Madame the Expat and the Serpent

by Miss Footloose

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. 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.

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 adventure, 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.

“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 spouse 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.


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Loved this story1Something similar happened to me in China – but there, of course, my students cooked and ate the snake with glee.


Miss Footloose,

I’ve just discovered your blog, how did I get here? I’m not sure, from some other expat blog I expect, anyway I’m enjoying you and hope you stick with it.

A New Fan in Virginia

Hi Anonymous! Glad you found my blog and that you are enjoying my stories! Feel free to sign up to get my stories by e-mail automatically, or by RSS feed.

Thanks for writing.

Miss Footloose

This crazy story from Ghana reminds me of a similar adventrue we had years ago in Tanzania. The 18 foot Python was killed by villagers along the road, but it was still quivering when we loaded it into the back of our short wheel based landroaver. When we pulled up at our home at the University, a Danish friend asked what we had in the back. She opened the door and it all came slitthering out around her feet! You should have heard the excitement! Yes, we can truly relate to such crazy adventures!

Judy, thanks for your story! I can well imagine the excitement!

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