Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Unfriendly Visitors

Settling into the new house has been one adventure after another. We are enjoying the large roomy areas and the sizeable kitchen after existing both in Jakarta and at our previous house with tiny kitchens fit for one person to work in. The kids are settled in, and we were just starting to congratulate ourselves on a good choice when our Garden of Eden was invaded, quietly, but deadly. The first snake appeared.

Patsy, our children’s nanny and general housemaid, bravely (or foolishly?) caught the first one in the kitchen after it had slithered through the garage and up into the kitchen where it was spotted by Lil D. His crows of delight at seeing this fascinating long thin thing wiggling along the floor drew Patsy’s attention and she swooped down to grab him up and put him safely out of harms reach. Fetching the children’s butterfly net, she scooped it up and plunked it into a large plastic container, with a lid thank god. Turns out it was a venomous cobra snake, though on inspection it didn’t have the flared head. Still, we were told that yes, its bite can be fatal to small children and we all heaved a sigh of relief. The snake was taken away by one of the complex guards, for here it is not allowed by custom to kill the snake. They must be released into the wild or bad luck will fall upon the houses occupants, specifically their children. This is told to us with earnest faces though I had the ol blood lust going and was more than willing to see the thing whacked over the head for its temerity in threatening my child.

Next day, we have a visitor over and we are sipping coffee at the dining table looking out through the expanse of glass that stretches floor to ceiling of the living room, to the back yard which is more a patio area covered with plants. Oh look, she says, is that a snake? Sure enough, another of these cobras was entwined around a bamboo tree, obviously thinking what a great spot to get a bit of sun and if the odd creature should drop around well, then…

Alarm stations were sounded and this time our faithful driver took out the net and caught it (same species, a cobra) and threw it into a plastic bag. Obviously he hadn’t heard of the custom of do no violence to snakes, for with little ceremony he whacked the bag a few times and put the thing to a long sleep. Once again we sigh with relief, thinking this has got to be it, but C warns me that things come in three. I laugh at such superstition, nah, that’s it now; we won’t see any more of the buggers. Words hastily spoken as it turns out.

The very next day (and now its getting ridiculous- three snakes in three consecutive days), Patsy finds another cobra wandering around the front porch. She jumps it with the net (I’m getting to like this net) and this one is again handed over to the guards who give it a leisurely little push into a clump of grass out at the front gate. Now here we could be forgiven for thinking that this is most definitely it. But not to be.

On the fourth day the cook comes running in and says she saw a snake get into the garage where it promptly dived for cover amongst a jumble of odds and sods we hadn’t yet gotten around to unpacking from the move.

The driver picks everything away but no luck. Can’t find it. Visions of the snake wandering happily into the house in the dead of the night, slithering up the staircase and under the doors of children’s rooms gave me the shivers. It was time for more drastic action. I had heard a story some time back about a snake man who is supposed to have special powers, able to find them where no one else can. A friend swore by him, said he sat in their garden for awhile then went directly to one pot plant, lifted it up and found a black snake. I had listened with some disbelief, but at this stage we were getting desperate, and special mystical powers or no, it was time to call him in. On enquiring, we place a call and yes, he would be around soon.

Later that afternoon a motorbike pulls up and off hops this fit military looking fellow in his sixties I would guess, who turns out to be the mystical snake man. He nods, smiles, and hears my emotional saga of four snakes in 4 days with what seems to be only half an ear, his attention is obviously elsewhere so I settle back into silence and watch him. ‘The garage?’ he asks, I nod and he goes in. He stands for a moment, then walks towards one corner, unpacks a few things, and makes a grab, coming up with yet another of the little cobras. No fuss, no mess. He just knew where it was. The snake is not too happy but the fellow is unconcerned and wanders out, two fingers gripping the head. ‘Where can I wash my hands?’ he asks, and I point to a tap, so, and this is where it gets even more interesting, he starts to wash his hands… while holding the snake…it twists, turns, half gets away but the man seems so nonchalant, that I can only watch in suppressed horror. Finally he is done and pops it into an old sock in which there is already another snake he had caught earlier.

‘So what do we do now?’ I ask him, thinking 4 snakes in 4 days, do we move house? He looks around, then for the first time looks at me. ‘That was the last of them’ he says, with what seems to be utter conviction. ‘Yes, but 4 snakes in 4 days, how can you know?’ He shrugs and wanders over to his motorbike and hops on. He smiles ‘Look, if you are really worried, put some sea salt down near the garage door, but there won’t be any more’. I offer him money but he smiles, shakes his head (this is a first, a guy who doesn’t want payment for a job done? In Indonesia?) and roars off.

He was right. It’s been two months now and no more snakes. Go figure.


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