When my big toe was bitten by a rat in the middle of the night (and through the mosquito net too, cheeky thing!) I wasn’t thinking of how it could help us bond with our neighbours. I woke with a jump, and the rat, equally as shocked, scuttled into the darkness to join its colleagues on our ceiling. In my spare time I make it my mission to find and patch all slits and cracks, trying to keep up with the new holes they crunch out every night.
A few weeks later, my daughter asked me what the words for bite and night were. It turns out she was telling the story to her best friend. “You know,” she told me later, “the rats also come into my friend's house every night. And they climb the stairs, and he is scared because he doesn’t have a net and sleeps on the floor, so he goes onto his mummy’s bed. And they bite his mummy and daddy, and sometimes him too.”
“Is that why you told him about our rats?” I asked. “Yes”, she said, “But I didn’t know they could climb stairs.”
Another thing we bond over is leaks. The when it rains, leaks are inevitable. Luckily our roof is fairly strong, so it’s just a matter of using recycled banners to patch up the top where the wind blows the rain in.
Everyone else is trying to patch things where they can, and in the lower areas, build up their floors with rubble to reduce inundation. In fact, one enthusiastic family had a truckload of crumbled asbestos concrete roofing brought in to raise their floors. We saw this during a three year old's birthday party, at which I counted fifty children sitting in a room little more by 2 x 2 metres to sing happy birthday and cut the cake. We could see over the densely packed heads of the children into the adjoining room, where the neighbours were stamping and crushing asbestos into the voids. It’s slow-moving disasters like this that we feel so helpless to stop. When I tell men that asbestos is very bad for your lungs, they give me an amused smile through a haze of cigarette smoke. (A third of men smoke in this country, and in fact I’ve yet to meet the other third who apparently don’t.)
Emboldened by that birthday party, we decided to plan a smaller version for one of our own. We restricted invites to a small group of her closest friends – 25 of them – with less than one day’s notice. She then fell ill and we had to cancel. By the time we revisited the invitees for the third time to confirm a new date, everybody knew we were having a party! Thankfully they must have taken pity on us and only those invited attended. We ran a couple of simple games in our (relatively copious) living room and publicly thanked God for our new family here.