Gaining Perspective in Poverty Eradication
Army ants are aggressive predatory ants that forage in huge groups called raids. I didn’t know this until Friday night; I had always called them “face-eating ants”, but I will spare you that story. So, Friday night we followed a line of ants in the bathroom outside to discover that the Nuru staff house was being invaded. The ground, covered in a swarming mass of ants, looked like it was moving. You don’t feel them crawl onto your foot, but there are suddenly ten points of pain up and down your legs as the stealthy little ninjas lock in and don’t let go. We used all our bug spray, but it just made the ants move faster. Next, we turned to dumping boiling water on the ground (RIP: small vegetable garden). We watched, horrified, as the ants responded to the water by pulling together into thick columns for protection – the large soldier ants forming a living tunnel for the smaller ants to stream through. “They’re ORGANIZING!” yelled Lindsey, as Nathalie emerged from the house with a steaming kettle and said cheerfully “Hey guess what, Wikipedia says they are the only ants known to eat human beings.”
This capped off an already rough week. Every program hit a road block at some point – a database crash, errors in the farmer seed/acreage data, attendance issues, stalled progress on well permits and school sponsorship. Everyone has these weeks – when despite all your work nothing got done and previous work was actually undone.
As the ants appeared to be flanking the house, our night guard Evans appeared and calmly asked for a cardboard box and matches. On cue, an orange glow rose from the neighbors’ yard as they too, battled ants. So we set the yard on fire, forming a burning barricade of cardboard strips in front of the house. The ants retreated (local knowledge wins again). Over the next few days there were smaller surges of ants but we had help – our neighbor Thomas, and one of our regular motorcycle taxi drivers Peter dug up the nests and smoked them with burning tires.
It’s hard to have perspective when you’re having a bad week. Yes, next week will probably be the best week of your life but this week it seems your work and life are crumbling to the ground. Yes, the week would have been better spent catching up on sleep. But that’s a moot point. When there is a biblical swarm of biting ants in the backyard (or whatever your case may be), no one asks the ants why.
Like most bad weeks, when the ant raid was over we recalled it in gory detail and laughed about it later. For the next army ant swarm I will know what to do: 1. Forget about your other plans for Friday night. 2. Go for help from the people who know. 3. Set stuff on fire. For the next bad week in general, I may try to apply the same strategy: 1. Dig in. 2. Surround yourself with good people. 3. Go forward with gusto.