold showers and afternoon swims? I do know that I am looking forward to home, but also do not look forward to leaving this home. But I must ask, even 6 months in advance of my return, that everyone please bear with me and know that although there will be so much joy to return to my loved ones and the luxuries I have missed these 2+ years I’ve been away, there will be intense sadness for the loss of Fiji and the close knit family I have created here of volunteers, Peace Corps staff, and kai viti (Fijians).

Just another fun photo - the candles on my menorah melted when I didn't light them because I left for a couple of nights and I came back to find them like this ... isa.

Well, after it rains here the water kicks up quite a bit of shmoo. The Peace Corps has outfitted us with some filters and this is what mine look like when attempting to filter the water after the rains. They are looking rough.

And this picture is especially for my wicked stepmother. She sent me lots of books and the kids absolutely love the magic treehouse series. They were all reading together in my house one night and it was one of the happiest moments in my 2 years here. Thank you Natalie!!