Sunday, September 18, 2011

All Creatures Great and Small

I have found myself locked in a battle of wills of late. Ants have begun to devour my stuff, my life and my sanity. They first crept onto my desk, dangerously close to my pillow and when I moved my cotton swabs that they seemed to be developing an affection for (why, ants, why?!) they discovered my beloved backpack in which I tote my worldly belongings every time I move. Apparently they like it there and no amount of sweeping, pleading or glaring can cease their industrious pillaging of my stuff. It's amazing how man vs. ant can get to a rather obsessive, pathological level. I imagine them as ranks of foot soldiers and generals, manned out of their war room, hell bent on inflecting misery upon all until the end of time. Having dropped a crumb of muffin into my keyboard during the writing of this post, I am now obsessively fretting about ants destroying my laptop. It happened to a friend of mine. Really. Until now I never really understood my Dad's passion for spraying ants in their nests on the side of our house. My mom, my sister and I would all stand at the window and watch him, mildly confused at his display of schadenfreude. Never mind the fact that we benefited from his diligence. But now I know.

In Mongolia all animals were simply fated to die. The winters were long and bugs generally scarce. But Cambodia is different. It's like the jungle is taking it's revenge on mankind for hacking the trees to pieces and erecting a toxic city in their stead. I swear the jungle will take back over one day. The ants are just holding its place.

The ants are not the only wildlife very happily coexisting with people here. I am engaged in a one-sided love-affair with the geckos that plaster the walls and ceilings of seemingly every building in Cambodia. They scuttle comically across vertical surfaces, their sticky little fingers gripping the concrete and I wonder what they are thinking. I don't think I'll ever tire of watching them and the girls also smile at the 'little crocodiles'. At the gym the only work-out buddies I have are sparrows that jerk their heads inquisitively as I sweat and pant; they freely come and go in the exercise room. The windows are open against the heat and it would be futile to try and keep the birds from hopping all over the weights. I've never been a nature person but the larger critters that frolic around Phnom Penh are endearing, unlike the six-legged villains munching away at God-knows-what.

Further inspection of my backpack informed me that the culprit ant attracter was an old gag gift. Some Russian friends came back from a visit home and presented me with a lollipop in the shape of a rooster. (I'll leave you to your own thoughts there, friends.) Thinking it was funny I threw it in my bag on the way home and forgot about it. That is until I found the beak completely depleted by tiny bites and the face red with a swarm of ants. Who felt really dumb? This kid. So after cleaning up the mess and chucking my fowl friend, I retreated to a coffeehouse, far from the maddening swarms. Please let them not be back in their ranks, marching away, upon my return.