Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Friday, 16 November 2012

How to remove a poisonous snake from the house

From the bathroom, to be more precise. A black mamba chose the worst moment to enter the house last month, just when students and teachers from St. Constantine's School in Arusha were completing their dinner.

As she walked out of the washroom, one of the teachers casually informed me that there was a snake in the toilet, the guest toilet near the dining room. She was my preferred kind of visitor, not the type who screams at the top of his or her voice at the sight of a snake.

As I cautiously peered behind the toilet door to size up the snake, the lead guide/driver who had accompanied the group of 25 students and three teachers asked me not to kill the snake.

File:Dendroaspis polylepis by Bill Love.jpg
Photo of Black Mamba, Dendroaspis polylepis, used under Creative Commons License. Details at: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

I said: "Don't worry. We don't kill snakes in this house", I said to Costa Simba.

Step 1: Using a broomstick, I gently coaxed the snake out of the washroom and it squeezed itself behind the opening under the door hinge.

Although its entire body had shifted past the door opening, it coiled up and lodged itself firmly behind the door with its head facing me. I have seen enough nature documentaries to be aware that it was not in a mood to make friends with anyone. It had taken a hostile position.

Step 2: I placed the broomstick in front of its head with the expectation that it would crawl on and I would be able to pick up the broom and take both snake and broom outside the building to release the snake.

From time to time, Costa kept checking on my progress on removing the snake. At one stage, apparently more concenred about what I would do to the snake then what the snake might do to me, told me: "It's all right, the elders have come to say 'hello.'"

That, he had no need to explain. According to Zanaki tradition a guardian spirit called Muhunda takes many forms: a large baboon, a leopard, or a snake. That tradition forbids humans from harming these creatures.

Simba explained to me that, according to tradition, the 'right' way to remove a snake from the house is to coax it onto a stick and then when it slides onto the stick, to lift both stick and snake and throw it out of a window. Through the window, he insisted, not the door.

That was what I was trying to do but the snake obviously wanted to stay a little longer and was not going away anytime soon. I was still desperately trying to complete step two; he wanted to make sure I followed the instructions well.

At some point I decided the broomstick was too thick for the snake to crawl on to and I changed tactics.

Step 3: I walked out to the garden and cut a thin branch which I assumed would be easier for the snake to relate to.

It was probably unwise to try to coax a snake onto a plastic broomstick in the first place. With the thin branch I tried too much and the snake turned back into the door opening and slid back into the washroom and began slithering up the egde of the door.

In the meantine the teacher who had casually announced the presence of the snake, seeing how much time I was spending trying to remove the snake asked me why I could not just scoop up the snake with a short plastic container. "It seems like a harmless tree snake," she said. No, I explained, this was a black mamba. One of the most poisonous snakes in the world.

She said she wished I did not reveal that; now she was afraid. Now her earlier casual fearless announcement about there being a snake in the bathroom made prefect sense.

Step 3: It was not the gentlest snake removals I had done, but when the snake coiled its upper part on the stick I gently and gradually forced it off the door and wall until most of its body was suspended in the air and it had only one option: to coil itself around the stick that I was holding.

I walked past the dining room and headed for the nearest window.

Step 4: With ample warning to those who are petrified by the presence and sight of snakes, I called ahead to those near the nearest window to open one window.

The closest window was in the kitchen and I am glad I announced my approach because it is not common for me to walk into the kitchen with a snake on a stick. I recall walking into the dining room with a snake in a plastic bag but this was an entirely new experience. Eventually, I stretched my hand through the window and placed the stick on the ground and the snake uncoiled itself and disappeared into the evening.

It was also a different experience from another perspective. I have on a previous occasion removed a snake from the house in a similar manner, but I walked out of the main entrance with the snake on a stick and released it out on the garden. The window tradition was a first for me.

Epilogue: Actually, I am the only one who does not kill snakes at home. Lucky snake.

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