In Peace Corps Zambia, routine is important. It’s one of the things that helps you adapt to your new life in the village, cope with stress, and feel a modicum of control over your rather foreign life. One of my favorite parts of my day is around 4:00pm when my evening routine begins.
The heat of the day is almost gone and the light gets long and golden around my compound. I’ll haul a bucket of water and light my brazier for bath water. I click on the radio and tune into the nightly Voice of America music and news hour. I chop vegetables, drizzle them in oil and herbs, and put them on to sizzle.
After the pets are fed and I’ve eaten my dinner out of the same pot I cook it in, it’s time to beat the mosquitoes and head to bed. I click off the radio, put the dishes in the dirty dishes tub, and blow out the candles. With my solar lamp ablaze, I head into the bedroom. This is the routine.
But tonight as I round the corner into my bedroom, something is different. On the floor by the bed is something new. Something long, and smooth, and very black.
A snake. There is a venomous snake on my floor, between me and my bed. This is not the routine.
With the snake caught in my lamplight and a foot in mid-step, I gasp. I freeze. The snake appears not to have noticed me. I slowly back away and retreat to the relative safety of my kitchen. This was not in the volunteer handbook. I am going to have to kill the snake.
A few months ago I bought a village hoe, which is really a slab of metal attached to a big stick. After years of hacking away at the Zambian earth, my hoe has developed a keen hacking edge (I bought used). In the dark of my kitchen, I look at the wall where my hoe is hanging and consider the first rule of snake eradication: arm thyself.
I retrieve the hoe and creep back to the opening between the bedroom and the kitchen. The snake appears to not be too fussed about my suddenly murderous desire to rid myself of a venomous house guest. I’m trying to keep my anxiety under control. Snakes are not my thing, having grown up in Alaska where we maintain a strict “no reptiles” policy. In Alaska, if something is going to murder you in some horrible heart-stopping way, you will know. Bears and avalanches and other dangerous events all have the common courtesy to at least let you know that your doom is impending. Snakes, spiders, poisonous frogs…what’s the deal with that? I have never killed a snake, and if we’re going to be honest here, I’m a mite freaked out at this point.
And while we’re at it, where the Hell is my cat when I need it? Or my dog, for that matter. This is exactly why I have pets; pest control. Volunteer cats have been known to chase away or even battle snakes, yet mine seems to have chosen this evening to go catting around the neighboring fields, likely looking for less lethal prey. I guess I will have to handle this myself.
I cautiously approach the snake, noting that it is definitely longer than my arm though, thankfully, only the size of a decent sausage (note: not a standard unit of measure). The snake remains still. I place the lamp on the floor and grasp the hoe with both hands. I raise it above my head, aim carefully for the head, and clang! The hoe hits the floor and the snake is suddenly a squirming, thrashing ball of coils and anger. It lashes out blindly and I strike again. Clang! Clang! The metal blade of the hoe strikes my concrete floor as it hacks through the snake. Noting that the body is now separated into two distinct pieces, I retreat.
My dog, Sadie, now comes to investigate the commotion. She growls at the writhing pieces of snake. “It’s about time,” I say to her. She wags her tail at me, which I take to mean she is pleased with my efforts. Now that the snake is snuffed out of existence, a new panic takes over. How the Hell did it get in my house?
I examine my house closely, looking for signs. I find no clues, and can only conclude that it must have climbed the outside wall and slithered in through my only unscreened window (for cat exit purposes). A horrifying thought rises within me. What if there are more?
I stare around the bedroom with terror. There are piles of clothes, bags, shelves of materials all perfectly suited to hide a skinny length of poisonous menace. I look at my bed. I left my mosquito net untucked today. What if there is a snake waiting for me in my bed? What if there are snakes in the rafters? What if there are snakes EVERYWHERE?
My house has become a snake dungeon. I begin poking through every conceivable snake hidey-hole. I call Rob and whine, “I think my house might be full of snakes!” He reminds me that snakes are not, in fact, pack animals. “But what if they were traveling in pairs or something?!” I respond. I be-head the original snake as an extra safety precaution and take the carcass outside. It’s possible that I considered hanging it outside the window as a anti-snake warning to other snakes considering a possible invasion of my home. Last, I rifle through the bed clothes, flinging sheets and blankets and pillows from arms reach, completely convinced a squirming reptile will fall out and strike at any moment.
Finally, convinced that (for now) my house is not actually infested with reptiles, I climb into bed and practically super glue my mosquito net in place. At that moment, my cat pops back in through the window (I have never come that close to “joining the club” out of sheer nerves) and demands to be let in the bed. “No!” I chide him. “You should have been here to battle that snake!” He insists and I finally let him onto the bed, retucking the mosquito net with vigilance.
After all, I wouldn’t want to disrupt his routine.