EXPAT ADVENTURE: MISS FOOTLOOSE AND THE SERPENT

by missfootloose on February 26, 2011 · 19 comments

in Expat life, Ghana, wildlife

My expat life in Ghana, West Africa, had wonderful people in it who went out of their way to make my daily life easy and comfortable so I could devote my time to writing Harlequin romances. I was, you might say, spoiled rotten. Leah took care of the housework. Her husband Jerome, a restaurant chef, helped out at parties and cooked for us after I broke my leg in the jungle (I should write a post about that). Ali nurtured our tropical garden. Kofi the day guard sat by the gate and read the Bible, and little Emilia gave us all joy and happiness just by being her. Here’s a story of all of them going beyond the call of duty when-  well, read on.

(This story was originally posted two years ago.)

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NO NICE SNAKES

The good life has chocolate in it. My life in Ghana is good indeed, so today I’m in the kitchen, baking something decadent involving butter and nuts and lots of said chocolate. Licking a spoon, I glance out the window and notice Ali, our gardener, whacking away at the bushes below the window with a stick. He’s chasing after something, his face very intent. Then more commotion. I hear Leah, Jerome, children. More thrashing of greenery, excited voices. The time has come to investigate. I stroll out the front door, around the side of the house and enquire of the gathered people what is going on.

A snake, is what’s going on, and apparently it has escaped into the drain pipe, which lies above-ground and runs into a sink hole covered with a heavy cement lid. How does a snake get into a drain pipe you ask? Well, we’re dealing here with a construction that probably would violate a few building codes in the West: There’s an open connection at ground level where the vertical pipe coming down from the kitchen sink meets the horizontal one on the ground. It is here that the slithery vertebrate has found his entrance and taken refuge from his pursuer.

I ask if it’s a dangerous specimen and the response is a unanimous and confident yes! “It can bite,” Jerome clarifies.

Jerome and Ali begin to pry open the sink hole, while Kofi, our day guard watches, his nightstick firmly clutched in his hand, ready for battle. Leah takes Emilia and her playmate back to her room, away from the danger zone. They do not go happily. Emilia is wearing a frilly pink dress, her hair tied in little antennae sticking out all over her head, looking as of she’s waiting for signals from outer space. She screams in protest. This is exciting stuff and she wants part of the action. Wouldn’t you?

It occurs to me that it isn’t in any of their job descriptions that they are required to go chasing after serpents, but nice people that they are, they’re just taking charge of the situation. They probably assume that I, an obruni, a white, foreign woman who spends her day doing nothing more challenging than tapping on a computer key board, would be useless concerning the extermination of dangerous snakes, an assumption that would be correct.

Considering that the scary wriggler is in the water pipe, I am now wondering if it might come up into my kitchen sink if it creeps upward. This is not a comforting thought. I go inside to investigate, standing at a respectful distance and carefully peek into the sink. To my relief, I find it empty of animal life and the drain holes too small for most any serpent larger than earthworm proportions.

Outside again, I see the men lift the lid off the sink hole. Nothing. The hole is empty.

“Shall I run water?” I ask. I have no clue if this is a good idea, but I feel like I should contribute something to this effort.

They discuss the situation in Ewe, their tribal language, and the final verdict is that, yes, we should run hot water through the pipe. Happy to be able to play a part in this drama, I sprint inside to the kitchen and turn on the hot water.

I rush outside again to see all four, Leah, Jerome, Ali, and Kofi, poised over the sink hole with sticks raised. I’m hoping nobody is going to get hurt by this reptile that is taking on gargantuan proportions in my imagination.

For what seems like many minutes, we all wait with bated breath and pounding hearts (mine is, at least) while nothing happens. I’m staying out of the way, no stick handy. No one seems to expect me to take part in this, and I love them for it.

Then, bingo, there it is, pale green and yellow, about four feet long, its thickness less than that of a garden hose. With battle cries my heroes slam their sticks down on the reptile, which must be terrified, not to speak of hot. Fortunately for the poor creature his suffering does not last long. Limp it lies in the gravel, while Jerome takes a garden tool and chops off its already smashed head. I wonder if it was a viper of sorts, but everything happened so fast, I haven’t had a good look at it.

“Is it a viper?” I ask, but no one seems to know the word. “Is it poisonous?”

They all agree it is, or was.

Click on the photo to see where you can find this on the menu

“Jerome,” I say, unable to resist, “now we cook it, yes? Lots of garlic and butter.” Jerome may be a professional restaurant cook, but the snake corpse apparently does not stir his creative juices. He doubles over laughing, he, an African who eats grasscutter and fat snails. I turn to Leah. “People in Togo and Benin,” I ask her, “do not eat snakes?”

She shakes her head. “No, no, Madame. Only for juju.”

I decide not to inquire further and avoid wading into the swampy subject matter of juju.

The party breaks up. I thank everybody for their brave efforts. They tell me it was nothing. Kofi takes a stick, picks up the limp green carcass and carries it off to somewhere behind the laundry room to keep for my husband to view when he comes home, just so he doesn’t feel totally left out.

I go back to the kitchen. To nuts and chocolate and things delicious.

Some time later my prince comes home from his day of toil. He’s not a lover of vipers, cobras and their cousins, but he expresses sympathy for the way the creature has found his end. He asks Leah if the snake was poisonous. When, predictably, she says yes, he asks her if all snakes are poisonous. She gives him a blank look.

“There are no nice snakes?” he asks.

Her eyes widen. “No!” she says.

So there you have it.

* * *

What close encounters with dangerous creatures have you had?  Or in what way were you saved from danger by other people?

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara February 26, 2011 at 4:39 am

Okay, first, where is that picture of the barbecued snakes from? Because I want to be sure that I do NOT go there! Second, I like snakes, think they are very interesting, although I do get the shot of adrenaline-fueled fear when I come across one. But I can afford to feel that way because in the part of the US where I lived, the only poisonous snake is rattlesnake, easily ID’d by the rattles, so there’s not much danger. My friend Hannah, who is from Nigeria, totally freaked out and danced all over my Utah driveway, screaming, to avoid a tiny, pencil-sized garter snake one day, and I laughed at her. But now that I’m in Tanzania, many of their many snakes are poisonous. Every Tanzanian i’ve met is scared of snakes and would kill every one that wandered past. I think it’s gene pool: if you’re African and not afraid of snakes, you probably died before you reproduced. If you’re North American, you might still survive long enough to contribute to the gene pool!

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missfootloose March 2, 2011 at 8:35 am

Thanks for your story. I could see your Nigerian friend’s reaction!

The cooked-snake-on-a-stick picture is from Cambodia. I added info below the picture to click it and find out. Africans I’ve met are afraid of all snakes, and in their case, it’s probably a good survival attitude. I used to wonder why African villages were so bare and devoid of greenery, swept clear all the time around the huts. Now I know: People can see the snakes.

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Mara February 26, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I once left some meat in the ‘container’ and the flies got in. So one day as I was going to throw something away, I opened the lid and the insides were just covered with maggots! So so gross!

I phoned my grandmother and she told me boiling water might work! Fortunately it did. To this day I am not particularly fond of maggots…

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missfootloose March 2, 2011 at 8:36 am

Maggots are not pretty. Fortunately they won’t attack and kill you 🙂

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Mara March 2, 2011 at 8:56 am

But I’ve seen enough CSI programmes to know they will eat you after you’ve… I will stop now, it’s too gruesome to think about!

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Connie February 27, 2011 at 4:57 am

Wow, what an adventure that was! I’d have been just as terrified, if not more!

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maria altobelli February 27, 2011 at 1:26 pm

When my husband came back from his Peace Corps stint in Bolivia, he had the skin of a very large boa packed in his suitcase. We rented a two-story house with those old high ceilings and tacked that snake skin along the wall of the stairway. The skin was much larger at one point but that was because the snake had swallowed one of the village’s pigs. I’m told that boa meat is very tasty.

When we moved to our rustic lifestyle in the boonies of central Minnesota, I put up a sign in the outhouse that read “Please do not harm or otherwise molest the outhouse snake(s). Other than that, do enjoy your stay within.”

You’d be surprised how many people ran screaming from that place. There was no need. The outhouse snake and I often shared — I had built a two-seater with room for magazines and put in a picture window. The snake (and sometimes her babies) liked the seat in front of the window where they curled up and soaked up the sun. Built in rodent control. Now rodents, I don’t like.

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missfootloose March 2, 2011 at 8:39 am

Great stuff, Maria! What a great photo that would be, you and the snake on the john! Needless to say, I’m expecting this to have been a non-dangerous reptile.

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HappyHomemakerUK February 27, 2011 at 1:30 pm

When I was in Taiwan, I saw customers drinking snake blood – drained into a glass on the spot. It didn’t seem very sanitary to me, but your photo brought back the memory 🙂

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missfootloose March 2, 2011 at 8:40 am

Drinking snake blood, yes, I’ve heard of that. I’m not a squeamish eater, but I’m not sure I’d be eager to try that!

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Madame DeFarge February 27, 2011 at 5:10 pm

What a marvellous story. Although the picture of the snakes makes me feel ever so slightly squeamish.

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MaryWitzl February 28, 2011 at 6:59 pm

I have to agree with your husband: it seems cruel to go after a snake who has done nothing but get a little too close to us. On the other hand, if I had one near my house that was probably venomous, I’d be jumpy. The ones I’d take out in a heartbeat are the ones that spit venom into people’s eyes.

Those snakes in the photo look a little too much like snakes for me to want to eat them, but I can’t help wondering if they taste like unagi (eels) i.e., — utterly delicious…?

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missfootloose March 2, 2011 at 4:50 pm

You’ll never know if snakes taste delicious until you try them. I have to admit, I won’t search them out, but if presented with them, well, I don’t know. Perhaps, maybe, possibly.

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Michelloui | The American Resident March 1, 2011 at 8:25 am

I lived the first few years of my life in Oklahoma where there were poisonous snakes. I can still remember my grandma, a little 5’2″ lady, carrying a garden hoe with her to get the snakes if they got too close when we went out to the big kitchen garden behind her house. It’s not like the ground was crawling with them, but you wanted something to protect yourself when in their territory!

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Grace March 2, 2011 at 3:23 pm

I’ve never encountered a snake. But I’ve had the pleasure of being attacked by a possum in my backyard once.

By the way, I was not aware that skewered snakes were a delicacy in Cambodia. Have you ever dared taste even just a piece?

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missfootloose March 2, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Now that is exciting! Not everyone can say s/he has been attacked by a possum! And no, I’ve never tasted snake. There are restaurants in the Far East that specialize in snake. If you are interested google snake resaurant Indonesia and you’ll find videos. Not for the squeamish among us.

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Lady Fi March 3, 2011 at 10:44 am

Wonderfully written story! When I lived in China, our interpreters were attacked by a green tree python – not poisonous but very angry – and in the end they killed it. And ate it! Leaving me the ‘best’ bit – the skeleton in snake fat out of which to make soup…

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Ian March 5, 2011 at 11:10 am

I like snake meat but, then I also like eating snails and frogs. My wife is from Hong Kong and the snake soup there is a delicious winter delicacy. In Malaysia a 7-metre long King Cobra tried to get in throught the window of my car while I was driving it! Maybe I’d eaten one of his relatives.

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Sine Thieme March 11, 2011 at 3:16 am

Fortunately I have had no snake encounters, but my husband tells me at one of their work sites the workers encountered a black mamba one day, and the next day none of the workers returned. My own encounters with snakes were both in the US, where I once found a copperhead coiled up right under where my 2-year old daughter had hung her bathing suit. I determined it must be killed, but, after arming myself with a shovel and Western boots, couldn’t bring myself to do it. I can’t kill a thing. So my neighbor had to come to it. But I”m not actually a wimp with snakes, I just can’t kill them. The next time, we had a rat snake (not poisonous) in our garage, and even though my husband was home that time, I was the one who had to remove it, which I did grabbing it by the neck with my fireplace gloves on. It coiled itself around my arm and I carried it outside and threw it in the bush.

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