When Plans Fail

by Michael McGinnis

We make our careful plans to enjoy the Christmas season sometimes our plans don't work for some reason. But we can still appreciate whatever experiences we have.

The first time I spent Christmas away from home, I was really away from home teaching in Ghana on a two year contract. Other teachers at the boarding school had gone traveling to visit friends or family during the holidays, and I hoped to do the same. A few days before school ended for the term I had adopted a little black kitten. He could purr amazingly loud for his small size. I planned to leave the kitten with a good supply of food and water in my house while I traveled to the capital city, Accra, to meet some people I had written to. I was excited about the trip and the people I was going to meet. However, when I went to catch the buss to go on the trip it was impossible for me to get on every possible space on the bus was taken. I was very disappointed; now instead of meeting new friends at Christmas in a big city, I was stuck at home by myself in the African bush with my own cooking. And since the school was on holidays, the electricity was only on three times a week for couple of hours in the evening. So it would be a dark Christmas as well.

The same evening I missed the bus I decided to write a letter home. So I lit two candles (hang the extravagance!) and started writing. I was sitting next to a window, and in the dimly lit room I saw a dark streak spreading down the inside wall below the window. I had no idea what it might be. I looked closer it was a stream of ants, hundreds of them, coming in through the open window. Windows in tropical buildings don't seal the way windows in Canada do; closing window wouldn't keep the ants out. There are many different kinds of ants in Africa. These ants were army ants. They were on the march, looking for food, and any animal that couldn't get away would be covered by ants and eaten down to the skeleton. I took my flashlight and went outside to see where the ants were coming from. The ants were traveling in great streams of many thousands alongside my house, and some of the ants were climbing the wall, making their way into my house.

I had been receiving the Vancouver Sun newspaper once a week to keep in touch with Canada. I made torches out of the pages of the newspaper, lit them, and swept the outside sidewalk and walls of my house with these flaming torches. I did this several times over a couple of hours. The ants didn't like this and the stream of ants climbing my wall dried up. Finally, I was so tired I had to go to sleep, but I still woke up often to see if a dark streak was coming down my wall below the bedroom window. Fortunately not.

It wasn't hard to see the benefit to my seeming misfortune in not being able to travel on that Christmas holiday. If I had traveled, the ants would have entered my house and would have found my helpless, little cat and eaten it. I saved my cat and had the opportunity to solve a problem new to my experience. Merry Christmas, and if you visit Africa, watch out for those flesh-eating ants.

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