Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Wild dogs and Cockroaches

on December 10, 2013

Readers: my apologies. This post is behaving very strangely. All punctuation marks get automatically pushed to the beginning of the line. So please bear with me

stray dogs!

Our first home in Jeddah was a one-story villa with a backyard. The backyard ended in a sort of scraggly hedge with a rather wide opening which led to a very large vacant lot which itself was bound by a tall brick wall with a great gate without the gate itself, which led to an empty dirt road bordered by marshes filled with mosquitoes.  In the yard, which was rather abandoned, stood a grand prize: a swing stand without swings! What a treasure! We played many a day there, pretending it was a ship, in which case we climbed up the mast, or a rocky crag, or a fortress, depending on the day. The top bar of the two A-frames was a hollow metal tube, meaning a storage of ammunition.  We picked little stones and stored them in this tube, in case of wild dog attack.

For there were also back then many bands of stray dogs roaming the back streets and marshes of Jeddah. They would appear at any time of the day or night, and run desperately like the Indians in good old Westerns in circles in  our yard, or in the vacant lot next to us.  We were thus well prepared to fend off any attack, or so I thought

underwater explorere.

Well, that afternoon, we were playing in the yard, as usual. Mama had already called us once to come back in for food, but the sun was still up and hey, we just wanted to play some more.  That day the yard was an underwater exploration scene. I had tied a rope to my waist, with the other end tied to the swing set.  I was moving at slow-mo speed, as I had observed in movies, blowing imaginary bubbles, and looking at fishes in the coral reef.

Very happy scene… when suddenly the cacophony of dozens of barks resounded. I looked up and saw a band of at least a dozen wild, scruffy and dirty yellow dogs rush in through the absent gate, pursuing one another in a demonic line.  They easily crossed the vacant lot and headed toward our hedge. They broke through the hedge, still barking furiously. I was in total panic. I thought of the stock of ammunition on the A-frame, but too late to rush towards it or climb it. I therefore ran toward our back veranda, a closer and safer alternative.  But I couldn’t reach it. Just as my right foot was about to step onto the backstairs, I found I could not move one more inch forward. In total disarray now, i screamed, “Mama! Mama!” while clawing the air with my hands, and treading wildly with my feet. I must have looked like those cartoon figures that are  trying to run and cannot

The dogs actually paid no attention whatsoever to me, just bow-wowing their way around the yard again and again. After maybe ten circles, the leader moved towards the hedge opening, still barking with all his might, and just like that, the entire pack disappeared again.   I finally calmed down, but found I still couldn’t breathe!  nor move onto the steps of the veranda!  Saadia came back out for me, and said, “Just untie your rope!”  I looked down. Oh, the rope was still on my waist, and as I had rushed and struggled  forward, had tightened itself on my waist, holding me back

running

Dogs were not the only fearsome creatures in that house.  I was introduced for the first time to what is called the German coackroach.  A huge brown monster pretending to be just a bug

german cockroaches

.

Actually, I had at first not learned to fear it. But I can almost pinpoint the moment I started reviling it.  Two, actually.

One night, my little brother asked for water. It was a summer night, so all of us were crowded in my parents bedroom, for only their bedroom and the guest living room had air conditioning. Now, little brothers are supposed to know that once the lights are out, they are not supposed to ask for anything. But mine somehow did not know that. Mama, of course, said, “Fawzia, go get a glass of water for your brother!” In a Chinese home, there is no discussion. If you get an order, you execute it immediately, or else.

I wearily tiptoed to the kitchen, then stood for a while, stomping my feet, so I could scare away any stray cockroaches, then carefully introduced my hand into the kitchen, aiming at the spot where the light switch was supposed to be. I quickly stabbed it with one finger, to avoid touching any brown yukky beast. Light flooded the kitchen. And the hundred or so cockroaches on the floor, counters, and walls scrammed and scurried for holes to hide in. In the middle of the floor, a pure white cockroach stood like a queen for a few seconds longer than the rest, then majestically walked away too. I was mesmerized.  Wow! A white cockroach!

The second occurrence was probably the main cause of my subsequent cockroach phobia. This was in the children’s room, which as a result of wonderful architectural planning, had only a door but no window. . We spotted a particularly large cockroach, right in the middle of a bright afternoon. Very unusual. So we decided that its doomsday had arrived. The strategy was that each of us, Saadia, me and Ferdinand would hold a flip flop in the hand, and we approached the enemy from three fronts at the same time. Numbers give a feeling of invincibility! We were strong! We were superior! We were going to kill this beast! Step by step we got closer. The cornered victim turned right, left, right, left its antennae waving slowly in panic. We sneered, we laughed only as killers laugh. Hahaha, your time has come!

Well, there is a Chinese saying, “When cornered, even dogs can jump over walls!”  and I would like to add, even cockroaches can fly. Because that @#$%^&* of a cockroach suddenly took flight, flapping noisily its wings and circled and zoomed into our faces. We threw away our flip flops and screamed and ran for dear life

And alas, since then, all one has to do is say the word, “Cockroach!” and I run. ! ,


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