Bird on a Bare Branch

Attempting to fling a frail song in my little corner of the world

Using Their Powers For Good Instead of Evil October 26, 2008

Filed under: Rats — Jen @ 5:57 pm

“Some people cringe when they see a rat, but Bart Weetjens smiles.  A Belgian product designer, Weetjens devised a way for these often reviled rodents to help solve a global problem:  how to locate land mines, some 60 million of which are scattered in 69 countries.  Dogs are often deployed to sniff them out, “but I knew rats were easier to train,” says Weetjens, who bred them as a boy.  Rats are also light, so they don’t detonate the mines they find; they stay healthy in tropical areas, where many explosives are buried; and they’re cheap to breed and raise.  In the late 1990s Weetjens chose the African giant pouched rat, with its very sensitive nose, for Pavlovian training:  If the rats scratched the ground when they sniffed TNT, they got a reward.

More than 30 trained sniffer rats, aka HeroRATS, have started sweeping minefields in Mozambique, where they’ve cleared almost a quarter square mile.  Weetjens also trains rats to screen human saliva for tuberculosis and is mulling new missions, such as finding earthquake victims buried in rubble.  Lives saved, health improved, mine defused – nothing to cringe about here.”  ~Alan Mairson

National Geographic, October 2008


African Wildlife August 27, 2008

Filed under: Rats — Jen @ 1:16 pm

Several people have asked in the months since I’ve been in Moz if I’ve seen any wildlife. You know, zebras, giraffes, elephants, lions. It’s an innocent enough question since Africa is known for its safaris, but I live in a city. So that would be a bit like asking if one sees buffalo in Chicago or mountain lions in Manhattan.

This is not to say I never experience wildlife. However, it’s not nearly as glamorous as gazelle running past my bedroom window.

For example, a couple weeks ago I was walking to a friend’s house to watch the Olympics on their satellite TV. I was walking along a sidewalk, down a main road, past large walled-in houses, when I felt something around my ankle. I thought it was a plastic bag that had blown around it, so I kicked it away. Then I felt it again, more strongly. What the heck? I looked down and caught a glimpse of fur by my feet. I thought it must have been a small dog, but it wasn’t fur or a wet nose that I felt against my ankle. It was more like little hands. I looked more closely. A monkey! I gave a little shriek and jumped back, afraid of getting bit when I haven’t had any rabies vaccinations. It stared at me looking ready to pounce and latch on more tightly. The guard at the nearest house watched the whole interaction, looking unsure whether he should laugh or not. I asked if the monkey lived there. He did, and the guard immediately made himself look busy trying to get the monkey back in the gate while I continued on my way.

Yesterday I went to Central Market to buy vegetables. Central Market is a more “upscale” market on the central plaza near my office. It’s a collection of about a dozen vegetable venders housed in a cement structure. It’s slightly more expensive than buying from a street vender or from the large open-air market, but it’s much more convenient and the produce is generally always good quality. As the vender was weighing my carrots, I noticed something moving on the ground out of the corner of my eye. I looked down and watched a large rat run nearly over my toes. Does he have no fear?? And does he stay on the ground or run over the vegetables as well? Ew, ew, ew.

These are just some examples of my African wildlife experiences. Sadly, no zebras or giraffes, but just think, I actually have much more up-close-and-personal encounters with city wildlife than I ever would with safari wildlife. And I’m becoming somewhat of an expert on rats. Perhaps I should start leading urban safaris…


A Little Rat Incident May 26, 2008

Filed under: Rats — Jen @ 10:42 am

I had a little rat incident the other night. It could have been a big and rather devastating rat incident except for two things: 1) I was up late that night to notice it, and 2) I’m braver than I used to be.

We have not experienced any rat problems for awhile. Probably a couple months. We found the hole the rats had been coming in previously and blocked it up. I have truly given no thought to rats in ages.

On Friday evening my conversation partner came by to drop off a cake that she had made for the celebration lunch I was hosting for my team on Saturday. The cake was beautifully decorated on a foil-wrapped board. A foil-wrapped board which was too big to fit in the refrigerator. Worried about ants getting into it on the counter, we placed it on top of the fridge and put a plastic washbin over it. Sonia told me to put something heavy on top of that but then asked, “But do you still have rats?” I told her not anymore, so we decided I didn’t need to put something heavy after all.

Later on that night, I was going into the bathroom and thought I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a rat run past my foot in the hallway. But it was so quiet, and I hadn’t seen it clearly enough, so I decided it must have just been a shadow and that I was just paranoid about something happening to the cake. After all, we hadn’t had rats in weeks and weeks, so why would one happen to show up the one night that Sonia had asked about rats?

I putzed around getting ready for bed and didn’t actually get in bed till much later than I had planned. As I was settling in, I heard a plastic bag rustling in the kitchen, which I wouldn’t have heard had I already been asleep. Uh-UH!, I thought. I listened some more and then was convinced it was a rat in there. It was in the trash, but I knew once it had thoroughly gone through that, it would next be up on the fridge. (Have I mentioned that I just watched Ratatouille for the first time last week? I still don’t like rats, especially ones that have parties in my garbage and use my cupboards as toilets, and especially when my housemate is gone, and I have to deal with it myself.)

I made as much noise as I could heading into the kitchen. The problem is, if I startled it too much, it would come running out of the kitchen door that I was heading into. I am braver now than I was a few months ago, but not brave enough to handle a rat running over my bare feet. I managed to get into the kitchen with no incident, banging cupboard doors with a mop. I realized the rat was cowering under the oven, so I banged on that a couple times then watched it race across the floor, behind the fridge and then out the kitchen door. Because I’ve frightened a rat before from behind the fridge, I knew it was running down the hallway, into the guestroom, and out the hole in the broken AC (assuming it had unblocked the hole from before). I closed the kitchen door, set a glue trap outside, and went to bed.

Sadly no rat in the glue trap in the morning, although I’m still not sure I’m brave enough to dispose of a squirming, squeaking rat stuck to cardboard. And sure enough, the hole in the AC was unblocked. That is now blocked again, hopefully more secure than before.

And the cake was just fine. No ants, no rat nibbles.


Rats in Immigration February 19, 2008

Filed under: Immigration,Rats — Jen @ 8:20 am

The two questions I’ve been receiving most often these days have been: How is your rat situation? And: Have you gotten things sorted with Immigration? I have a positive response to the first question and a complicated one to the second.

I think I finally discovered where the rats were entering the apartment and have blocked it off. Of course the greatest motivation for finding the hole was seeing a rat scurry across the living room one evening while I was home alone watching a movie and then scaring another one (and myself!) in the kitchen. It was the first time I had actually seen any, and all I could think about was my housemate leaving for South Africa for a week and leaving me alone with them. We caught one in a glue trap the next morning, couldn’t bear to be in the kitchen so ate breakfast in town, and then called a neighbor to come and dispose of it (yes, still alive) in the evening so we could cook dinner. The hole in the broken air-conditioner in the living room is now blocked, and I have seen no further evidence of rats.

Immigration takes a little longer to explain. See if you can follow. (I’m not sure even I can.) Immigration absolutely will not accept my criminal background check. They insisted I can get US embassy verification. I insisted that the embassy does not have the authority to do that. But Immigration says it is out of their hands and in the embassy’s hands. I called the embassy again, explained the situation and asked for advice. They said that they do not have authority to verify a background check, but they can write a letter (with an oh-so-important stamp) stating that I claim that it’s an authentic document. I said, “Fantastic! So I can send you the documents?” The man I spoke to said, “No, you need to come in person and give an oath.” A roundtrip flight to Maputo costs about $250, or roundtrip by unairconditioned bus costs $80 and takes 16-18 hours each way.

Wanting to avoid a trip to Maputo, I called Texas Department of Public Safety to see if there is any way I can get a stamp on a criminal background check. Yes, I can get a notarized background check through the mail. “Fantastic! So I just need to send you a letter requesting that?” “Yes, with fingerprints.” I can easily get fingerprints done here in Beira, but the fingerprint card is all in Portuguese, which TXDPS won’t accept. (Yes, I asked.) Again, I called the embassy to see if they could send a fingerprint card to Beira. No, I have to get fingerprints done at the embassy.

Yesterday I bought a bus ticket to Maputo for Thursday and a return flight on Tuesday. US Citizen Services at the embassy is only open on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9am – 11am. My plan is to be there first thing on Friday to give an oath but also to get fingerprints. But I’m also giving myself Monday in case I can’t get everything taken care of on Friday.

To further complicate matters, my current temporary residence visa expires on the 27th. I return from Maputo on the 26th. If Immigration won’t accept my paperwork, I need to leave the country. That didn’t seem so bad when I first thought of it because I could make a visa run to South Africa and also see a rheumatologist (will write about my health problems in another post sometime). However, someone mentioned that I can’t just leave the country and come back on a tourist visa because I can’t apply for a residence visa on a tourist visa. I can only apply for a residence visa on a temporary residence visa which means I would have to leave the country and go somewhere with a US embassy so that I could apply for a new temporary residence visa. That, of course, takes more time than just running across either the South African or Zim border.

So we’re praying that this will get sorted. The further I proceed, the more frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive it becomes. I hope the end is in sight.


Oh Rats! February 7, 2008

Filed under: Rats — Jen @ 8:19 am

We have a little rat problem. Actually, it’s quite a big rat problem. At first when I found droppings in the kitchen when we moved in, I thought it was just mice. But I’m not sure mice can do the kind of damage that we’ve been finding everyday. So we’re calling it rats. We’ve never actually seen the rats, but we find their handiwork and their feces and urine all over our kitchen every morning.

So far in the pantry they have chewed into bags of rice, bread, and granola. We have moved the rice and granola into plastic containers and hung the bread. But they still got into the bag of bread that we hung. Then this morning I found plastic shavings and teeth marks on the container of rice. They must really like rice.

Somehow they also got banana peels out of the trash and pulled them into cupboards.

The grossest is that they gnawed through some underwear in the laundry basket.

Yes, we have bought traps. Big nasty metal things with lots of spikes. We have set them two nights in a row. And two nights in a row, the clever rats have eaten the food, released the catch, but have managed to not get caught. We don’t want to resort to rat glue on cardboard, but we may have to. We don’t want to use poison as we don’t want them crawling into some hidden place and dying there.

Of course my housemate and I are not so clever. We didn’t realize until this morning that we could actually securely shut the cupboard and pantry doors. So tonight is the night we seal everything off and set our glue traps. Prepare to die Senhores Ratos!