This is part of my journal entry for Wednesday, January 19, 2005. It is pretty much as I recorded my thoughts and memories that day. While we can talk about it humorously now, we mean it when we say, “This event is an excellent example of God’s protection and care, how He watches over us and takes care of us.” What follows is taken straight from my entry.
Well, where to begin and what to say? Last night we experienced one of those events you never want to experience in the bush, and hope we never experience again. However, we also experienced God’s hand of protection, as well as experienced His peace and grace. I suppose I should start at the beginning – always a good place to start.
A bit before 1am I was awakened out of a deep sleep by something crawling on the back of my neck, which I promptly brushed away and rolled out of bed, yelling (most likely) for Anji to do the same. Now, rolling out of a water bed that is surrounded by a mosquito net is no mean feat, especially when one is about 3 seconds out from a deep sleep. However, thinking that a large roach or beetle of some sort has just been crawling on one is great motivation to vacate the premises. Anji and I manage to do it is several seconds flat, and grab our respective flashlights, at which point I flip over my pillow (sans any “weapon” other than my flashlight and a smile (ok, more likely a grimace at that point)) in an attempt to see what the offending critter might be. What I saw freaked me out and gave me a serious case of the willies. A giant centipede scurried away from my pillow and under Anji’s pillows!
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with these critters, they are fast, mean, and ugly. They are usually anywhere from 5 to 7 or more inches long, a body that is ½ inch or more wide with legs that can span probably 2 inches (these are approximate figures since they are not really the pet type species, you probably don’t want to ask them any favors – they just don’t have the disposition for it.) They have little sharp points at the ends of their many legs, some serious mandibles that may or may not be poisonous (again, who’s asking?) and the back pair of legs are extra long with spines between them – I guess for holding things because they tend to attack with their back ends as well as their fronts. As you can tell, they are ugly, with a metallic green hue, and did I mention their disposition? I’ve never seen one that is pleasant, taking a leisurely stroll, or that did not fight back! Kind of like the cotton mouths of centipedes. Their only natural nemesis – as far as I’ve seen – are bull frogs, I’ve seen plenty dead giant centipedes in frog stomachs. There may be other things like birds that eat them, but I doubt it. I’m not even sure man can be classified as an enemy as you’ll see in a bit. We had a few of these in the house in Mouk growing up, but as I recall we only ever had one under something in the bottom of a closet, and we “caught” few that got into the shower tub and because they couldn’t get back out again. This is the one “bug” that freaks me out more than bird-eating spiders, scorpions, or pretty much anything except for snakes.
Well, when I saw the thing scurry off – I freaked, plain and simple. I could still feel it crawling on the back of my neck, plus I had just brushed it off with my bare hand. I (again, most likely) yelled for Anji to get something so I could kill it (I guess I thought that I needed to keep a light on where it had gone, who knows) and she came right back with a flip flop! They are great for squashing spiders and roaches and for swatting rhinoceros beetles out of the air, but I quickly surmised that it would be totally inadequate for the job at hand, so I stuck it on my foot – for protection mind you. I was still “in a heightened state of alert” shall we say, so I went and got the other flip flop and put it on my other foot while we formulated a “plan”. I figured we needed a tongs, but the only one here is a short one about 8 inches long – and that didn’t feel nearly long enough for my fingers to stay out of reach of both ends of the monster. That’s all we had though, it isn’t like you can take a bush knife or BBQ skewer to work around a water bed.
We put the mosquito net up out of the way and Anji went to my side of the bed holding two flashlights (we had turned the meager overhead room light on) while I held a flashlight and (very short) tongs, alternating them from hand to hand trying to figure out which tool needed the priority of my right handedness. The problem with this arrangement was who was going to manipulate the pillows – or whatever else might be in the way as we gave chase – if we both had both our hands full? But at least I had my flip flops on for protection! I finally did the turning over of both Anji’s pillows and the worst case scenario presented itself – the critter was gone! By that time I knew that not finding it would be worse than finding it in the bed, we’d never know where it had gotten to and for sure we wouldn’t want to go back to bed. However, I had seen how the pillow case was laying before I moved it, and I thought that maybe it had crawled inside the pillow case.
So, we moved the party out to the middle of the living room floor where we’d have more room to maneuver and the critter would have fewer places to hide. Aren’t we clever? I took the pillow to the living room and proceeded to shake it out, and sure enough, the centipede fell out and started to run for cover. As the centipede did its best imitation of a pinball on a gallon of espresso zigging and zagging across the floor, I did my best stomp dance moves and stomped on it twice before I abandoned that approach to centipede extermination. Between the springiness of the floor and the give of my flip flops, I don’t think he was even hurt real bad. It was at that point that I employed the tongs and grabbed it about half of the way back and reefed on the tongs for all I was worth, and it started attacking the tongs for all it was worth.
Now we were at an impasse, it was certainly not dead yet, and I wasn’t about to turn it loose until it was. What to do? There I am in my shorts and flip flops, holding on to a vicious critter for all I’m worth, flash light in the other hand, my loving (and shaking – by her own admission) spouse “covering me” with her double barreled flashlight setup. I looked around and spotted a can of bug killer and asked her (no more shouting at this point) to bring that over. I hunkered down, relinquished my flashlight in exchange for the spray, and proceeded to give the centipede a serious bath in the stuff, especially concentrating on his head. We then sat there while he trashed around in a puddle of poison and Anji snapped a couple of causal shots of our victim. After a minute or so I realized that this was getting us nowhere fast (important information to file away for later use) and that another solution to our impasse was needed.
As most people who know me know, if I can’t burn it (not really practical in this situation) I’ll turn to a bladed tool with a sharp edge to solve the problem. A knife Anji, if you please! (I didn’t think I could pin the moving target of its head down with a BBQ skewer – of which there were plenty.) What wasn’t plenty of is decent knives, so Anji brought me a small steak knife– which she reasoned was the best of the bunch!
By this time I’d decided that I wanted to keep this specimen for pictures in the daylight, so I was loathe to damage it too much, plus, I felt the knife was totally inadequate for my armor plated foe. I decided that what was needed was some blunt force trauma, so I asked Anji to give me the piece of board that the coconut scrapper it attached to. With it, I twice applied extreme pressure with extreme prejudice to the head region of the critter, and that still barely killed it. See what I mean about man might not even be a real threat or nemesis to these things? Once we were sure that it was mostly dead, we searched for a secure container to keep it for the rest of the night and ended up putting it in a small jar. Then we set down to pull ourselves together.
All this had taken probably no longer than it has for you to read this, maybe not even that long. To say that we were shaken would be an understatement! So, we sat on the couch and prayed for a bit. I could still feel the thing on the back of my neck, and the thought of going back to bed where we had just removed the thing – or it had found us – was unsettling, to say the least. So, we prayed for peace and calming, thanked the Lord that He had kept us safe, thanked Him that it hadn’t shown up in one of the kid’s beds, and then acknowledged His hand of protection in all of our lives. We also thanked Him for all the people standing behind us in prayer. We surely know that those prayers were answered last night.
As we talked and prayed we realized that this type of incident can be the sort of thing that “breaks” a missionary’s will and desire to live in a bush location. We acknowledged that fact and asked God to use it to strengthen us and encourage us, rather than discourage or dishearten us. (We are not “super” people, we just know that we’ve been given the grace and strength to get through this trial
. I still hate centipedes more than most creepy crawlies and hope and pray that we never have anything like this happen again.) But mostly we prayed that our nerves would be calmed and that we would be able to get back to sleep. We eventually went back to bed, but it took me a long time to fall asleep. (The chronologically challenged roosters didn’t help either – have any of them really ever seen the sun at 2am?) But, by the grace of God we were able to get some sleep without further incident. Thank God for His hand of protection, and the prayers of the saints interceding for us at home. As you can tell, we can laugh (or at least joke) about it now, but we are truly thankful as well.
Well, that is pretty much what happened and our thoughts about it. Just another experience to check off the Bush Orientation checklist of Extreme Experiences.