29 March 2015
*Note: Just in case you cannot imaging me laughing as I tell you this story, the tone of this piece is more than slightly amused exasperation*
It might not surprise you when I tell you that I learn more about the world than “just” chimpanzee behavior from my field experiences. It hasn’t surprised me either. Aside from tons and tons of information, I’ve learned to expect surprises, random hurdles, unpredictable changes in absolutely everything, and (most importantly) to expect that any expectations about the aforementioned will be exceeded and undermined- sometimes simultaneously.
It is easy for anyone to realize that other animals are pretty darned interested in your things- especially when those things are food. It only takes a few days in this forest to realize that baboons are a constant threat. In Kakamega, the blue monkeys were constantly trying to sneak into the house for a snack. When you really settle down in the woods, and your kitchen is a small building butting right up to a nice patch of trees and underbrush, it is not surprising that the rats move in to feast on your bountiful supply of sweet fruits and processed carbohydrates. It is an annoyance, of course, but it is understood that you must spend a bit of time to protect yourself from sharing with rodent friends.
I did not expect them to demolish every non-metal food storage unit overnight. We dealt with that hurdle by adding a few new ones to their nightly routine, shifting all of our fruit, veg, and carbs into a metal trunk. They promptly resolved their food access problem, managed to flip the latch and prop the lid open- even though we anticipated it ahead of time and weighed the lid with two bricks. Luckily, they haven’t grown thumbs to open the lock we use now to prevent them from unlatching our little treasure trunk (though I sometimes feel like it could happen at any moment). Instead, their solution has been to chew through the wall of our house to run around the common room all night snacking on anything that is accidently left out, regardless of what we would consider “edibility.” The walls are cinderblock. We still cannot find the entry point. We bought another trunk.
So far, despite the frustration of realizing a tiny little rat brain has outsmarted me yet again, these are the type of struggles I expect and am mentally prepared to deal with. Mango flies are another expected annoyance- relatively easily thwarted (thank heavens) by ironing everything. Even- no especially– your underwear.
What never occurred to me was that rats would eat 80% of the underwear that I brought to Uganda in the space of a single night between being taken off the laundry line and ironed the next day (oh how I wish I was exaggerating).
When rats eat so much of your underwear, you embark on an epic adventure to replace them. You hop on a boda (motorbike) with trusty side-kicks and head for Fort Portal---
And then, as it turns out, the only underwear you can buy in Fort Portal are the kind that were rejected from every Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc. and shipped to Africa wholesale in giant bundles of all things wearable.
When rats eat so much of your underwear, and there are not suitable replacements in a 200km radius, you hop in a car with your trusty sidekicks. You drive through hurricane-style rain storms, pull off the road for safety just to navigate through a small river, narrowly avoiding a water-logged Toyota. You finally make it to the big city, lay down for a well-earned night's sleep and wake up to find that not surprisingly, in all that mess, you've punctured a tire. Luckily you're driving the one Toyata in Uganda with a spare! And luckily, your trusty side kicks are excellent tire-changers, you switch it out in record time- and you don't even need assistance from the Texan missionary who offered so much advice but no real help while he sat there watching you get your hands dirty----
AND THEN, as it turns out, somehow it is nearly impossible to find a decent pair of underwear even when you scour 3 malls between Kampala and Entebbe. Yes, apparently the only place to find new underwear is the supermarket. Further, all of said underwear is XXL or “high cut” circa 1984, or both. Or- the one alternative that we did find- is the right size, a decent cut that will actually stay on your hip-less body, but with very round and cushy BUTT PADING that tones and shapes and add a whole “butt size.”
In the end, the trip to the big city has resulted in locating exactly 4 pairs of underwear that are even remotely suitable and will solve the problem for the time being. Who knows how well they’ll stand up to ironing. Or the rats.
I have also acquired a few bottles of wine and some good, dark chocolate…
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This blog is a forum share my personal experiences as a field researcher and traveler.