My encounter with a battalion of cockroaches
In 2002, I arrived in Telefomin government station as part of a job that took me to much of the Sandaun Province.
For those who don’t know, Telefomin has a quaint colonial charm. Beautiful, isolated and tucked away at an altitude lower than the neighboring station of Oksapmin.
Guest houses are few. So we stayed at a teacher’s house. He had left months before and the house was empty… or at least I thought.
Telefomin is in the highlands of the Sandaun Province. It gets cold very quickly and by 6pm, the best place to be is either indoors or beside a large fire. I didn’t have the benefit of a fire so by 8pm, I was already in a jacket because the cold was penetrating through the thin fibro walls.
I made my bed on the floor on a dirty mattress found in the house. And used my backpack as a pillow. After a very long trek through the jungle, this was almost nirvana for me.
As I was just about to switch off. I heard a faint rustling on the floor. I could hear it quite clearly because my right ear was on the edge of the mattress near the floor.
Almost immediately, my head took on a life of its own. It jerked my whole body to attention. I found myself standing on the mattress with my hand reaching for the light switch.
On the floor, all around me were dozens of cockroaches. If you grew up in the highlands, you will know that highlands roaches come in two sizes – the very small that find their way into your ear and the very large ones that terrorized you when you were small.
What confronted me were the BIG ones!
I let out some ‘unprintables’ in a voice that could have woken up half the station and pulled up my blanket. If they were going to come for me, I was going to fight this with everything I had.
Unarmed, I looked around for a weapon. My eyes caught a large black can of Mortein on the fridge on the corner of the kitchen. I dashed for it so fast, Flash would have been proud.
For me in the middle of it all, it was like slow motion, I twisted in mid air, Matrix style. The blanket dropped silently on the floor as I grabbed the can of Morten.
I could almost see the roach commander in charge of that particular mission, yell out to his men… slow motion movie style: “iiiiiincommmming!!!” as he and the rest scuttled for safety.
I had a diabolical look on my face as I landed on my feet, Mortein in hand. “HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA….”
I pressed on the nozzle. Nothing! It was empty!
The roaches came back in numbers. I was cornered. I climbed on to a stool and swiped hard at a Goliath of a roach that tried to do a Kamikaze ninja move by flying into my face. He fell down dead. I stepped on him with my boots (yes I was sleeping with my boots on.) Squashed his face and then its whole hideous body into the floor. OFF-ED!
I looked around for a coconut frond broom. Nothing. I pulled on what appeared to be a ‘masta’ broom handle. The head came off. It was like having an AK47 that didn’t have bullets.
Next best thing – a mop – which was in good working order.
Naturally, I did the obvious. I massacred the lot of them. Carnage!
“Go tell your wantoks! Don’t come here for the next three days. Stay the hell away!”
I left some dead bodies in the open just so the others could see and shudder at the sight. This was going to be the stuff of roach legends of the future. Roach grandmas would tell their roach grandkids how their grandpapa led a dangerous mission and bravely died fighting a giant.
They would talk of how their grand uncle launched himself, selflessly, at the giant’s face to stop his attack on the brave roach battalion.
But that’s another story.
Just to be safe I put the mop beside the mattress. Boots on, blanket over my head and slept soundly until the sun peeped over the mountains.