Looking for a home

Debbie Jacob -
Debbie Jacob -


A WEEK ago Sunday, I woke up to an invasion by an army of termites. In my optimistic moments, I thought they were ants, marching in six neat single files, six inches wide across the doorway of my bedroom. They made an abrupt turn and headed inside my bedroom, marching around my bed. I traced their route, and they seemed to be coming out of a hole at the bottom of a concrete wall in the hall. I suspected they had walked in through the back door.

Knowing that even termites are important to the ecosystem, I sprayed them with eco-friendly peppermint spray and spread hot Hungarian paprika at strategic points in the hallway and my bedroom. Undeterred, they headed for the kitchen.

My mother had always told me ants flee from hot pepper powder, and I desperately wanted to believe they were ants so I spread more pepper.

As I fought them off in the kitchen, they laid the foundation for tunnels in my bedroom. All of this happened at a blistering pace. On Monday morning, I fled my house, headed for Cumuto and called the pest control people as soon as they opened.

Shamefully, I left my son, Zino, to deal with the problem so I could escape the nightmare. When the pest control people arrived, Zino said he never saw people so excited about termites.

The pest control people summoned one another for a viewing session.

They said they never saw anything like my termites behaving the way they did. In a vain effort to comfort me, Luke, my pest control point man, told me my termites are the less destructive type. They are not the subterranean termites that silently and secretly invade homes to devour wood.

“These are termites who build those huge nests on trees. They don’t expose themselves like this,” said Luke. "I've never seen them come inside a house."

Luke sprayed. I eventually came home. When I called my daughter who works in Antwerp, Belgium and told her of my plight, she said, “Global warming.”

I asked Luke. He paused and said, “That is beyond my expertise.”

But why would these termites behave so out of character? What do these creatures do besides terrorise people?

Termite destruction is like a never-ending plague. Their destruction is costly. One site said they cause an estimated US$3 billion a year in destruction across the world, and they contribute to about three per cent of greenhouse gases by producing methane gases that they cleverly expel from their own homes to be devoured, somewhat, by bacteria in the soil.

On the positive side, they help forests by eating decomposing wood that is a potential fire hazard.

I have known the wood-chomping kind of termites. They ate all of my wooden floors when I first moved into my house.

When I finally got the nerve to research termites and climate change, I discovered that a change in the environment can cause termites to multiply and look for new homes.

All I know is whenever I thought of climate change and animal extinction, I never once thought that termites just might see it as an opportunity to multiply and invade us on whole new levels.

Climate change is something we can ponder and even visualise, but not fully imagine yet how exactly it will look.

We know that we are encroaching on nature and that is likely to expose us to new zoonotic diseases like covid19. Chances are many of us have not learned our lessons yet from this pandemic. It’s easier to pass it off as a conspiracy – a man-made disease cooked up in a Chinese lab in Wuhan rather than blame ourselves for encroaching on wildlife’s natural habitat.

Even if conspiracy theorists by some fat chance are correct – and I don’t believe they are – we still have to face the consequences of our actions, namely the destruction of natural habitats that serve as a battle line between us and nature.

So am I a victim of climate change? It’s quite possible. Apparently, I disturbed these termites that look like large ants during recent renovations, but why did they leave those cozy huge termite apartment complexes they create to make nests in the old concrete in the back of my yard?

The truth of the matter is we just don’t know all the repercussions of climate change.

Now I have my own apocalyptic vision of what we’re going to face, and it’s not pretty.


"Looking for a home"

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