Tales & images from life as me…

TIA Tales – snakes


I am home from my travels and busy downloading (metaphorically and literally) all the amazing experiences and character interactions and details that a trip like the one I just took (from Mwanza right across Tanzania all the way to Zanzibar Island with my brother and our friend Nick – aka Coops) leaves you with.

I think there may be several blog updates on a range of subjects that were raised. We talked and talked and learned and learned and remembered how magic it is to feel free to wander this amazing earth. But returning to the style of the TIA Tales column I have selected just one area for discussion this week, and this time it’s snakes.

Snakes came up A LOT during our trip – the boys were just a little paranoid (I have to dob on J for checking under the taxi on arrival at the airport in case one was lurking!) – but they are also a part of life here in East Africa. A small part, I hasten to add. We don’t see them every day, or live in fear, but we do live alongside them. I thought you’d enjoy a few stories from my repetoir. Below are a whole series of quick fire tales – the further you read the more dramatic they get!

My first time

I was in Kenya the first time I actually came face-to-face (as it were) with a snake in the wild. It turned out to be a puff adder, but I didn’t know that when I stepped jauntily onto my front step and was yelled at by an askari (guard) to ‘get back’. He beat the poor thing to death with a pole and once it was safely dead I was allowed to examine it. I was sorry it was dead, but in a school environment I could understand that this very large and poisonous snake, perhaps wasn’t a good idea. Now, I’ve always quite liked snakes, but this type of snake has slightly raised scales so it feels disgusting. As I held it up by the end of its tale for a photo (with my arm held aloft it still reached the floor) the whole thing squirmed as if it was still alive – I don’t mind admitting I let out a yelp! – it turned out it had just eaten a rat which was still in its stomach…alive!

Snake on Fire

I was on duty one night in one of the boarding houses when one of the girls ran out of her room screaming snake. The mama/matron I was working with shot straight into the room and smashed a paraffin lamp all over the sleeping snake (which was only a harmless brown house snake, hiding under the bed) and promptly set it alight – she nearly burned the whole place down! I suggested a pillow case as a safer option for next time!

In my garden – the tree dive

Our poor gardener, Musa (who we love a great deal), had been warned by Damien that he should wear boots in the garden as his bare feet just aren’t safe. You won’t believe the irony in this one… Just one day later Musa is working in his Wellington boots under the mango tree when a snake falls from the tree. It lands absolutely perfectly, face down in Musa’s boot and in its panic sinks its teeth into his ankle. Of course, had he been bare foot it would most likely have simply slithered away. Poor Musa whipped the snake out by the tale and slung it across the garden with no idea what type it was. On closer examination he found the teeth of the animal in his skin. He applied a tournequet (how on earth to you spell that?!) and, bless him, sat down to wait for us to get back as he didn’t want to leave our gate unguarded. Thanks goodness it wasn’t a mamba, only a harmless tree snake in the end – he has now been told in no uncertain terms that if anything like this happens again he goes straight to the hospital!

In our store

On another occasion Musa came and knocked on our door. I was off work, sick and he proudly presented a small tray with what looked like worms on. When I asked what they were he explained that he knew I liked animals and wanted to show me these baby cobras that he found in our store! A blinkin’ nest of them! I asked him in Swahili ‘are they dead?’. ‘A me lala’ he replied (they are sleeping!) and then proceeded to do the funniest impression of them when they wake up ever – he was wiggling his head and spitting and trying to make himself mini. I laughed at the time. I now realise those little babies have as much strength in their venom as their parents and far less control over it!

Masai boy rescue

With my brother and Coops we visited the Arusha snake park recently – a fantastic spot to visit if you’re ever in the area. Our guide told us about a young boy they had managed to save from a Black Mamba bite. The boy had been bitten low on the leg (which is a good start) and the Masai boy’s father had immediately tied his leg so tightly that the blood could not circulate to his heart and got him onto a pikipiki (a motorbike taxi) to get to the Snake Park where he knew there is a treatment centre. The boy was already passing out – they call this snake the seven steps snake as this is usually all you have before you lose consciousness and then, within minutes, die.

Once he arrived he had to be given 14 vials of anti-venom – most snake bites require just one. It took days to get him out of the coma and even longer for him to recover, but he did recover. Now he has a permanent scar – not from the bite, but from where his foot was not lifted off the ground when he was on the back of the bike and it dragged behind the whole way to the centre. He was so out of it he hadn’t been aware of the deep tarmac burns.

And finally… my friend the anti-venom maker

This is one of my favourite snake stories, again involving the Black Mambaa, and it came from a man I interviewed many years ago who runs a snake park and crocodile farm in Malindi, Mombasa. He had previously been a Mamba expert who wandered the forests and collected the snakes in order to milk them of their venom and then release them again. The venom is then used to make anti-venom. He had become quite blasé about his job and begun to relax about the fact that he was dealing with one of the deadliest snakes in the world. One afternoon he caught another Mamba, he had already milked a couple that day but this time he did not bother with his thick gloves. Midway through the milking process the snake twisted and caught his hand with its tooth. He knew he was in trouble. Luckily he was by his camp and the anti-venom he always carried so he staggered to the medical box. He said he could feel the restricted breathing and pumping blood in seconds. He reached into the medical bag for a syringe whilst explaining to the camp boy he had been bitten, that he needed a fire built, boiling water and that he might pass out. After several panicked attempts he finally got the needle in…

Several hours later he woke up. It was pitch dark and no fire was lit. When he could get up he wandered towards the lights of a small village and eventually stumbled across his camp boy. ”Where were you?” he asked. “You were supposed to build a fire but I can see you didn’t even try.”

“Oh, sorry Sir,” the boy replied shrugging and wide-eyed. “You said it was a Mamba, I thought you were dead.”!

Have a great week guys. Please do share any snake tales you know of – I love hearing your stories and I know the other readers do too.

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