The rat house

I USED TO LIVE in a rat house. Next to an open sewer. Let me tell you about it.

There were mice too, far more mice, but rats make a greater impression.

When I arrived on the mountaintop from the nearby capital city in September of 2000, I rented a two-story, haphazardly furnished house in a walled compound that included four other residences, but mine was the largest and the only one of two flights.

The compound, and my house specifically, abutted a large open sewer that flowed through a very deep ravine from downtown where it also was fed offal discarded directly from the municipal slaughterhouse. As you can guess, this was a smelly affair although the rainy season keep the ravine flowing much of the year, reducing aromas.

The sewage did, and still does, flow into our mountain lake because there is no sewage-treatment plant in our town.

New ImageThe dry season, about seven months, could bring smells over the wall easily. And, of course, rats love sewers. Think Washington D.C.

The owner of the compound was an interesting Gringo, quite likable, who had moved to the mountaintop just after the Second World War, the story goes, and married a local woman. Both have long since died. The point of mentioning that he was a Gringo is that I paid rent in dollars, not pesos, and it was $350, if memory serves.

Now, let’s address the issue of rats and mice, and the fun times they provided during the 1.5 years I lived there solo. I lived there an additional year after marrying, but the rodent problem had been resolved by then. Had it not, my child bride would have run screaming back to Mexico City from where I had brought her.

Rats only appeared twice. And they were both dead. I found them in the toilet on two separate mornings. Luckily, I glanced down before sitting, immediately shut the lid and flushed them back where they came.

Here’s where they came from: The toilet pipe simply went under the floor, over thataway through the wall abutting the sewer and flushed everything into the ravine far below. The pipe was wide open for visitors to enter at will. Mostly, it was a one-way street, but those two rats were adventurous. Too bad for them.

They got into the toilet bowl, couldn’t get out, and drowned. At times, it does not pay to be brave and bold, especially for rats of all forms. But enough about those rats. Let’s move on to the mice, a far worse problem.

My bedroom was downstairs abutting a small interior courtyard that was walled off with glass. There were floor-to-ceiling draperies in that bedroom, and that’s an element in my worse encounter with mice. One evening I was lying in bed reading when I heard scurrying up the draperies, lots of scurrying, on the far side, lots of mice. And then a couple of heads popped over the top of the draperies, looking down at me.

I got up, shut the door tight, and climbed to the bedroom upstairs to spend the night. But I had encountered mice before, running around the living room, for instance, in the daytime. I purchased that sticky paper and put it out nights, and I always captured mice who would be squirming on the sticky paper every morning when I picked up the paper, took it outside and heaved it over the wall into the ravine.

This continued for weeks. I went through lots of sticky-paper traps. I don’t recall now, two decades on, how the rodent problem ended, but it did.

Had any of this happened after my new bride arrived, I would have lost her, and I would be single to this day or married to someone less qualified. That would’ve been bad.

5 thoughts on “The rat house

  1. This reminded me of the year I spent in Korea 66 years ago. I arrived soon after the fighting stopped, but conditions were still 3rd world plus. We too had a huge rat problem. We received a daily bulletin from headquarters, with the official directives of the day. One day, it contained information on a new “Rat Eradication Program.” It went into detail that each unit should have a Rat Eradication officer, and establish a daily quota for capturing rats. The quota was something like one rat for every five personnel assigned to the unit. To make sure we made a real effort to reach our quota, we had to appoint a “Rat Tail Certification officer.” His duty was to cut three inches off the tail of each rat, and seal all the tails in an envelope, to be sent to Headquarters daily. On the outside of the envelope he had to sign a statement of how many tails were included inside the envelope and what was the % of our daily quota.

    The next morning’s bulletin’s first paragraph was simple and brief:

    “1. Paragraph 7 of Bulletin 347 is hereby rescinded in its entirety.”

    Then a Missionary group had a drive to ship wild cats from the U.S, to Korea, to reduce the rat population. Then they had a new problem: The Koreans were killing the cats for food.

    On the sides of all major streets were open drainage ditches of raw sewage. However, our latrines (the Army’s French romantic word for toilet) were basically Porta-Johns. Each evening just before dinner time, the “Honey Bucket” man would arrive to empty the buckets. He had a small tank on wheels, usually wood, pulled by an ox. He would sell his daily collections to farmers to fertilize their crops. There is nothing like occupying the toilet, then hearing the door to the compartment below you opening, and the bucket being removed.

    I haven’t told this in years, so I may have exaggerated a bit. But it was a different world.

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    1. Phil: There is one great rat story … and other things too. Thanks. One thing I get out of this is: Don’t try to change other cultures or other people either. It rarely pans out.

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  2. Why in God’s name did you rent that place at all? And assuming the answer is you didn’t realize any of what you wrote immediately, why in God’s name did you stay a year-and-a-half? Especially knowing the stakes were so high? Was this in Morelia? Or where you live now?

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we have trapped nearly a dozen mice in the basement in the past half-year or so. But their numbers are dwindling, thankfully.

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    1. Kim: Aside from the rodents, it was a great place to live. And there were, at that time, darn few housing options hereabouts. There are scads more now. I even copied the general layout of that home when we did the Hacienda design.

      It was not in Morelia. It was my first abode here on the mountaintop.

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