A few weeks ago I had a small chuckle to myself as the Rat Man entered our home; a plumber arrives at ones house with a grubby grease stained shirt and his tool box, an electrician in much the same manner, but the Rat Man simply arrives with a small black packet in hand.
His arrival on this Thursday afternoon followed a meeting I had with Josephine, the manageress of our compound, a few days prior when I had complained about how I was finding big chunks missing from our bananas in the mornings, and the noises we had heard at midnight the Friday before, that were so loud they sounded like persistent banging on our front door. There were also the droppings by the stove top and dare I mention, a few black hairs here and there but I don’t want to gross you out too much that you stop reading!
There was for sure a HUGE party going on somewhere in our kitchen cupboards or behind the skirtings. It sounded so loud and rave-like that Dave and I had a surreal moment in the morning about whether it had really been that noisy when he had returned home late from a work dinner and I had woken up after mistakenly locking him out. I had recorded it as a Whatsapp voice note so we confirmed that we weren’t going crazy and we did really have a bigger rodent problem that we would like to have to admit, for the third time in our Ghana home (rolling eyes emoji goes right here). The noises we heard were likely the rats gnawing on something metal in the bowels of our cabinets or a thought that scared us even more – could they be trying to eat the wires of our new dishwasher !?
The following day after the wild party in our kitchen I did some research into what we could do to rid ourselves of these pests and I smiled when I saw suggestions of leaving cotton wool balls doused in citronella oil around, as this could be a clever two in one tactic to use in Ghana as we also very much hate the mosquitoes here! A friend suggested substances that shrink the rats so that they don’t smell when they die (sorry to any sensitive readers that may feel sorry for them, but when they are in your home crawling on your kitchen counters you become less inclined to think of them in the possible pet-way or to relate them to other rodents like cute hamsters. We were also pretty freaked out that they can even carry horrible diseases and pass these onto humans!).
We tried two branches of Shoprite, but they only stock wooden traps, which haven’t brought about any ‘catching luck’ for us in the past. So on Dave’s way home from work on Saturday afternoon his driver took him to some road side container stores where they stock the real deal rat stuff! When looking at the packages he brought home I could understand from the vague product description and lack of any mention of ingredients why Shoprite is likely not allowed to stock such poison….or potion! Both feel like correct names for the products below and the ‘Perfect!’ claim on the Teacher (!?) bag made us optimistic 😉
That night we put some down with a glue trap which resulted in a large rat getting stuck in the cupboard under our sink, and we quickly said goodbye to him in the morning. But we restrained our excitement as Google told us that we shouldn’t feel too triumphant about re-claiming hygienic kitchen counters….if one finds a single rat in a home they are most likely a member of a big happy family!
Dave and I commented to each other how we both began seeing and imagining small movements everywhere in the house. Mid conversation with each other our eyes would suddenly dart across the room and the gentle sway of our indoors plants or curtains from the breeze of the air conditioner or fan, caused us to feel skittish and jumpy. I looked at some of my precious African wax fabrics stacked up next to my sewing area that should have been put away in the cupboard and imagined that I was creating the warmest of coziest beds for these animals in my untidiness of the last few weeks. Unlike the mice sulvanian family we have living in the doll’s house upstairs, I didn’t exactly want to be tucking them into a sweet miniature sized bed complete with a warm blanket on top.
When these unwelcome tenants had squatted in our home months ago we had returned one evening and as we put on the lights we had seen three of them running across the dining room to hide behind the water dispenser machine. Now once again, entering a dark room was a no go before we had turned on the light, scanned the area and waited a few minutes for any unwelcome movement.
So now you can understand better my sense of relief when I met the Rat Man with his Black Packet at our front door on this sunny afternoon in Accra. Shortly after welcoming him in (and I can’t stress enough just how welcome his presence was) my mom phoned so I moved into the lounge, which in our open plan downstairs living space is just adjacent to the kitchen. Mid conversation with her I suddenly heard Josephine let out a frightened shriek and leaving my mom hanging on the other side of the continent, I entered the space of commotion and saw her standing, as giraffes do, in the triangulation position which I remember teaching to Grade 4’s. She had both feet on the metal bars of our two chairs and her legs were in a v shape, in an attempt to escape standing on the floor!
The cause of her distress and persistent squeals was that within minutes of tackling this new mission, the Rat Man had caught a furry culprit with his bare hands and all I saw as I entered the kitchen was its mottled grey body splayed out and firmly trapped as the captor held it up in a rather victorious way!
In the minutes I’d been on the phone the Rat Man had spotted it hiding next to our dishwasher in the corner of the kitchen. My feet had been within centimetres of it a short while earlier and I’m ever so thankful that he had not alerted me to this fact when his trained eyes caught sight of the hiding member of Cricetidae, Rodentia and Muroidea (all new words I’ve learnt pertaining to the families to which these creatures belong). I’m still not exactly sure how he lured it out but he was now requesting a plastic packet to put the struggling creature into. All the excitement was rather quick and busy and a few minutes later I asked where the Shoprite bag now was and was told it was in the back garden. Who was I to argue or make known my slight feeling of surprise that it hadn’t immediately been taken further away to the rubbish area!?
Two down, the rest to still tackle….Next up it was back to important rat work that now involved the Black Packet. Seemingly au fait with such happenings, the Rat Man was unfussed and continued to find nooks and crannies around the outside balcony and kitchen where he thought the rats would like to do some munching on his Black Bag blend. From now on I even more respectfully call him the Rat Catcher as he truly deserves this promotion after grabbing one of these sneaky animals who can apparently tread water for three days and survive being flushed down a toilet.
Later that evening when telling the children about The Rat Catcher, Jack was happy to discover that his namesake Jack Black was a famous rat catcher to Queen Victoria in the 19th century who used to breed them after catching them, to see what colour varieties he could create. Beatrix Potter is said to have been one of his customers with her pet rat!
With some rat blood on the floor beside the dishwasher which needed cleaning up, and another splattering on the wall behind which is proving a bit tougher to remove, I reflected on how this type of thing like rats being in our homes, is definitely far less of a big deal that I originally thought it was when we had just got here. Two and a half years ago I was horrified when my Japanese friend and neighbour was telling us one of her rat stories where she had managed to catch one with a pair of tongs and had taken it outside and thrown it into the communal garbage bin space! Although we had once had a rat living in the wires of our washing machine when I was a child, I still felt that rats and kitchens are things you only see together in childhood story books with the beautiful illustrations next to the story and personified faces on the animals. Maybe these are also close to mind because recently Emma and I were reading Aesop’s fable “The Cat and the Rat” for her English homework.
As with anything in life, if you’ve experienced something before, the next time is not quite as bad as the anticipation or experience of the initial time, and somehow we also just know that rats are a part of normal life here in Ghana, and like worn in shoes, I feel that the experience of living here has certainly smoothed off a few of the jagged edges we may have had about things that can possibly surprise or shock us!
For now I am very happy to report that we are no longer having to re-clean the kitchen counters every morning and we aren’t seeing the bite marks in our bananas of teeth that are apparently so highly specialised for gnawing that they continue to grow throughout a rat’s life! It is a luxury to not have to remember to either put the fruit in the microwave, or to put the whole fruit bowl into the oven at night, which resulted in some disappointment from Em and Jack when they had thought they smelt banana bread cooking for dinner as I had forgotten to remove it that day before heating the oven up!
We are very hopeful that whatever was in the Rat Catcher’s Black Bag was just the right potency for the required job, without forgetting first and foremost his expert Jack Black hands!