For 11 months I have lived peacefully side by side with one of the most common pests in all of the Philippines: ants. I’ve heard horror stories of them eating through peanut butter jars or frying the motherboards of peoples’ laptops but personally hadn’t come across them as a big nuisance. But, oh, how naïve I was… Upon my recent return to site, a flip has switched in my relationship with ants—almost literally. Entering my room one evening, I absentmindedly flick the light switch on and start putting away my things from work. I hear a faint buzzing noise and think my phone vibrated, but alas, there were no new notifications. Then the lights start to flicker like it’s the final scene of Saturday Night Fever and I realize the buzzing is coming from the wall. I head to the switch and see it is swarming with ants going in and out and around the nooks and crannies of the plastic. And I think: what the heck?
I tap the light switch with a wooden spoon, careful not to electrocute myself, as the ants teem and scatter as if running from a plague (perhaps, a plague had already come, no?). Surely I couldn’t stand in my doorway day in and day out tapping the light switch until the flickering stopped… but what was there to do? I needed to get these ants out of the switch! And then I remembered from training hearing that ants don’t like peppermint oil. So I dip a Q-tip in peppermint oil and start drawing oily squares around the switch and along the wall where the ants were coming out of the ceiling. They slow and scatter and get stuck in the oil and I keep banging the switch with the spoon as ants are spewing about all over the place. For three long days and nights it is war; I am in the peppermint trenches with this army of ants. Then finally… one day, they are gone. There’s an extra spring in my step that morning as I head to work with the realization that I once again can live without fear of flicking switches, flying circuits, and flickering lightbulbs.
Alas, it appears, I had won the battle but not the war. The day after my victory I come home to find a fuzzy, thin line of ants meandering across my floor. I traced their path to my pantry shelf and my NEW jar of peanut butter. I quickly retaliated with a dunk of the ant-harboring jar into the sink and a sweeping frenzy to scatter the scent and get the ants off their track. It seemed to work but every day that followed I would come home to find the ants exploring another part of my room. Eleven months we had lived in harmony and now items that were never of interest to them were suddenly on their must have list. They attacked my spices and my veggie protein, they sampled my dried kidney beans and infiltrated my fresh bag of corn kernels. Every day there was a new target and every day I fought back.
While brainstorming modes of attack during my bucket shower (not quite the same effect as a regular shower) I noticed a line of ants trailing the circumference of the bathroom, from the window… to the door. I wrapped myself in my towel and like a tracker who found a hot trail, I traced the ants along the wall, up into the ceiling and through the other side to my room. They were bringing in reinforcements. I decided rather quickly then to spare a bucket or two from my bath to flood the tile route that led the ants from the great outdoors into my cozy little bedroom. I needed to take drastic measures before I became known as the lady that violently sieves her beans in the front yard like madman. And so we battle on. Every day I sweep, I splash, I clean, I build peppermint trenches as I tidy and every day the ants appear somewhere new. But every day, I splash a little less water, skimp on the peppermint oil and become a little less appalled as I come home to discover the new location of the ant troops. The methodological cleaning of these ants from my belongings has become a bit of a new ritual and I suspect like most ecosystems that endure change, we are finding a new harmonic balance.
The saga continues…
Aside from my goofy little war with ants, there are actually many incredible insects and creatures living in the Philippines, many of which I have become very fond of. Filipinos have an immensely respectable tolerance for the presence of creepy crawlies in their lives. In my nearly 12 months in country, I have only seen a Filipino shriek at the presence of a bug/animal once. It was just last week in a restaurant and in all fairness, a lizard did fall from the ceiling and land on the lady’s arm. But as one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, the Philippines is dealing with a plethora of insects (over 21,000 species!!!), including:
- some of the the largest species of moth, the Atlas moth group, reaching over 10 inches in wingspan
- over 40 species of “pest” cockroaches (there are 1,000’s of species but not all are considered pests)
- the cockroach-eating giant huntsmen spider
- three species of the largest venomous snake, the king cobra
- regular jellyfish seasons
- and over 23 species of ants!
But don’t let this deter you from visiting this beautiful country. Filipinos have been living peacefully side by side these animals for centuries. And most of these creatures are out of site and out of mind, except maybe, those ants… 😉
Okay, thanks as always for reading!
Until next time,