Wasp Wars

I am not scared of wasps. I just want to put that right out in the open, so you don’t get the wrong idea about me. In fact, I mostly think that wasps are pretty spiffy insects. There are several species of wasp that live in my hut, and they are welcome.

There are the yellow and black ones with looong stripey legs. They like to chew small tunnels in my walls and lay their eggs there. I have wasps that are mostly shiny black, but the back third of their abdomen is bright orange, as if they were carefully dipped in paint. They also lay their eggs in tunnels they chew in my walls. There are small metallic green wasps that bore into the wooden rafters on my roof to make their nests. There are dark wasps with orangy-red wings and orange eyes that build little mud tubes for their eggs on my walls and furniture. All these wasps and I live pretty happily together, and they are all very mellow individuals.

When Squeak was a kitten, he loved to bat a passing wasp out of the air and play with it for a while before eating it. He will still take a swipe at any wasp that flies too close. Despite all of that, I’ve never seen one of my house wasps try to sting him. One day I accidentally bumped into a wasp’s mud tube while she was inside. She flew out, buzzed around a bit, then settled back down, all without even threatening to sting me. So I’m happy to let all of these friendly wasps share my living space.

Sometimes living with wasps can be a little strange. I can actually hear them munching away at my walls, which was disconcerting until I figured out what was doing the munching: wasps are fine, mice or rats are not. Every day I have to sweep out little piles of chewed wall that collect under the tunnels. Sometimes I find mud tubes built in strange and inconvenient places, like in my hollow pot handles.

Funniest, though, is when the wasps start laying their eggs and bringing in food for their eventual offspring. What they do is dig a tunnel (or build a tube), lay an egg in it, then go and sting a caterpillar to stun it and seal it into the tunnel with their egg. The caterpillar stays alive long enough fo

r the egg to hatch and the wasp larva to have a delicious, fresh meal. That’s the plan, anyhow. When Squeak comes into the picture, things change.

Mamma wasp still digs her tunnel and lays her egg, but sometimes she gets intercepted by my fierce hunter on her way back into the hut with her caterpillar. Mostly she’ll get away, but often the caterpillar gets dropped and forgotten. Then eventually it starts to wake up; it is not uncommon for me to find groggy caterpillars trying to make their way across the floor. You wouldn’t think it was possible for a caterpillar to weave drunkenly, but they do.

So, mostly I don’t mind living with wasps, since the ones that choose my hut share my live-and-let-live attitude.

I have had some run-ins with an aggressive type of wasp recently. Unfortunately, this particular type of wasp seems to like to build its nest under the eaves of my chimbuzi, or toilet. There’s never a good time to get attacked by a wasp, but right as you’re ducking into the bathroom is definitely a bad time. Aggressive wasps call for aggressive measures, so I have made good use of my spray can of Doom. I have gassed 3 mean wasps, pulling down their paper nests each time. The first one managed to sting me, since I didn’t even know to look for it when ducking under the eaves. The score currently stands at
Jaime: 3, Mean Wasps: 1
I just hope that they give up and start building somewhere else. Or maybe they can learn from my house wasps and we can all live together happily. Is universal peace and tranquility really too much to ask?

Unrelated to wasps, but this is how my world looks this week.

Adventureous Alphabetting

Every morning I go out to a yard full of children. This has been happening for the last month or so, and is because a nursery school, what we would call a preschool, has opened in my insaka. Eventually there will be an actual school building, but for now I’ve volunteered the shade of my kitchen, and that means that I get to experience nursery school each day along with all of the kids.

The school is open to all children in the area who haven’t started basic school so the group is about 30 kids between the ages of 3 and 7. And, boy, are they excited to learn! As they’re gathering in the hour before class starts they sing the days of the week at the top of their lungs, to the tune of “Oh, my darlin’ Clementine,” which, of course, gets it firmly stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

When 8 o’clock finally comes around, it’s
Teacher: Good morning class!
Chorus of small voices, nearly in unison: Good morning sir!
T: How are you?
Half the Chorus: I’m fine and how are you?
at the same time, Other half of the Chorus: We are fine and how are you?
T: We
Chorus: We
T: We are fine and how are you?
Chorus: We are fine and how are you? (of course there are still a few “I’m fine’s” in there, too)
And that just gets the morning started. Everything is taught in English, by listening and repeating. They did the colors last week
T: This is pink. Say “Pink”
Chorus: Pink
T: What color is this?
C: Pink
T: What color is this?
C: Pink
T: What color is this?
C: Pink
T: This is blue. Say “Blue”
C: Blue
T: What color is this?
C: Blue
T: What color is this?
C: Blue
T: What color is this?
C: Blue
T: What color is this?
C: Pink
T: What color is this?
C: Blue
and so on, for two hours.

Some days they do numbers from one to ten, sometimes colors, and sometimes days of the week. Yesterday they did basic English nouns, like “bowl,” “cup,” and “spoon.” My favorite, though, is when they practice the alphabet.

First of all, it’s to a different tune than ours. No more Baa Baa Black Sheep or Twinkle Twinkle Little star. Second, a few of the letters have different names. Z, for example, is “Zed,” and F is “Efoo.” Third, though, is that the alphabet is hard and there are a lot of letters to remember in the right order. So this is what I hear on alphabet days.

Everyone can agree on the first bit: “Aee, Bee, CeeDee. Eee, EFooGee. AicH, Eye, JayKay.”
Then things get a little more creative. If all the kids are singing together, this section is a jumbled hodgepodge of letters, and you can’t really make out what anyone’s saying. If it is just one, child singing, though, you may hear something like:
“El, Dee, Emm, Oh. Que, Cee, Pee, DoubleU.”
Then, finally, in roaring unison, you get:
“Ex, Why, and Zed!” With “Zed” shouted loudly and triumphantly. So alphabet days make me laugh, and I enjoy them immensely. I actually think I’ll be a little sad when they finally learn the standard alphabet: this free-form version is just so much more creative and entertaining.

Nothing but lettuce

 My garden looks fantastic. It’s my pride and joy here, so I’ll allow myself to brag a little. My veggies are all thriving, and really my two 1m x 18m garden beds look more like strips of jungle than neat, orderly cultivation. I have all the summer crops, like tomatoes, zucchini, and beans, as well as onions, celery, and several kinds of lettuce. I also have what might be the world’s largest parsley plant, a monster almost 3ft in diameter and 2ft high. There are a smattering of other veggies, like cabbage, cucumbers, broccoli, pumpkins, rutabagas, garlic, radishes, and green peppers, as well as a selection of flowers including nasturtiums, poppies, sunflowers, marigolds, and lupine. So I have quite a variety of plants, and I spend a lot of my time slathered with sunscreen and weeding, harvesting, or watering.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Right now we are moving out of cold season and into our hot, dry season, so the weather has been warm and sunny. Perfect growing weather, if you can keep everything moist enough. I spend about two hours every day watering my garden by hand, making innumerable trips from a nearby well and toting what seems like an infinite number of buckets full of water. My neighbors are all very impressed, as they are any time I do anything resembling physical labor. Many of them water their gardens using gas-powered pumps, but many also use buckets, so I have to laugh when someone comes up to me and says, ‘Ah, you. You work very hard.’ While I’m watering 36 square meters by hand, they are carrying enough water for acres of onions, tomatoes, rape, and watermelon; there’s really no question in my mind about who is working hard. At least I’m getting a good reputation, however little I think I deserve it.

If I’ve spent a lot of time in my garden this last month, then so has everyone else: apparently this is the right time of year for growing everything. All of the gardens are clustered together in a ‘dambo’ area, or a low-lying area where the water table stays within ~2m of ground level. While in months past my garden was a place of solitude, now it has become the center of my social life. Absolutely every man, woman, and child spends at least a few hours in their garden each day, and we all greet and chat with each other while we’re working.

Many times I’ll be working away and a group of kids will come over and want a short tour of my garden. They want to see, and sample, everything that I am growing. My cherry tomatoes are especially popular, though everybody is shocked that ‘they do not grow’, and I always spend a lot of time explaining that you don’t exactly eat basil, parsley, mint, or cilantro, that you use just a small amount for flavor. It’s a strange concept to people who don’t use any spices other than salt.

Prudence, my 6 year old host sister, loves to come over when the family and I are out at the same time. Today we all walked out to the gardens together, laughing and skipping the whole way. When we got there, Prudence and I started playing her favorite garden game: she points to plants and asks what they are. We usually start with the easy ones that she knows, like onions and tomatoes, but then she’ll start asking about ones she hasn’t seen before. So today we worked our way through radishes, rutabagas, basil, and parsley, and then she pointed to a head of lettuce. ‘It’s lettuce’ I said. She pointed to a tuft of wrinkly leaf lettuce. ‘That’s lettuce, too.’ She pointed to some romaine. ‘That’s also lettuce.’ Finally she pointed out a bunch of red oak-leaf lettuce. ‘I know, but it’s lettuce, Prudence.’

I could just see her puzzlement: how can such different-looking plants all be lettuce? This one’s red, even! Then an idea seemed to dawn on her, she grinned in understanding. ‘Ba Jaime,’ she said, gesturing to my whole garden, ‘leonse lettuce!’ (It’s ALL lettuce!)