African Tales – Don’t bug me

October 23 – At one mission station during our time in Africa there was a famine and the missionaries had to find food for the students. As part of their efforts, they sent out to the nearby villages and bought bags of dried locusts for supper. The missionary men also went out hunting for African Cape buffalo to feed the students, and brought back several. These buffalo are very dangerous and have big horns that are not only thick, but hard to shoot through. The missionary men would line up beside each other and fire shots at a buffalo until it fell dead while charging them.

Speaking of locusts, I remember swarms of them flying over the mission, millions of them, eating everything they could find as they went, and they were so thick in places that they darkened the sun. Flying behind the swarms would be flocks of big storks, gobbling down the locusts as they flew. Down on the ground, the Africans would be out with branches and sticks, waving them at the locusts to make them fly on and leave their crops alone.

Other insects I encountered were the termites that build big mud castles, some big enough for a road to go through and many feet tall. Termites eat dead wood and dry grass, so you didn’t find a lot of dead wood lying around, and in winter there would be no lawns as the termites ate the dry grass. Any house made of wood would be eaten by the termites too, so the Africans had to build new houses quite often. The missionaries put metal strips over the ground to keep them from crawling up into the woodwork and eating it. In the summer, the male and female termites had wings and would come out of the ground by the millions and fly around and go looking for new places to build new nests. Everything wanted to eat them – frogs, birds, lizards, other insects – and their wings would lie around everywhere in great piles, even in the houses where the ladies had to sweep them out. At night they would fly around the windows, attracted by the lights inside, and would flutter on the screens in swarms. If there were no screens, then they would come right in and fly around the lights and fall into the food at suppertime. Many other bugs would fly in too, so if you didn’t have screens, then you ate before dark and went to bed early.

There are also many interesting ants in Africa. We had army ants that would go in great swarms, marching along and eating anything in their way. If a swarm came along, people would leave their homes and wait until they had left. As a side benefit, the homes would be all nice and free of bugs for a while. We had a kind of marching ant that traveled in smaller swarms, marching swiftly along on their way to a termite nest where they would go in and each grab a mouthful of termites and all go home together with food for the baby ants. If you wiggled a branch amidst one of these swarms, the ants would rush angrily around, squeaking loudly.

There was another kind of ant, big black fierce ones, that went around alone looking for food. If you happened to bump one, it would dash about angrily, looking for someone to bite and sting. They smelled bad and stung even worse, so we kids kept an eye out for them. I had a pet monkey that would sometimes sit on my lap and her tail would hang down to the ground. I would look for one of these black ants and hit it with the monkey’s tail and make the ant angry. It would dash around until it found the tail and would bite and sting it. The monkey would leap up and grab its tail and scratch and rub it, and look angrily at me, thinking I had done it, and I would have to be very sympathetic or I would get bitten by the monkey. But I was innocent! Really! – DALE

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