Monday, October 1, 2012

Ants. Ants. Ants. A Cliche.

FIRST, AN UPDATE: The soap works. It lathers. It is in bottles. It has been placed in the bathrooms. It is still a foreign agent looked upon suspiciously by the children. Now, to make handwashing fun.

And the ants.

If anything in this country is going to make me crack up, and I mean seriously lose it, it’s going to be the ants. Sure, getting your love handles grabbed by your co-workers, with the added insult that they actually tell you that you’re fat as they do it—that gets old. Really old. So does the heat—getting out of the shower only to start sweating again; arriving at school after a ten minute bike ride dripping already, with helmet-hair plastered to your face. That’s not really that exciting anymore. Neither, might I add, is the fact that our water goes off from about 8 am until about 4:30 pm every day. Which is fine unless it happens to be Saturday and you’re halfway through a load of laundry (your sheets) when the naam stops lai-ing. Even the giant spiders are okay because they come seldom and because Josh has a pretty good technique with the broom. But I don’t want to complain about those things. I can live with all that.

I want to complain about this: Apparently (predictably?) I also live with thousands, probably more like hundreds of thousands, of variously-sized insects. They waltz right in the front door. In fact, they’ve set up camp, and they think they’re going to achieve a permanent residence right inside the concrete foundation of the house. Then they’re just gonna use the front door as their entrée into what is apparently a veritable buffet for them.

My research on these little creatures reveals that they are in search of either sugar or protein, and that the scavenger ants bring the morsels they can carry back to the colony where they are fed to the larvae, which then excrete a liquid that the adult ants eat. Gross. Research and anecdotes from friends also suggests that baiting them with borax-laced peanut butter can kill whole colonies, but so far I’m uncomfortable with inviting the enemies in such a devious manner. Also relatively uncomfortable with the prospect of spraying the place with yaa gan mot (“medicine against ants”) because it comes in one of those scary looking spray cans with black and orange on the label and has probably been outlawed in various other countries with more progressive laws regarding chemical agents. So the options are somewhat reduced to being a SUPERFREAK when it comes to cleaning (not really an option), sealing the entire house (not really an option, this place is open to anything less than an inch big in any one dimension. Vinegar has been suggested. Cinnamon too. They don’t like garlic (no protein, no sugar). They apparently don’t like coffee (those grounds and coffee rings could stay put on the counter for weeks if we let them—like most Thais, I guess they don’t really know a good brew when it’s right under their noses).

Yesterday, I ordered Josh to bring the hot water boiler (which, under certain circumstances yet to be completely revealed the ants also love to inhabit), full of boiling water, so that I could squirt it into the entrance to their underground kingdom that I’d discovered right outside the front door. We were cleaning everything else. I figured drowning some ants couldn’t hurt the cause and one ant forum had included the suggestion of pouring boiling water into their colonies to flush them out. Let them know they’re not welcome in the neighborhood, you know? So I drowned some ants. Twenty minutes later, they were rebuilding. I swept them away. Rinse repeat. Twenty minutes later, they’re rebuilding. More water? Rinse repeat. Maybe we’re the ones not welcome in the neighborhood.

We cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. Josh took the strings off of his guitar, unscrewing the keys only to find that hundreds of our six-legged friends had been living in there. They came out carrying their eggs and looking for a new home. We have ant-proofed a table in the kitchen and an eating table by placing the legs in yogurt cups and filling them with water. We have discovered that the cheese packets in the precious mac ‘n’ cheese we received from home are anything but ant-proof. Unlike most Thais, ants apparently have an insatiable desire for powdered cheese. Now the remaining unharmed mac ‘n’ cheese lives in the freezer, which the ants have so far not infiltrated.

So last night I found myself, as I increasingly do, bent over staring at a line of ants. “Where are you going?” I asked them. This is what they’ve done: ants have reduced me to muttering to myself in the kitchen. I tried the cinnamon, precious seasoning though it is, having had to be purchased in BKK and all. . I sprinkled it outside the entrance to their lair in the wall just above the kitchen counter. They went a little nuts, and the more I spread the cinnamon out, the more they just kept going a little crazy, walking their scent trail and doing a little arm wiggling and hugging when they met their brethren going the other way. A whole gaggle of them stopped at the cinnamon, walking this way and that, but not able or willing to move forward. Not entirely satisfied with the result, there wasn’t much more I could do besides imagine the content of their conversations, and that seems a little crazy.

Didn’t I say if anything in Thailand makes me completely crack up, it’ll be the ants? It doesn’t much help that the little ones bite in self-defense if you accidently step on them and that sometimes my body freaks out a little and swells completely out of proportion with the offense. Now, I can spot one across the floor at 20 feet, and Josh is probably sick of me pointing them out as if it’s some kind of novelty, but I can't help it. I'm obsessed. I'm developing a grand fascination for the little creatures that makes me both immensely curious about them even as my hatred for them grows. 

Stay tuned.