As I sat outside, watching the sun make it’s slow descent over the African horizon, I noticed a black mass covering the ground about 20 yards from the house. Confused by the oddity of the mass, I got up and walked towards it. The black mass had just begun to enter our yard. As I walked closer, curiously squinting in an effort to discover what it was, I saw that the mass was alive. I jumped back when I realized what it was. Ants. It was an army of siafu, biting ants. I ran into the house and grabbed Emily.
We had heard of these ants before. There were many stories from other missionaries about how they were walking at night and accidently stepped in a line of siafu. Within seconds they would crawl all over you. Biting you. Not painful bites, more like obnoxious mosquito bites, but to have all these pinching ants crawling over you can make for a painful time.
One ant couldn’t do much damage, but the key to the siafu was their numbers. And on this occasion I had never seen so many ants in one spot and much to my horror the ants were on the move, the mass slowly inching inevitably closer to our house. I did what I always do when there is a problem in Africa; I ran to my neighbors.
“Atu! Musef!” I screamed as I ran to their door. I knew time was of the essence as very soon the siafu would overrun our house; moreover, the sun was setting and night would soon arrive which would make this battle all the more difficult. Atu and Musef ran outside to see what was the matter. I explained and showed them what the problem was. They didn’t seem as concerned as I thought they should have been. Musef said, “Mr. Matt, you must leave.”
“Leave? What do you mean?” I responded rapidly, panicking enough for the both of us.
Musef answered coolly, “You cannot stop the siafu. You must just wait till they have passed. Take the food from your house and let them come in your house and they will soon pass through.”
With this blasé answer my mood immediately changed from panicky to angry. “Musef!” I said, “We do not have time to remove all of the food and I will not let the siafu just come through and destroy my house. We must stop them.”
Musef saw my determination said, “ok”, and then took off running in the opposite direction grabbing his sister Atu as he went. “I am coming!” He shouted as he ran away from me.
The siafu were now about ten yards away from the house. If they entered the house the battle would be lost. In vain I tried stomping the siafu, but I was not even making a dent and all the while I was getting bit. Then after about a two-minute absence, my neighbors returned wielding branches. They arrived panting and sweating but smelling like fresh mint. Atu handed me some of these branches that emanated a minty smell. I watched and then followed suit as Musef lined the outside of our house with these branches. Meanwhile Emily and Atu spread corn flour across the doorway and the windows. Atu explained to Emily how the siafu do not like the corn flour nor do they like the branches that her and her brother had retrieved from the forest.
After lining the house with branches, Musef grabbed the largest of the branches and much to my dismay, ran right into the middle of the mass of siafu. I watched in disbelief as like a mad man he yelled and slammed his branch on the siafu. Killing many and making many others disperse. He was able to take about four big whacks before sprinting back to the safety of my porch. His sister quickly went to work pulling the siafu off her brother as he writhed and wiggled with every siafu bite. Atu laughed loudly at all his brother’s squirming and told him to hold still.
It’s moments like these where I couldn’t help but step back and ask myself where am I and how did I get here. Our house is about to be overrun by a swarm of black biting ants. My neighbor is fighting these ants like a warrior battling his arch nemesis. However, every three minutes he must take a break from this battle to run to his sister who picks these tiny foes off his body. As Atu laughs, I can’t help but laugh with her, and then I grab my branch and following Musef into the masses yelling for Emily to be ready to pick siafu off me in a couple minutes. Well, Musef lasted a couple minutes. I lasted about 30 seconds before I ran back to Emily to help pluck of the siafu. Our house may have been in danger and the siafu bites did sting, but Emily and Atu could not help but laugh at the contortions we made as ants literarily ran up our pants. Soon Musef and I were laughing too*. The siafu bites had become more mundane as over and over again we ran out and reigned blows on the small beasts then raced back to our sister and wife to recover from the battle.
By nightfall, the ants had not left, but they had also not entered our house. We had stopped their march, but they remained a large ominous mass in our front yard. Our corn meal and minty branch barriers appeared to have done the trick. Occasionally, a brave, poor ant would break through the barriers and run into our kitchen just to meet its quick end at the bottom of a shoe. However, this was not the time to celebrate because we weren’t sure the war was over. Every hour we would scan our flashlights out the window onto the black masses to see if they had left us; they had not. Emily and I lay in bed in what was one of our longest nights in Africa, too frightened to go to sleep. Whenever we closed our eyes we imagined waking up to sight of siafu covering every inch and crawling in every orifice of our bodies. There was little sleep had the night, but eventually in the wee hours of the morning we both found uneasy rest.
We woke early the next day to the find the ants had left. Besides the white powder and countless branches that lined our house, there were no signs that there was even a battle the night before. The siafu had vanished leaving no trace behind. Emily and I feeling more fatigued then victorious, returned to bed, where we remained for a long time.
At the conclusion of writing all of my blogs I give them to my wife to read to see if my memory agrees with hers and it also offers us a chance to reminiscence about some of our past adventures. Let the record show that after she read this particular entry she remarked that I failed to accurately capture the horror of the incident. She recalls less laughing and more cowering. It’s been duly noted Emily.