Call it a phenomenon. We call it the plague of termites.
African termites are not like America’s little wood-eating termites. These guys are about one third body and two thirds wing, and the whole thing ends up being a couple inches long. They are black and juicy and nasty. They live in holes in the ground, but after it rains and when it’s dark outside, they crawl out by the multitudes to mate, and once they’ve found a partner, their wings fall off and they die. Sounds like a phenomenon scientifically, but in reality, it’s an infestation. An invasion. A plague.
After it stopped raining on the night shift (remember, this is the perfect combination – darkness plus after the rain), they started crawling into the hospital by the thousands. Once inside, they took to flight. The hallway became a black cloud of swirling termite affection. After thirty minutes of trying to take care of my patients with large winged insects hitting my face, their next cycle of life arrived and their wings fell off, which made walking anywhere very crunchy. An hour after that, when their sad lives were finished, the poor cleaning people were left with what looked like a massacre of insects and their wings.
It was actually unbelievable. Disgustingly unbelievable. I couldn’t stop laughing, because what else can you do when a swarm of harmless, yet creepy insects invades a hospital? (Of all places! I still can’t figure out how they got in by the hoards.)
What made me laugh even more is that the patients and hospital workers who are locals acted like it was no big deal whatsoever. I kept swatting termites off my arms, but the Togolese just kept sleeping with huge bugs crawling on their bodies. I would try not to yelp when they hit my face, but the Togolese didn’t even flinch. I thought they were gross, but the Togolese were collecting them in plastic bags to, yes, grill up for dinner. I almost died when one of our colleagues walked into the maternity, and, seeing the masses, exclaimed, “Ah, here is the meat!”
I had an American nurse working in maternity with me that night, and all we could do was laugh and ask each other if this was really happening as we watched this whole hilariously horrific phenomenon unfold before our wide open eyes (but not mouths; I was too afraid to let my mouth hang wide open unless one might accidentally fly in it). She was watching one particular termite struggle on the ground as it’s wings kept catching the breeze from the ceiling fan, which would turn it over on its back. The determined insect would then struggle a few minutes to get right side up, only to be blown up side down all over again. “That’s kinda life, ya know?” she commented.
But I’ll tell you what is more like life is the invasion of things that come when it’s rainy and dark. Lies. Fear. Shame. Doubt. Insecurity. Sin. Rejection. Selfishness. Jealousy. Anxiety. And you know what? You can’t make it stop raining or not get dark; these are natural parts of time and seasons. These attacks will come. But you know what you can do? You can shut the door and keep them out. You can step on them and smash them. You can even, like the Africans, just not let them bother you since you recognize them as the powerless, harmless things that they are. And (I hope this is not taking the analogy too far) you can even gather them up and eat them, for even hard things when submitted to fire, can produce good and nourishing strength for our faith and our souls.
After it was all said and done, the cleaning people came at 7am and swept up black bugs like nobody’s business, and you would have thought that all the insects in the entire world died on one night in our hospital. But again, the cleaning people were not surprised, and just acted like it was a normal cleaning day. When I see how unaffected they are, it motivates me to not be such a dramatic American, and my heart stops racing a little bit. And as the termites lose their fear factor, I sense fear itself along with lies and insecurity losing ground in my own heart. For its daylight again, the rain has dried up, and those lies can just go back into the hole in the ground where they belong.
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