ECU Field Journal: Africa

Marie's Blog from Lambaréné, Gabon<-- back

Close Encounters of the Gabon Kind...
September 14, 2008

My latest adventure occurred not in the village or around the hospital, but right in my very own room. Last night, I decided to prepare my medical bag for the upcoming week. As I was emptying my bag, I felt something warm brush up against my hand. I looked down and saw an ill-defined shape inside my bag. It was brown with a hint of yellow. I didn’t think anything of it because just the other day, I had found an old banana in my bag that I had forgotten to eat while working in the village. I bent down to get a closer look and saw "LEGS!!!" My brain kicked in “medical-student mode,” and I immediately scanned a differential diagnosis of all the things it could be. After a few seconds, I had it … B-A-T!!!

I slowly backed out of my room and into my housemate Lillian's room. Luckily for our other housemates, Katie was on the phone and Christy was in bed. Lillian came to my rescue and for this I will be forever grateful! We huddled in the doorway of my room together, not wanting to believe that there really was a bat in our house. We had to find out if it was alive or dead. If it was alive, why didn't it move when I touched it? But if it were dead, would it have felt warm? We stood in the hallway for a good 30 minutes, trying to negotiate how we could get the bat OUT OF MY ROOM!!! Every couple of minutes, we would swing open the door to see if he had moved. I knew we had to get it out of our room alive, because I wasn’t going to kill it. I believe in Dr. Schweitzer’s Reverence for Life philosophy, and as scary as this bat was, it still qualified.

Thinking we could catch him like any insect, we chose a plastic food-storage container as our bat-catching tool. Unfortunately, I soon realized this would be much too small for my liking, as it did not give enough neutral territory between my hands and my unwelcome guest. I just knew he would fly up and hit me in the face. Then I thought I might have trouble getting him to move off my bag; he could latch on with his claws! I was frozen with fear, and knowing that this could go on all night, I suggested we ask security to help. Can you imagine, “Security, security! Come quickly, there is a bat in our house!” This was quickly vetoed as we would be the subject of ridicule for the remainder of our stay. I thought “Okay, I am in Africa. I must learn to do as the Africans do, right?” If no other reason, this had to be a defining moment as a woman. We could not seek the help of our male counterpart during this challenge.

The plan of attack came to fruition. Step 1. We rushed into the room and threw a mosquito net over my bag. Step 2. We carried the bag and net outside, each holding one side of the bag, and set it down on the porch. We had to enlist Katie for this. She came to the call of duty of her girlfriends, but did so wearing her yellow raincoat. She was so cute with her hood and coat zipped up tight. Katie opened the front door as we barreled through with the bag. Mission accomplished. Step 3. With the bag on the porch, we strained to examine the bag from the security of our window. Could we be so lucky that he would just crawl out? We weren’t. Step 4. This had to end. I summoned my courage and went outside. I grabbed the mosquito net and my bag, and in one fell swoop, threw them both off the porch. In doing so, I made sure to separate the net from the bag. It worked!!! The bat landed about 12 inches from my bag. Step 5. I used a broom to hook the handle of my bag, and dragged it up onto the porch from a safe distance.

If you have ever seen the movie The Great Outdoors with John Candy and Dan Aykroyd, you’ll be happy to know we did the bat scene justice this night—what a team! I now realize that I’ve probably been closer to these little guys than I ever realized throughout my six weeks here.