When we were looking for a house in Thakhek, high on our list of criteria was, as can be expected of any self-respecting expatriate, that the house should have a bit of garden. It was not so easy to find, as most house owners in Thakhek seem bent on banning nature from their immediate surroundings and cement their front and back yards as soon as they can afford it. Nevertheless and very interestingly, people in the province of Khammouane still seem to have the attitude of hunters and gatherers. I saw forest rangers catching frogs and eating them for breakfast. I watched young boys standing in what was little more than a puddle of water spearing fish. I found my neighbour in my garden collecting young, green fern shoots (even though I suspect his true objective were the mangos on my tree). In the market you can buy crates of frogs but also small game like leguaans and bamboo rats.
With the onset of the rainy season in May, I started to sympathise with the idea of getting rid of nature in my immediate surrounding, that there can be such a thing as too much nature too close for comfort. One evening after a particularly heavy rain fall, I opened the kitchen door and took a step in the dark. Something jumped at me so suddenly, I couldn’t help shrieking. I turned on the light and saw a frog sitting in front of me on the kitchen floor. It was small enough to be cute and as much nature as I could still handle. The question was, how it got in the house and how to get it out of it again. Bastian came into the kitchen and after quite some trouble, he caught the intruder and released it in the garden. We quickly spotted that it had gained entry through a shutter in the kitchen that left a gap of a couple of centimetres to the floor. We sealed the gap temporarily with rags and joked about the little incident and what it meant to live in a tropic country.
Later in the evening I went into the kitchen again. I found another frog sitting in a corner. And another one hiding under a shelf. These were not small and cute anymore and way beyond my comfort zone. And hard to catch. I refused to take part in the hunt and left it to Bastian to tackle them. In moments like that, I gladly and without hesitation retreat into conservative gender stereotypes and behaviour.
A couple of days later, I had laundry to do and reached for the detergent which I had in a plastic basket on the kitchen floor. In the mesh of the basket, a frog had literally hanged itself. It looked so grotesque and macabre, I left it again to Bastian to disentangle and get rid of it. Again a couple of days later, I was cleaning and found a frog in a corner. I assumed it was dead as it had been trapped in the kitchen for quite some days. I thought I would first finish my chores but when I came around to collect the frog, turns out it hadn’t been dead after all but had disappeared. I couldn’t find it anywhere and just hoped it wouldn’t be me stumbling on the decayed corps one day. Considering that I spend far more time in the kitchen than Bastian, chances were not good but in the end, I was lucky. Bastian somehow found and discreetly disposed of it.
Altogether, we had had half a dozen frogs seeking refuge in our kitchen. Judging from the numerous and incredibly loud croaking in the garden, it seemed more like the second plague in old Egypt. After we sealed the shutter more permanently with mesh, on rainy evenings we still found them sitting in front of the shutter. Why are they seeking shelter from the rain? They’re amphibians, for god’s sake! And how did they find the gap into our kitchen? Do they use secret markings like thieves and peddlers are said to have done in old times? As we offer through our garden a habitat to so many frogs, couldn’t they at least reduce the mosquito population?
Now that we are back in the house after three weeks of vacation, rainy season is in full swing and we have noticed the eerie stillness in the evenings. It’s the absence of the frogs’ croaking. Not that I miss it, but it begs the question: Where did they go? Were they caught and eaten? Did they drown??
PS: There used to be a constant trickle of ants roaming the house and of course in particular the kitchen. No way I could get the better of them, but they were really tiny, did no harm besides being annoying and were at times even useful in dissecting other dead insects. So I made my peace with them as long as they didn’t turn up in unreasonable numbers and kept out of my sugar bowl and honey pot. During our time away, the ants disappeared. What happened to them? Were they famished and moved to greener pastures? Will they return now that there are crumbs again in the kitchen? Did they drown? Nature remains a mystery.
PPS: What I learnt is that in the tropics, you never ever enter a room in the dark but turn on the light and scan the ceiling, walls and floor before you step in. You never know what wonders of nature might await you.
PPPS: I also just learnt that frogs croak during mating season. Great, more frogs to come….