Night of the Rat

Greetings from Mai Tsebri, Ethiopia, 25 miles from the Eritrean border—although it’s hard to know because this town isn’t on Google Maps.  I’ve been in Ethiopia for a week now, and I’m ready to get out of here.

Mainly because of the rat.

I am staying at the Center for Victims of Trauma office here (we are the Center for Victims of Torture everywhere else but for political reasons we had to tone down the name here).

I am in the guest room.  Here are some pictures:

The first night, exhausted from traveling all day, hot and sticky, my head clogged up from the chemicals they use to disinfect everything, I finally fell asleep with the ceiling fan turned on high, wafting my mosquito netting up and down.

Some time later I was awakened by the loud sound of something scrabbling its way up the drain pipe in the bathroom and then slurp! I could hear it pop out and scurry around in the dark.

The power had gone out, so I couldn’t turn on the light.  It had to be a rat because the other things that come up drain pipes, like cockroaches and snakes, would be silent.  I have experience with this from Mexico, where you didn’t know the giant cockroaches were in your room until they ran up your arm in the dark.

I wasn’t going to wait for a rat to run up my arm.  I got the first shot in the rabies series before I left home and I would have to get the rest of them if I was bitten by a rat—but where would I find the rabies series here?  It took two flights and three hours of driving to get here.

I turned my cell phone up as bright as it would go, then flashed it into all the nooks and crannies and under the bed.  I didn’t see anything.  I got back into bed and could hear it scuttling around beneath me.  I got up and blasted the phone blindly, then climbed back into bed and fell asleep with the phone clutched in my hand.

Right now I am in a training room furnished with red and green upholstered hotel chairs.  Our master’s-degree-level Ethiopian counselors are training 17 Eritrean counselors who work for Norwegian Refugee Council in how to recognize the symptoms of torture and trauma and what to do about them.  One of the counselors has a small child on her lap and another has a baby strapped to her back.

I did a fundraising training with our employees yesterday. Part II was supposed to be today, but I’ve completely lost my voice.  I don’t have a cold, so it must be the diesel fumes and dust and chemicals.

“Ferenji, ferenji!” come the high calls of children as I walk by.  “White person, white person!”  I pass a woman with a small daughter; the mother pulls her daughter close and says in a hushed warning tone, “Ferenji,” like I’m a monster.  Our country director, who is Japanese, hears “China, China!”, which she doesn’t appreciate.  Sometimes they call me China too.  I guess we all look alike.

In the morning, I thought maybe I had imagined the rat.  Maybe I was just being dramatic.  When I told the country director she said phlegmatically, “Yes, there are rats here.  I hate them.”

Our Kenyan psychotherapist, who has the room next to mine informed me that he’s got traps set.

“Oh great,” I said with a laugh, “That probably drives them into my room!”

I put a plate over the drain and placed a heavy rock on top of it.

There was no rat that night, although I was wearing ear plugs to blur out the sound of drumming and singing and ululating that went on for hours somewhere nearby, so maybe I just didn’t hear the little bastard.

Third night: the rat was back.  It’s not like the room was well sealed.  Then I heard a terrifying squealing from next door.  I choose to believe it was my rat.  Game over, rat!

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