Of the many changes and challenges we anticipated in this new life, rodents were not high on the list. In retrospect, perhaps they should have been.
The training given us by SIM in preparation for the field alerted us to a new life wherein a heightened level of daily stress would be our new norm. We have found this to be true; no one thing is particularly stressful, but the combination of every part of life being just a touch harder leads to an overall more stressful day usually. What has surprised us are the strange things that push us "over the edge," things that would normally belong more properly in the "mildly annoying" category. Chubby the rat is one of these things.
It started about three weeks ago when we heard soft scuffling in our kitchen. Between a dart of gray scurrying around a baseboard here and some bigger-than-tic-tac-sized deposits left there, we figured out that we were likely dealing with a rat and not a mouse. So began the war. It started with the purchase of what felt like a military grade rat trap. Solid, shiny metal, a giant spring, and serrated edges scared even me. After waking multiple mornings to a completely sprung trap, completely cleaned off of peanut butter (and, later, mburucuya jam because hey, he's a Paraguayan rat, right?), I decided to change my tactics. With a run to the local hardware store (ferreteria), I came back loaded with two spring traps of a different design and a glue trap. I had figured out that he was living under the base of our sink, and so we blockaded the entrance to our kitchen with a bench laid out on its side. I set two traps, one with peanut butter and one with mburucuya jam, as well as the sticky traps, all within feet of the hole behind our garbage can that lead to his hideout under the base of the sink. Game on, rat.
It turns out that Paraguayan rats are pretty smart. We awoke the next morning to two traps cleaned off and completely sprung, sans rat. He also had stepped in the glue trap and walked off with it, pulling it right through the hole under the base of the sink. This felt like a game changer.
This rat was not going to go quietly into the night, and his feats deserved a bit of respect. Fine. Tip of the hat to you, my friend. He also became more bold. I would open the kitchen door to find him standing in the middle of the room, looking at me with a look of mild bemusement on his pinched little rat face before he waddled off to haul his fat body through the entrance to his rat cave. We named him Chubby, but not with much endearment. I put out two additional traps of yet another design but without much faith. I don't think he could even fit into the openings. I added piles of rat poison. The area behind our garbage can began to turn each night into a scene from the Hunger Games, with a game of wits being played out scene by scene and Chubby coming up roses each morning.
I finally called in the big guns: Tony Floyd, our team's interim director, jack of all trades, and man among men. He dismantled the base of our sink and diagnosed the problem. A past repair to a leaky pipe had led to removal of the concrete beneath the base of our sink, and had been left only dirt. Chubby had dug himself an ingress/egress hole in that dirt, deep and wide, giving him easy access to our kitchen whenever he wanted. No wonder he was not worried to see me standing in the door. We thanked Tony, called our landlord, and about five days later a handyman stopped by to tease us in Guarani and cement over the hole. We had brought the full forces of civilization to bear, and I could feel the tide shifting.
The next few mornings brought with them new surprises littering our table, desk, benches, even our couch. Smaller this time, but in greater quantity. Chubby may have been banished, but he had called in reinforcements. As we relaxed one night a week ago a mouse wiggled under our back door and ran across the floor, crossing under Jodi's chair and darting under our couch. By this time we knew the drill. Barrett and I blocked off the living room, we removed everything but our little couch, and grabbing a rake, I entered the arena like the missionary gladiator I had become. I kicked the couch and Chubby's minion darted for the front door, found no way out, and scurried into the bathroom. I finally had him cornered, and dispatched him with a rake. It was like a game of Clue coming to life in my living room: the lawyer, with the rake, in the bathroom. Unfortunately, this was not the end. We were awoken the next night by a trap snapping by the girls' bedroom. I jumped out of bed to square off with the little intruder, only to find an empty trap and a scared mouse behind a pile of backpacks. After dancing with him a bit he escaped, headed towards the kitchen and never to be seen again.
Next up: weather-stripping to try to close off as many of the gaping holes under our poorly-fitted doors as possible. I felt good about the job done, with the exception of a yawning vertical gap between two doors caused by warped wood. I didn't have enough material to cover the vertical gap higher than 6 inches, but it would have to do. It did not, in fact, do much. For the last week we have been greeted by the many evidences of our old friend, Chubby. He would not be denied. Last night I played the last cards in my hand. I placed a truly gigantic glue trap immediately below the partially covered gap in our warped door, turned off the lights, crossed my fingers, and headed to bed.
I had not been in bed more than two minutes when I heard the loud sound of plastic scraping across the floor. Jumping out of bed in my pajamas, I flew downstairs to find my old nemesis, Chubby. He's fairly athletic for a fat rat, and had managed to clear the vertical weather stripping completely, landing with only his rear legs and tail on the glue trap. It was enough. He was caught, but trying to get away. I grabbed a pair of gloves, donned my flip-flops, unlocked the front door, unlocked the front security gate, grabbed the trap, Chubby and all, and headed outside. I planned on chucking Chubby into the overgrown, deserted lot next door for nature to take it's course. As I threw him, however, I realized that my glove was stuck in the glue, as well. In an effort to remove the trap and Chubby from my hand, I stepped on it with my flip flop. With horror, I realized that I now had a live rat glued to my foot. What happened next is honestly a blur. It involved me essentially dancing in my dead calm street at midnight, trying desperately to shake a rat off of my foot. I'm pretty sure I was also yelling incoherently. When the dust settled (literally), I had a dead rat glued to my flip-flop and a fine sheen of sweat as I looked anxiously for lights to flicker on in my neighbors' homes. It was over. He did not go down without a fight, but Chubby had been vanquished.
The sun dawned clear on a home free of any signs of late night life this morning, and we are praying earnestly that this season of cohabitation with unwanted guests is over. In the big scheme of life it's not a major stressor but coupled with our usual level of language and foreign-culture-fueled stress, it's certainly walked us closer to the edge of breakthrough stress than we'd prefer to live. God has been good in all of it, growing us, as always, along the way. We're learning to laugh when we don't know what else to do, and are confident that nothing can shake us from our firm conviction that we are right where we are supposed to be. Nothing. Not even Chubby.