Ants on a wall

There are maybe 200 ants moving by candle light on my wall. They are moving at a typical ant speed, stopping for a split second, shifting directions and then carrying on at full speed again. I would imagine that if I could zoom in and dial into a single 6 legged ant that it wound be running and screaming simultaneously, that’s how they carry themselves anyway. They are, all of them, two feet away from my face and 5 senses, but I can only see them as they rush in and our of my mud plaster wall. They are destroying this house.
They have a work ethic and a dedication towards teamwork that suggests that they will win and that no enemy could outpace a community of their likeness. They could very well linger on and on, their vision has been consistently the same through the history of the world. 200 ants on a wall is only the tip of the iceberg for what could be revealed by a swing of a pick axe into the base of this crumbling mud wall. My can of DOOM (R) Chemicals have finished up. I feel defeated. I watch them access my table through a paper bridge that I’ve constructed for them through my own clutter and against my own best interests. I am now defeated, but out of respect I strain my eyes to watch and see what these ants are all about.
Even if by tomorrow evening I changed the fungshue of the room they will have situated themselves into a new strategy. I will continue to spill honey and smash bugs with my fist on this wooden table in embarrassing regularity. Maybe one ant won’t have that information, but as a society they know…. they know where to eat.
I’ve ben prompted by events from today to think more deeply about all that is involved in the creation around us, maybe I’ve been made appreciative.
I may have done some things to save my dog’s life this afternoon. That sounds dramatic and cocky, maybe, but I suspect that if I had not taken action that he would have died in the same way as his brother (Achimadyo) last October. For the past several days my puppy, Chilombo (Predator), has been communally eating a goat carcass with the village dogs.
“Good for him!”, I told myself “just doing his semi-predator K-9 thing. out there finding more protein than me. I’m proud of this dog.”
But I suspect that after the 3rd day of his goat flesh feast is when he developed a hearty case of intestinal worms. From one look at Chilombo this morning and from the sounds coming from his belly I knew that this was ‘one sick puppy’. I thought back right away to the memory of Achimadyo in his last days. I estimated that Chilombo couldn’t out live the two days it took his brother to die from the worms in his gut. So I cooked breakfast, drank my coffee, and thought about my options. If you love dogs this may sound awful or unreasonable, but he’s just a dog.
By the nature of living in a village, veterinarian services are limited to production animals. People don’t eat dogs here, which is good, but that also means that no one has a real incentive to keep a dog in otherwise good health. I’m not out of money per se, but I know that a trip to Lilongwe to see a veterinarian and acquire medications would exhaust my Peace Corps living stipend to a regrettable low. I do have some emergency money in the Peace Corps office, but I can’t quite justify spending that on a dog. Additionally, the idea of taking a dog to the capital city because of an illness is a whimsical and silly preposition in light of the financial and medical prohibitions for people here in Chinthankwa village. I probably could make the trip through my own financial means, but kids die here for the exact same reasons (intestinal worms) and I can’t quite abide in that sort of ethical divergence.
I love this dog almost as much as the first one, but at the same time I’ve made peace, to a minimum extent with that old testament voice where God reminds Job that He can ‘giveth and taketh away’.. And so in that vein and as a Christian believer with a pretty C+ prayer life, I was completely unashamed to pray for my dog. I asked God to keep this one from dying with the contingency that I would still find amazing joy in my circumstances here in Chinthankwa village with or without a dog.
The only other person I would have called in for a sick dog scenario was literally on an airplane flying home. Mary Emanuel PCV [Retired] was our resident veterinarian, animal advocate, bird enthusiast. She had given me a ziplock bag of de-worming powder nearly a year prior, and this seemed to be my first realistic option to help Chilombo. I found the bag in a dusty and forgotten corner of my house. The bag was partially opened when I found it, as an almost bitter reminder of my melodramatic effort to cure my last dog of worms. With rekindled hope, I gave Chilombo an abundant dosage of stale de-worming powder mixed with salt and sugar. I then proceeded to force feed my limp and lifeless puppy, while he vomited all over my cement floor. (that’s a good low-maintenance floor btw) I then took a break to cook lunch and come up with a plan B.
Last month my friend Shadreck and went to a week-long training on natural medicine, ANAMED (action for natural medicine), where we were introduced to the idea of treating common illnesses and conditions with medicinal plants growing all over Malawi. So while eating lunch, I poured into my ANAMED reference book and found a tea recipe that claimed to kill intestinal worms. One handful of asthma weed, which I easily found along my neighbor’s fence, and one handful of papaya leaves that I found just as easily in my backyard. I boiled up a tea and carried on the arduous tak of force feeding my dog through an old vinegar squeeze bottle.
“Whats next?” I thought. I no later returned to my ANAMED book to discover that this tea would only temporarily paralyze intestinal worms and that a patient would subsequently need a laxative to finish the work. At this point in the year a ripe mango is a half a year away and I struggled for a safe alternative, but I managed; Tim Hortons coffee. Yep, that’s what I did! I could not take this puppy into the care of a veterinarian, but I thought that this surely would be a gesture of the love I had for this animal, the Tim Horton’s coffee that my mom sent from America/ Canada. When the coffee cooled, I poured it in the squeeze bottle and gathered up my sick puppy from a patch of dried grass, this was to be the final intervention, there were no alternatives afterwards . He fought every last ounce of energy that he had at the taste of black coffee in his mouth and I myself, started to shake a little from all the unknowns that come with giving a puppy a cup of coffee under duress. I don’t know maybe he could have died. I decided that if his heart did anything strange, I could feel it with my hand and I would know to let off a little. And it was at about this time that my counterpart Paul walked around the corner. He found me holding Chilombo locked in a bear hug, with puppy vomit all over my forearms. We exchanged greetings, but I had no chance of explaining myself after that. Paul and I have a friendship as such that culturally ,at times, we have no clue what each other are doing, but we always try to help where we can. So Paul pinned down Chilombo’s legs and attentively tried to understand what was happening.
“Paul, I made some of this medicinal tea, try it out. It’s for killing worms.” Paul misunderstood that it was medicinal tea and took a big swig. He pretended to like it , but I could tell by the look on his face that he thought he was drinking regular black tea.
“Oh..! what is it?”, he asked.
“It’s a tea for worms,… Chilombo got some worms, probably from Mr. Jossems’s goat. This tea might help.”
“You think so? It’s possible? (zotheka?)”
“maybe!”
“Ok do it!”
“Thanks Paul”
this is the small, yet quintessential dialogue for our approach to development work here in Chinthankwa village.
I made the coffee extra black and gritty with the intention of using it as a laxative and I forcefully gave Chilombo 3/4 of a cup and then sat back to watch the show. Having not yet appreciated the substance (caffeine) in his blood stream, Chilombo went over to his patch of grass to lay down and sleep. Of course he did not sleep, but he laid still for the proceeding 20 minutes with his eyes open. I stared at him with the deepest concern a pet owner can know, but also with the slightly consuming curiosity of an unethical scientist. After a while his ears perked up along with other various body parts and he sat upright and stared back at me. The neighbor dog Gangira came through the fence and BAM! That’s when the caffeine took hold and entered the heart, took over the brain, etc. Within a half hour my dog went from a lifeless worm infested pile of puppy to a full-blown moron. He chased the neighbor dog well past the precepts of playfulness, tackled this fat pudgy dog and started gnawing on its ears. I then watched Chilombo eat a quarter of a boiled pumpkin followed by spasms of flopping and rolling through the grass. He has since leveled out and the worms in his stomach have passed, but I think this is truly noteworthy praise of an incredible God who permits life and death and all those miracles in between and all for His greater glory. Th God of creation who has made asthma weed, coffee, dogs, pumpkins,and good friends. This isn’t so much about my puppy living or dying although I’m supremely glad he’s fine, but just a meditation to shut up every once in a while to stand in awe of God.

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About jeff G.

I am a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Malawi. I work as a forestry advisor near Nyenje Forest Reserve in the district of Nkhotakota. I like reading, chatting with friends,biking, farming, and eating nsima, at least that's all I do anymore.

3 responses to “Ants on a wall

  1. Jeff, great piece of literature. Gives me pause about coming over for coffee or tea! You have so beautifully captured the man-dog relationship…Dogs do dumb stuff, man saves dog, dog recovers, loves and entertains, dog saves man! You have wonderful insights into the human existence, and in God’s constant presence with us, wherever we are. God loves you Jeff, and so do we! Have a great day, and while your at it, make some tea for the ants!

  2. Heath

    Jeff,
    Tiffany and I were on edge the whole time wondering if your puppy survives or not! Praise God that he did! Your writing is always enjoyable to read. We will keep you in our prayers and may God continue to bless you in so many ways. Looking forward to seeing you again someday.
    Ps are you able to receive mail? I assume you do if you got Tim Hortons. Let us know 🙂

  3. Justin Burdine

    Jeff, I love hearing success stories of medicinal plants. That’s one thing the developing world has that the Global West can learn from! Glad to hear your dog is well and your “term of service” is impacting people and animals. I’m jealous of your stories, but I’m glad I can glean from your experiences. Please keep writing and posting.

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