Carpenter ants, killer whales, ebola

These are on my mind this morning.

Ebola first. The16-year-old son of someone I met in Liberia six years ago has apparently died of it. Kamara, the tall, dignified peacemaker, Muslim leader, traditional elder, has lost his son to this outrageous virus.

When it’s someone you know it becomes real. People asked me when I came back from DR Congo last month whether I’d worried about ebola and I scoffed. No, it was far away, in another part of a large continent. But it is not so far away when you know someone. Now there is an outbreak of something similar in Equateur province in Congo, 70 dead. But they say it is not ebola. Only 12 percent mortality instead of 60 percent. Still, outrageous.

We know nothing about such suffering.

My husband and I watched Blackfish last night, a harrowing documentary about the life of one killer whale who lived up to his name because of the suffering greedy people had inflicted upon him. The lies and concealments that go with greed, the evil of imprisoning animals for our pleasure.

And then there was the perverse pleasure of watching ants die. We’ve had problems with carpenter ants, which make destructive nests in places like trees (why couldn’t they stay there?) and wooden houses in the woods, like ours. We called an exterminator and he’s been treating the problem by spraying around the foundation and inserting poison bait. The bait worked but it has brought a steady parade of dying ants into the living room for the last month. They dropped from a beam in the ceiling to the cover of the woodbox below. I’d vacuum them up several times a day or scoop them up and flush them down the toilet.

Dealing with several dozen of these critters a day, every day, made me angry. So when the exterminator came around again yesterday we were more than ready for him to use more drastic measures. The location of the nest was clear by now so he could apply the final solution, poison powder. I, the environmentalist, did not even ask what it was; I didn’t want to know. When hundreds of ants came swarming out of the beam, dropped onto the woodbox, and died almost instantly I was both horrified and gratified. This morning, no more ants except the inch of dead ones in the vacuum cleaner tank.

Of course I can’t write the words “final solution” without thinking about the real horror, treating people as if they were carpenter ants. Did those escalating campaigns against the Jews (the “vermin”) or the Tutsis bring the same sense of frustration, so that the final solution became inevitable? Did seeing those thousands of bodies bring the same sense of satisfaction to their executioners?

I’m not equating people and ants in any way. I’m just observing my own emotions. I see that you have to hate, you have to be made angry to do something like that, but when you get to that state it comes naturally. I hate carpenter ants. I like to see them die.

Some of those who rounded up the orcas, separating babies from mamas and hearing the mamas wail, had a crisis of conscience. They were moved to contrition because they had nothing against the orcas. No hate there; they were just trying to make a buck. They had compassion for the creature who, on a bad day, turned against his trainer. Someday, they said, we will look at our sea parks as barbaric.

Right now people are angry at ebola. We would all like to see that virus dead. It’s understandable that many who are suffering and vulnerable are taking out their anger on the medical workers who seem to be just as helpless as they are. But if there is a lesson in all of this it is this: Kamara, who just lost his son, had been assisting the Liberian Ministry of Health in their ebola prevention campaign and distributing sanitation materials in remote villages where some workers have been attacked. This takes a lot of courage. But my friend who tells me this says Kamara was welcomed because of his good reputation and the good work, over many years, of the peacemakers he works with.

Every now and then the deep undercurrents of injustice in the world surface in attention-getting ways like ebola, or the death of a whale trainer–or, remember Hurricane Katrina?–and it makes us angry. But the anger won’t get us far and we can’t depend on it to take us in the right direction. What counts is courage, love, persistence in the face of evil. No easy, no final solutions.


One thought on “Carpenter ants, killer whales, ebola

  1. “What counts is courage, love, persistence in the face of evil. No easy, no final solutions.” This seems like the call to courage for issues left, right and center. What a week! Thanks for giving a frame of reference, Nancy..

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