Wednesday, May 10, 2017

We Are at War!

This is not a reference to anything political, in spite of growing global turmoil and tensions. It has to do with a plague I suffered my first year here, when rats availed themselves to my living space (See The Rat Party entry, posted September, 2011).

The first year I lived at this school, my accommodations were dank and dark and moist and fetid, on the ground floor of a girl's dorm building in the original part of the school. After returning from a stateside visit, I came home to find telltale signs of rodents: streaks left by long tails in the dust coating my countertops. Droppings everywhere. Eerie squeals and squeaks at night. And once, horribly, a rat the size of a chihuahua, crawling on my leg as I slept.

The school's leaders did everything to ensure my comfort and safety, going so far as to pay for my hotel for the three days needed for an exterminator they hired to rid my home of rodents. Shortly after, as promised, I was moved into the under-construction housing area where, for a year, I was the only tenant. Since then, I've had swarms of mosquitoes, a colony of ants and a few roaches, but they didn't stay and they didn't necessarily bother me.

A few weeks ago, I heard restless, frantic tearing, coming from the dining room. From having lived in squalor in my younger years and from my experience in the Concrete Bunker – as I'd dubbed my first apartment on this campus, I knew what was going on: rats! Rats were attacking my store of flour!

I keep my flour in the dining room, with all of my other baking stuff, next to the oven and bread machine. My kitchen is too small to fit all of my western conveniences in and I have very little cabinet space. It just makes sense to keep the baking goods near the instruments that do the baking, don't you think?

Because I'd not suffered any type of pest invasion in this house, at least not on any significant or recurring scale, I'd seen no need to 'protect' my goods. Now I needed a change of plan.

And I needed to figure out where the rats were coming from. It seems unlikely that, after six years of my living here, they suddenly decided, en masse, to invade my home. Even more bizzare: while my former home in the girls' dorm was truly ground level, this apartment is several feet off the ground, ostensibly to discourage pests from trekking the four feet or so up into ground floor apartments.

However, with scavenging neighbors continuously attempting to turn my balcony and any area under my apartment windows into a recyclables storage facility (see Fighting with the Neighbors entry, posted February of this year), it stands to reason that some crafty rodent might have wanted shelter from the cold of winter just past, and could have made its nest inside someone's cardboard haul. From that bundle, it would be but an easy leap onto my residence platforms – the balcony or the ledge under my kitchen window. From there, any inlet would do: the hole drilled through concrete to feed the gas line into the house, for example.

Or, they could be coming up through the pipes. We've had flooding rains recently and my kitchen sink doesn't drain well while the campus is under water. However, I saw no evidence of any rodent activity or occupation under the sink. Still, as a precaution, I stuffed steel wool around the gas line and took to keeping the kitchen door closed at night. It is a sliding glass door, which removes the possibility of rats squeezing under. And, in fact, the rats were quite angry about the closed door. Furious scratching and squealing ensued.    

And then, nothing.

I thought I had my rat problem whipped until I did laundry. Because the washing machine draws its supply from the kitchen tap and that connection is not watertight, I drape a towel over the fixture; otherwise, water would shoot out all over the sink and backboard. That towel hangs on the kitchen window bars when not in use.

So, on this fine day of laundry washing, I placed the towel over the tap and noticed that my window screen had a rat-sized hole gnawed into it. Said hole was formerly concealed by the hanging towel. Clever rats! Gnawing a hole where I couldn't immediately see it...

Knee-jerk reaction: retract the screens and close the windows.

Brilliant move, I realize in retrospect. Now the rats are trapped inside my house. I should have just let that screen alone because, the next night, more commotion from the dining room. This time, sounds of claws on fabric. The rats were crawling up the inside of my closed drapes!

True enough, the next morning I found another screen ruined by another rat-sized hole.

Being fundamentally averse to killing anything, even a rodent or other pest, I despaired over how to drive these rats out, combing the internet for a humane solution to my problem.

Gary came over on Saturday. We were going to celebrate our mutual friend Shane's birthday but, before leaving, he and I were going to have breakfast together. As I was cooking, I could hear rats scampering in the dropped ceiling.

In the ceiling?

Let's think about it. These building are concrete shells. Unless I am sorely mistaken, even rats do not have teeth strong enough to chew their way through concrete. Unlike wood-framed houses, an infestation inside the walls of a concrete building is not likely. The only way I could reason rats in my ceiling is that they came from some apartment upstairs, via the vent hood chimney: there is only a plastic hose, similar to a dryer vent hose, connecting the vent hood to the concrete chimney. 

And then, rat logic kicked in.

Neighborhood scavengers living in this stairwell, who occasionally carry their booty upstairs, must have inadvertently introduced rats to our building. And, I suppose, with winter temperatures being so unkind, the rats must have been very happy to live indoors and feed on whatever was left laying around in the apartments above mine. But now, with spring dawning, they must want to return to the great outdoors, where food supplies are no doubt greater. In order to do that, they must find a way down, and then out. My apartment being on the first floor, it is here that they make their gamble for freedom. Finding nothing edible to induce them to take up my residence as theirs, my home was no more than a pit stop for them. With nothing but a plastic mesh screen between them and fresh air, they were but a few moments' gnaw away from restrictive human dwellings.

Telling are the bits of screen mesh, left on the dining room windowsill, indicating that the screen was gnawed from the inside. Equally revealing is the fact that last night, after clearing up some clutter in the dining room and the floor behind the dryer (which is also in the dining room), I heard no rat activity.    

Little did I know, at the outset of this rat adventure that I needed to do no more than to store my flour in a plastic container, thus making the only food source I had that rats were interested in unavailable. Once they found nothing they liked to eat, they were decamping on their own: a win all around!

The downside was that, because of the rats, the brownies I baked for Shane's birthday party collapsed. Unwilling to leave them on the table to cool overnight, I put them in the fridge immediately out of the oven. The next morning, I found the brownies had sunk in the center, resembling a shallow, chocolate volcano. I deemed them too ugly to serve to my friends.

Now I have a whole pan of brownies to eat and no rats to help. Not exactly paradise, but not too bad a deal!   

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