Lost in Translation

I am sure I could have come up with something more clever for the title, something not already starring Bill Murray in a foreign country, but this is where I landed. So far, most of my experiences revolve around the use of very poorly spoken French, so it only seemed fitting....hopefully, I can paint the pictures more accurately in English. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Nora is intent on catching a lizard. Her current hunting strategy is to see the lizard, yell at the lizard, then chase the lizard at a half crouch with her hands open. I am guessing that she intends to frighten it into a state of paralysis.

I am not sure what she plans to do with her lizard once she catches it. Walk it on a leash once it comes out of its coma? I don’t suppose it matters much as I have a feeling this hunt will be going on a while. But in the meantime, I am enjoying the fascination.

As a side note, she has just assigned family status to the group of four lizards next to us on the pool patio. I am proud to report that the mother lizard has been named Anna.

My exposure to the local animal kingdom has been limited so far – well, fairly limited. Gabon promises an incredible variety of sights, not the least of which is the wildlife. This includes monkeys, gorillas, birds, elephants, hippos, deer and much more. But of course, I’ll have to wait until we make a bit farther out of the city to see most of these for myself.

So for now, I must content myself with what the city offers. Specifically: lizards, a hundred kinds of songbird (including pretty little yellow-winged birds that make clusters of nests in the trees), an alleged rat in the Chinese restaurant bathroom, an array of stray dogs, mosquitoes, flies, the winged monkeys from Wizard of Oz (the locals refer to them as “fruit bats”), snakes and …cockroaches.

I am not an overly squeamish person. I don’t catch spiders for fun, but I believe “live and let live” is a fair approach. Except for cockroaches. Cockroaches exist as the oldest and most tangible form of punishment for original sin. Their complete annihilation should be the topic of a UN Council. They are the living incarnation of evil. The snakes in Eden.

Of course I should not be surprised. Where tropical climates, palm trees and/or New York City apartment building are, cockroaches will follow. It is Murphy’s Law enacted. However, until recently, I had only suspected their existence in my little paradise. Last night it was confirmed. While at dinner on an outdoor patio, one of Chris’s colleagues gave a bit of yell and slapped at his arm, claiming that a cockroach had just been on him…at the dinner table….near my FOOD.

I didn’t actually see it myself, but it’s like the LochNess Monster or Newt Gingrich, you don’t need to see them for yourself to live in fear. The thought alone was enough to make me spend the remainder of the meal with my knees tucked under my chin, trying to negotiate a fork while swatting madly at the air.

And of course, once the subject was broached, everyone had a story. One guy had four of the Insects-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in his room the night he checked in. Things just just go downhill from here. As per the natural progression of things, these types of stories must lead to poisonous snake stories.

About a month before Christmas, a green mamba was spotted in the trees around the villa that Bechtel uses as one of its offices. (I know, right?! I said the same thing, “Holy *$(%&*…these things live in the trees?!”) Well, apparently, it was disheartened at the thought of spending the holidays alone, so it came inside. INSIDE. THE. HOUSE. Some of the drivers had to be called in to kill it with shovels. I assume they used shovels only because a hand grenade was not readily available.

Again, this should come as no surprise. When we first began talking about the move here, I naturally googled “Gabon.” The first 17 million entries were about the Gabon Viper, which is apparently one of the most deadly snakes in the world. Of course it is. I am guessing they also lurk about in trees. I am also guessing that this is why you see men selling umbrella hats (actual umbrellas with an attachment to fit on your head) up and down the Bord de Mer.

Once I had a closer-than-comfortable encounter with a cockroach, that is, close contact with someone who has had ACTUAL contact with one, it was only a matter of time before I stated seeing them everywhere. Sure enough, I went into the bathroom by one of the outdoor verandas this morning and there, on the floor, bathed in halo of light was a giant cockroach. Fortunately, it was dead. (Or just playing dead until I turned my back and he could attack?)

This one might have been harmless. But there are more out there. Lurking in the dark. Hiding in the trees, laughing it up with the green mambas and Gabon vipers. And like with every Madonna song I’ve ever heard, now that it’s in my head, it will never leave. I’ll start sleeping with the lights on and seeing fangs on the palm fronds.

I know this is a part of my life and I should get used to it eventually. But in the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be the girl in full-body mosquito netting with an umbrella hat and shovel.


  1. That cockroach that flew at your face when you were younger really has done some serious psychological damage. You should maybe see someone about that ... OR I would totally support you in your quest to get the UN to try to annihilate all cockroaches on this planet.

  2. I am thoroughly enjoying all of your blogs! I see a book and fame in your future! ... That is, of course, if you survive the wildlife! I must say, though, this entry is particularly near and dear to my heart because it is incredibly (albeit terribly!) reminiscent of our "bat saga"! Wait until you start walking around with tennis rackets! I love and respect you so much! Give hugs and kisses to your sweet hubby and girls! Xoxo

  3. Oh, Anna, I could have lived a long, long time without the green mamba story!!!! As your mom told you, I still haven't gotten over READING about one in " The Poisonwood Bible"--not to mention knowing that those I love so much are living in their habitat!! As for cockroaches, I have certainly encountered my share in the homes I visited when I was working and some were really big--"giant". I don't know. Lizards are ok, though, especially when the mom is named Anna. I love you and am with you in the spirit of adventure--except for snakes. Love and hugs and kisses to you, Chris and the amazing Strocklings!!!

  4. I am so enjoying these blogs! The roach stories remind me of Hawaii. We lived up close and personal with them for 5 years so I can appreciate how evil they are.