I am not in the least bit squeamish about most creepy crawlies apart from cockroaches, or ‘grillos’ as they are called here in Algeria. I used to be absolutely petrified of spiders when I was younger and could not go to sleep once I knew there was one in my bedroom no matter how small. As soon as my Mum heard me call her in that frantic tone she knew immediately ‘it’s a spider’. There’s nothing like moving to a country where there are cockroaches and geckos to help see spiders in a rather harmless and kind of mind-their-own-business frame of mind…I might even go so far as to say that they almost seem nostalgic.
I have never minded ants…..actually I’ve always rather liked them. They are hardworking and industrious and mind their own business…..until now. Now……they are driving me, literally, up the walls. We’ve had them in the kitchen and the bathrooms in previous years and they were annoying but not to the point where they drove me crazy…..until this year…..when they, in their hordes of millions, decided to make numerous homes in the brickwork behind my kitchen walls and around my kitchen counters. At first it was a case of clearing a few off the kitchen counter between the cooker and the sink…the one I use the most. I used to spray them with a mixture of bleach and water, but after a few incidents where one of my daughter’s favourite tops had a red, discoloured line where it came into contact with the counter top, I switched to vinegar and water which was a lot kinder on my family’s clothes, but had the same effect on the ants….although unfortunately only a temporary one. They obviously went off and regrouped and started to come out in their hundreds…..they were on two of the counters, the cooker top and the sink.
Now I must admit to feeling a bit guilty about my absolute wish to totally annihilate every ant in my home. But it did start to feel as if these little creatures were taking over my whole life. In my Aqeedah class we were studying the Prophets and our homework was to research one of the Prophets. I chose Solomon and found myself even here immersed in ………. ants...... because in the Qur’an, in Surah An-Naml Allah tells us about the Prophet Solomon (May Allah’s blessing be upon him) who had the ability to communicate with the animals and birds. He was travelling through a valley with his army of soldiers and he overheard an ant warning all the other ants to return fast to their homes in case Solomon and his men would tread on them by accident. So of course I felt like a big giant ogre battling tiny armies of ants and I felt bad.
One of my friends suggested talking to the ants. Yes….tallking….to….the……ants and asking them nicely to leave my home. She told me that her husband had done that and that it had worked for them. Well…..I decided to do my whole ant whisperer thing and I asked the ants, nicely, to leave my house….I asked in English, I asked in derja, I asked nicely, and I asked firmly and then I threatened…..and the ants totally ignored me and continued on their merry way taking over my kitchen. Another friend suggested I do what she does and just sweep them up in a dustpan and throw them out into the garden. I had visions of me telling my family that there was no food cooked because I was too busy ushering hordes and hordes of ants out into the garden. I would come downstairs in the morning and the first thing I had to do was to do battle with the ants – they were all over the sink, all over the counter and the cooker top. Everything seemed clear until I started chopping up meat for dinner or one of the children left a jammy knife lying around and suddenly my chopping board or the knife was totally covered in ants that appeared to come out of nowhere. Who knew that ants loved raw chicken, turkey and meat? I always thought it was only sweet things that attracted them.
So I sprayed and sprayed and then got crafty and, after doing some online research I placed little mounds of icing sugar mixed with equal portions of bicarbonate of soda to entice them to eat the latter and bring it back to the nest and kill the lot of them. I waited and waited for it to work, and I watched as crowds of ants happily dived in probably thinking all their birthdays had come at once. Then I began to have a sneaking suspicion that slowly but surely became a certainty, that these ants were having a laugh at me. I could almost swear that I saw them waving at me from the mounds of white goodies I had so generously donated to them and I’m sure if I had Solomon’s (may Allah’s blessings be upon him) gift of being able to hear them, I would hear them shouting ‘PARTAAAAAAAAAY!’
Having done my research and watched them for hours (at least it felt like hours) and learning more than I ever wanted to know about them, I will be honest and say that they are really amazing creatures, mashAllah. Their power of smell must be phenomenal as they have proved to me so many times. One day I was chopping meat for the freezer and did it on the table which, with no connections to any counter or worktop is the one place I feel I can put food with the security that ants won’t be able to get at it. I could not believe my eyes when I suddenly noticed a crowd of them on the corner of the table. When I investigated I saw that they had traveled across the kitchen floor, up the chair, and from there, climbed up the tablecloth the end of which was just barely touching it, and up onto the table. Another time they climbed across the kitchen floor, up the side of the freezer and across the top to reach a small opened container I had left there with some of my icing sugan/bicarbonate conconction……how ironic.....now I KNEW they were having a laugh!
So then I decided to go back to the source and I started to really study them and try to find out their exit holes. Do you have any idea of how long it takes an ant to find its home! These creatures that are so super-efficient in so many ways take an enormous amount of time wandering around looking for the entrance to their home. If I didn’t know better I might almost think these ants were wandering around trying to throw me off the scent so that I would give up and go away and not discover their little hidey holes….but they’re not that clever…..are they???.Or it could just be that they are like Algerian men…..unable to go from A to B without going via Z e.g. I send my 13 year old son out for milk from the shop that is 5 minutes’ walk away and he returns 2 hours later. He says, ‘I went to see my friend,’ who, of course, lives much further away than the shop. After quite a lot of time watching the ants I discovered them emerging from behind the tap over the sink, from three holes beneath two of the counter worktops, along the gas pipe down onto the cooker, from a teensy weensy hole on the window sill over the sink and from the bottom of the wooden frame of the kitchen door. Do you have any idea of how many woman-hours it took of me watching them to discover these little holes?
I then rolled up my sleeves and started mixing cement in a little box to cover up all the holes, and, in the process learnt all I never wanted to know about mixing cement….at first it seems like liquid which is great for doing the fiddly jobs like around the back of the tap over the sink, then it becomes drier and clings together a bit better which is great for bridging gaps in the cupboards under the counter. The latter sounds easier than in actual practice because it’s very difficult to reach in under the counter worktop unless I remove the shelves and actually lie in the cupboard….with all the excess cement falling on top of me. The only alternative was a mirror, my mobile phone, a tin of mushrooms and a tin of tuna. I put the mirror on the shelf pointing up at the hole, I put the flashlight on in my phone and faced it too towards the hole and propped it up with a can of mushrooms on its side against a tin of tuna to stop it sliding off…..I think a tin of any kind would probably do the trick! Then I started to fill in the holes all along the underside of the worktop, and in the other holes around the kitchen including following the gas pipe up the wall and across the top until I found where it was screwed to the wall and where the ants were emerging in their hundreds. I even went outside the kitchen into the back garden and covered up any holes I could find there from where they could enter the house. It’s an exhausting and time consuming process and the song ’99 miles from LA’ kept coming into my head except in my case it was ’99 miles of counters and walls’.
I felt a great sense of satisfaction once I’d finished as I felt as if I’d reclaimed my kitchen, and was so happy to get up in the morning and find my kitchen ant-free. But then…….I realised……the ants were just lulling me into a false sense of security because slowly but surely they all started to emerge again! When I stopped pulling my hair out and screaming like a banshee I looked and discovered that they had just moved along and found other holes from which to emerge and torment me. So again I got out my cement and….well you know the drill. Whenever any of the kids came into the kitchen all they saw was me either hunched down staring underneath the counter or standing in the middle of the kitchen floor staring up at the pipework at the top of the walls. At other times I started to relay all the new cubby holes I had found or my new plan of extermination to the point that my daughter told me I was becoming extremely boring….my only topic of conversation was ants. And when she caught me shouting ‘THERE! TAKE THAT! I GOT YA!’ at my miniscule adversaries she started to really worry about my sanity.
When I found that they were emerging from the top of the wall all along the other side of the kitchen where three pipes came out of the wall at the same point I nearly cried. They were using the pipes as some kind of super-highway where they careened along at neck-breaking speed all along three walls to climb down the gas pipe onto the cooker top (no matter how clean I kept it). I might have found their resilience and ingenuity amazing….if only they weren’t in MY house! I felt utterly and totally defeated because there wasn’t any way I could get my pudgy fingers into the holes between the pipes. I also discovered something new about ants….they can excavate as I would find new holes right beside the ones I had blocked up.
So now I feel that I have no recourse left to me other than to go out and buy a gun. Now……before you all write me off as a total lunatic with visions of me in my kitchen taking pot shots at my walls trying to shoot every ant in sight,(although I must admit it’s a very appealing thought in my ant-obsessed mind) I will elaborate and say a silicone or caulk gun and hope that this will reach into areas where no human has been before. It’s either that or go with one of my sons’ suggestions and just blow the whole kitchen up and start again…..extreme as it sounds don’t think I haven’t considered it….in one of my manic moments. Throughout all this battle there is one tune that keeps coming into my head ‘I WILL SURVIVE!’ But I’m not sure that’s my own battle cry….or just the ants getting inside my head…….