Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bats in the attic

One of the requirements for suitable Peace Core housing is “no bats.” Now I know why. Here is the story:

The first night I was in my new home, about dusk, I heard what sounded like someone tapping on the back wall of the house. I went outside to see what was going on and saw bats leaving the attic though the ventilation holes. They were crowding each other out of the way to leave. It was almost like watching the bats leave Carlsbad caverns, if you have ever seen that. They swooped and swarmed like a flock of birds. Shortly thereafter three men and a boy appeared at the door with a ladder and explained they were going to plug up the holes while the bats were out feeding. They assured me that the bats would not be able to get back in and would find another place to live. They put screening in the holes so the air can still circulate (a good thing in the hot season), and left.

Unfortunately, the bats like my house well enough to find another way in. I was studying French at my table one evening and heard a thump on the ceiling. I was sure it was a rat from the sound of the thump and the skittering of little feet, but people said, no, that’s the bats. For almost a month I have been talking to various people about the critters in the attic, asking them how to get rid of them. Not only do they make a lot of noise day and night, waking me up with their thumping and bumping, they also create a very bad odor. There is a hole somewhere in the roof and when it rains the water drips down into one of the rooms with bat guano dissolved in it. That room smells like a room where a dog that was not house trained has been living. Yuck!

Finally the Peace Corps got to my site to check out all the safety and security aspects of the house and started putting pressure on the locals to help me with the problem. We arranged that I would leave town for a few days so they could put a “product” (poison) in the attic to get rid of the bats. Peace Corps paid for a sack of cement and a mason to apply it to all the visible holes. This “product” is a can of powdered stuff that is supposed to be sprayed on fruits and vegetables with sprayer, to get rid of pests, but they don’t have one of those so they have a creative solution. They will punch two holes in the top of the can and put a can of pressurized insecticide in one hole so the product is forced out of the other hole. I read the label on the can which says “do not enter the treated area for two days without protective clothing.” I sure am glad I arranged to be out of town!

The idea is that there will be people all around the house when they start the treatment and they will see if there are any escape (and re-entry) routes. If there are, these will be sealed with the cement. If not, someone will go up into the attic and clean out the dead beasts after a couple of days. Sorry little bats! I will be glad to be rid of the noise and the odor, but I really do like bats on principle because they eat the mosquitoes that eat me. However I don’t think two years living with bat guano would be very good for my health.

So, where am I?
Sorry I can’t post to the web the name of the village I live in or town I am close to. This is a Peace Corps rule, for security. For the same reason, I can’t post pictures of my house. I WILL show you and tell you where I have been when I come home. I will describe things in general, without distinctive information. Many places here are similar, so that should be easy.

Electric Power
I was assigned to a large village/small town but I actually live in a small village that is right next to it. In the town there is electricity for some houses and businesses some of the time. The power is on from 8 AM to noon, and on again from 5 PM until sometime in the evening, midnight, I think, but it could be 10 PM. That appears to be a rather normal arrangement in the villages that do have electricity. I guess the big demand for electricity in the big towns is noon to 5, for air conditioning or fans in the hottest part of the day, so the seats of power get the “current,” as they say here.

I, of course, do not have electricity. I DO have a wonderful neighbor who had a big solar panel. He offered to help me find a rechargeable battery that would run a small florescent light to study by at night, and maybe run a tiny little fan in the hot season. When the battery needs to be charged he sends the daughter of his live in baby sitter/mother’s helper or one of his own daughters over to pick it up. It really is easier to study at night with this little light than to try to study by the light of an LED lamp, which is what I was using.

I also do not have running water. My community homologue (person responsible for seeing that I get integrated into the community) has one of the kids from her family fill a 200 liter barrel with water from the pump and bring it by donkey cart to my house. At the moment the helper is a girl who hauls the water from the big barrel into the house in 20 liter containers that used to hold palm oil, the most common kind of cooking oil here (Yes, I know it is bad stuff and clogs the arteries, and I don’t use it.) I have a 100 liter plastic garbage can (with lid) that she fills, and then she fills up my four oil containers and the four buckets I have. That lasts me for a little over a week if I am not doing a lot of cleaning.

Even though this is the safest kind of water available, I still put it through a filtration system, provided by Peace Corps, and add bleach to kill the local bugs. It doesn’t taste bad to me, and so far I have had no water related illness. I think I mentioned before that it is the custom to offer visitors a cup of water when they arrive, not a bad idea in this very hot climate. However far folks have traveled to see you, they are probably thirsty. I give them the untreated water because they are used to drinking it and my treated water tastes funny to them.

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