It was 1997 and we had just moved to our new home. Because it was a new neighborhood and we were among the early settlers, there were lots of things we had to put up with.
We only had a footpath where Oro-Ekpo Road is today. The rest of the road was overrun by weeds, rubbish dumping was rampant, and it wasn’t uncommon to sight a snake — or soldier ants.
They moved in what looked like an organized line. If you looked closely, you’d find the line was thicker at the center with what I’ll call ‘explorers’ leaving to investigate the surroundings and re-entering when they were done.
If you stepped on something crunchy, chances were high that you’d encountered some. Even worse was when you didn’t know they were there as happened to me once.
We didn’t have a borehole then as we still had a lot of modifications to make to the house, so my brother and I would make the journey to one of the commercial pumps everyone who had one (a borehole) seemed to have. The pumps were in fact, so popular we used to have lines in front of them.
Sometimes we would show up with 8 containers and fill them all up in one go. One person stayed behind to watch over them while the other pushed the rest home in a barrow, four at a time, bringing back the empty cans to rejoin the line.
It was one of those slow days and after making several trips home, it was my turn to wait in line while my brother ‘Chief’ made the journey home. A family with what looked like 50 jerry cans was in the middle of filling them.
I was next in line but as the family didn’t seem like they would be done soon, I found a log to sit on. I must have been sitting for close to 20 minutes before the last jerry can was filled up.
Halfway up from the log, I got the first bite. I jumped up with a howl.
In the instant I looked back at the log I knew I was in trouble. A very thick line of soldier ants had formed while I was seated and crawled everywhere behind me while I remained motionless, completely unaware of the danger.
Just as my first movement triggered the first bite, my jumping up set off more than ten bites in response. I must have looked funny slapping all over myself, getting bitten again and again with each slap because some people who stood off to the side were doubled over with laughter.
“Take off your clothes!” shouted one girl.
I gave her a look that said, “I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t take yours off even if you had scorpions crawling around inside” — or at least I tried to. Another bite interrupted me mid-pose and I screamed.
I took off for home in a sprint, my position in line completely forgotten. As I ran, I hit wherever I got bitten.
The ants seemed to be playing a game with me. Just when I thought I’d gotten the last bite, another ant would give me one more intense than the last.
By the time I got home, I’d pretty much eliminated them all.
Needless to say, I was a lot more careful for some time after that but it wasn’t the last time I had a painful encounter with soldier ants.