November 22, 2010

Peace Corps Moment – 8-Legged Wonder (Part 1 – First Encounter) – Sri Lanka 1997

My Sri Lankan host family is well off, in relative terms. Their house is recently constructed and has ample room for my host mother, sister, and older brother and his young daughter. My room is smallish but good enough for me, with privacy and a comfortable bed – you won’t find me complaining.

(generic photo of a much better
squat toilet than the one i had)

Except for the bathroom. I’m shown my “private” bathroom, which is a cinderblock booth isolated behind the house. Inside is a squat toilet (and the plastic bucket used to flush), a deep rusty steel sink, and a small shower head in the middle of the ceiling. I will admit I’m a bit taken aback when I first see it. My host mother, who speaks no English at all, is rattling on in Sinhalese and nodding and smiling and what can I do but smile back and say thank you in my only two-word phrase I’ve learned so far.

In that first impression, there's one structural oddity I don’t quite see: the walls don’t meet the ceiling. They stop short about 6 inches and then the roof rafters angle downwards supported by bricks, leaving a nice gap so the heat escapes and air flows across freely … and anything can crawl to come visit. Among the numerous cockroaches and mosquitoes and the occasional rat, the most shocking guest made a nondescript entrance.

My first morning on the squat toilet (which by the way really is great for the natural flow of things to exit your butt) and off in the corner I see this gray, hairy predator staring at me with big black eyes (and a small group of small black eyes). I’m teetering over the toilet, naked from the waist down (Pantless? Well, yeah, if you’ve ever used a squat toilet, then you’d understand. For those who haven’t, well some things have to be discovered on your own.) staring at the biggest spider I've ever seen and not quite believing. It’s 1950s Sci-Fi Movie size. To give a real graphic description, hold your hand outwards and spread the fingers like a claw. That approximates the size of the thing; certainly large enough that I can see the fangs hanging downwards.

(yeah, like this ... only bigger)
Then it moves, in that slow motion creepy style, along the wall in my direction. I can’t really get myself up and out just yet -- mainly because I’m fascinated by the sheer terror the spider inspires. It glides over the concrete and inch by inch comes closer. Stops. Sizes me up and thinks “If I pull this off, I’ll eat like a king.” [Sorry, that line isn't original.]

Far Side:"If we pull this off, we'll eat like kings"

Well, I can’t just squat there and do nothing, so I grab the small roll of toilet paper and give it a toss. Nothing exceptionally malevolent. More like a shot across its bow as a warning. Whoops, that was a huge mistake for 2 reasons.

First, the spider reacts by running up the wall towards the ceiling and then through the gap with an incredible speed. I mean, I’m expecting the slow methodical one leg at a time movement, but nope. This monster covers over 6 feet in a split second, which makes sense if you consider it does have 8 legs scampering together. The speed! The agility. The pure ability! I admit, I let out a small yelp. And now with it out of sight, it’s only worse. The wall-ceiling gap is around the entire room. This speedy spider could appear anywhere at any moment. Ooooooookay. Enough for me. I’m up, throwing on my pants on and outta of there.

Oh wait, you say. I said it was a mistake for 2 reasons, didn’t I? Well, the second reason is that little toilet roll toss is a declaration of war. A war I’m not nearly ready for. And I don’t even realize it.

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