Mr. Jaws, the Purloined Cockroach, and Missionary Bill
(written during our second term in Chad, around 2003)
Bill & Sonya Shaw
You see, lo these many years ago the Swedish missionaries built this bush mission station, which is well, kind of like a bush mission station. Look it up in the Dictionary of Missionary Terms, Random House Publishers,third edition. There under "Bush Mission Station" you will find the citation "see Swedish AG mission station in Andoum, Chad." Not a bad place, but it still carries with it some of that old bush mission station charm.
One of those old time favorites they have retained are non-flush toilets. Oh, you could pretend to flush by grabbing an imaginary handle and making the appropriate flushing noises at the end of Act 1, but the fact is the toilets at Andoum are nothing more than a slab of concrete with a slit in the middle maybe 3 inches wide and 8 inches long over which you gymnastically posture your posterior in order to reenact the bombing of Guernica.
The first thing to learn about living in Africa is to live in such a way that the necessities of life are not a hassle. To me visiting "the place where the king sits alone" (as the French so coyly call it) is an unavoidable necessity- you gotta do what ya gotta do. So it is a no brainer to make the place of convenience as convenient as possible. But you know them Swedes- always trying to find a more efficient way to get more done in a day. I guess they figure stretching exercises and improving your muscle tone and balance are activities to be combined with the more basic of human procedures. What else can you do there besides read the paper? Our Scandinavian cousins did consider the potentially embarrassing ramifications of imitating an Olympic gymnast doing floor exercises while laying your burden down so they made a nice private stall of bricks and mortar so however you looked it remained between you, yourself, and whatever crawled out that slit in the floor.So, there I was, in the cool of the evening, starring down past the slit into a pit (which is where you get the term "pit" toilet) using my flashlight to count all the cockroaches on the pit walls. While wondering when one of them will get the smart idea to come up out of the pit about the same time I am gymnastically crouched and terribly vulnerable to external intervention, I saw this flash of brown something scurry past my foot. Then, almost immediately after, I saw a second scurrying flash go past my foot. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of doing my business and was unable to stop to investigate- the classic "point of no return" kind of stance.
Well, I figured it was two harmless cockroaches having a late night triste. I thought I was bad about losing my romantic touch! Imagine being a high school aged cockroach, and asking your favorite cockroach cheerleader to a rendezvous at her favorite romantic spot- the human toilet... I don't think so.
Back to my drama- as I finished my business in the semi-darkness, I heard this crunching and slurping noise. Cue the scary screeching horror movie music, as upon investigation I found him- Mr. Jaws. On the wall, no more than 18 inches from my face, was this huge brown hairy spider, with the requisite long legs and icky gross body. (BTW, my girls made me add the "icky gross" part.) Most shocking of all was his head/jaws/fangs array- easily double the width of his body and it was like he took steroids and worked out at the "Mandible Gym for Herkin' Big Spiders" three times a week. HUGE!
Under his jaws was captured my little brown scurry number one, your typical card-carrying African cockroach. I soon deduced it was these two who were running across the floor, just inches from my foot, the chased and the chaser, only a few moments into my visit. Thank you, Lord, the cockroached zigged up the wall and not zagged up my leg...
With now rapt attention I watched Mr. Jaws make a late night milk shake of the cockroach- I mean he was literally sucking the life juices out of this poor cockroach, and I was watching him do it! Honestly, I did not know who to feel the most sorry for-
innocent Mr. Cool "meet me at midnight" Cockroach who was at one moment waiting for his cockroach sweetheart to show up but who was by now only half the man he used to be,
Mr. "Tough Guy Buff to the Bone" Jaws the spider who had to reduce himself to sucking cockroach body fluids to make a living (and you thought the unemployment level was bad in America!)
the dumbstruck missionary who was trying to figure out what to do. Let the spider live to kill again, thus less cockroaches, or kill the spider and let the cockroaches live, but it may be the missionary who is at the mercy of Mr. Jaws one day... what to do in these moral dilemmas.