Forget cockroaches with their indestructible bodies of steel…it’s ants that will take over this world with their sizeable armies.
Red fire ants are one of the things that Ben and I have adapted too since moving to Cambodia. We have accepted that all food, including cereal, pasta, rice, biscuits…pretty much everything must be stored in the fridge to keep it safe from ants. We have gotten used to them crawling through our kitchen, bathroom, lounge area and bedroom in their neat little lines. We have even gotten used to Yim, our Khmer mother spraying our house with a whole can of insect spray so that you practically need a gas mask to enter the premises…but there comes a point when these tiny creatures send you crazy…and they can make you snap.
Examples being: when they bite you and leave nice large red lumps on your skin that are somewhat painful…or when they cross the line of personal space and invade your wardrobe, crawling all over your clothes…or your bath towel…leaving nice bites as you attempt to dry yourself off.
Thursday night however, they staged what I call “Operation rice coup”. I had cooked up a rather tasty Aloo Mutter and was preparing to cook the rice when I discovered, as I washed it that ants were floating to the surface. Not fazed at this stage, I calmly scooped them out….but the more I scooped the more they kept floating to the surface. Then I looked at the bag of rice that I had only just bought and saw ants teeming inside and out. Enraged by their presence I grabbed the can of insect spray and gassed the lot of them. I felt satisfied for about two seconds before I immediately regretted the decision. Not only did it mean no rice for dinner but it also posed complications for how to discard the rice. I couldn’t throw it directly in the bin, as there is a community of people that live at the rubbish tip and I was concerned they might get sick or die if they decided to consume it. So I bagged it up and put it to the side not sure what to do with it.
The next day, I was relaying the story to my Khmer teacher who was very amused. She said I had been on the right path with scooping them out as they floated to the top…unfortunately my short fuse saw to the end of that solution. Anyway, Morivan suggested soaking the rice for a few days, as that would make it go bad and no one would want to eat it. So I placed the rice in a bucket with water and put it in a corner of the kitchen.
When Yim arrived in the afternoon I had a little scuffle with her, as she was determined to rescue the rice and even my pleas of it being toxic were not going to deter her. I had one of those moments of realizing that I was a stupid and wasteful foreigner who had destroyed perfectly good food and worst of all I was prepared to waste it. There’s nothing like a bit of shame over a bag of rice.
So after two days of soaking, Andrew, Anthea and I were standing in the kitchen last night and we were surrounded by an offensive odour that was not too dissimilar to vomit. It took about 20 minutes for it to dawn on me that the odour came from the rice in the bucket, which had started to bubble away. It smelt rancid! So I moved the bucket outside and put a bag over it while I worked out what to do next. Curse those ants!
Per Ben’s suggestion, I ended up disposing the rice into a multitude of bags (so environmentally friendly of me) hoping that it would contain the smell. It was not an easy operation and a fair amount of rice and water ended up on the ground and required some mopping up afterwards but rest assured people, I have the toxic waste secured…now I just need to wait for the garbage truck that comes down our street playing Xmas music and I can consider my work here done.
A lesson has been learnt through this…let the ants eat their rice (or our rice)…and do not attempt to gas them as it will only lead to a ridiculous string of events and offensive odours.
Ironically, the story does not end here. Having written this blog entry yesterday, Ben last night sustained some nasty bites after taking a shower and using an ant infested towel to dry off. Is nothing sacred to these ants? We just want to live in harmony!