A few days before my youngest son’s second birthday, in 1998, we moved to Southern Africa.
We’d been feeling cold and were facing some hard times in Vermont and felt the need for a big change.
Selling everything we had, and using our tax refund, we packed up one small bag, apiece, all the kids’ books, the Matchbox cars and some lacrosse sticks and balls. (Fiddlesticks, I think they were called).
We left our freezing cold one bedroom basement apartment behind and moved to a fairly mountainous region of Southern Africa. Where we still faced financial hardship but needed far less to get by.
We would run out of food every Friday. I would spend from Thursday afternoon on, living on coffee with a ton of sugar in order to have enough food for the boys until Friday lunch. (I would quietly cross fingers that my youngest son would leave some of his breakfast and lunch for me to pick at). Friday evenings were a party for pay day for my then-husband’s work on a mushroom farm.
One Friday, right after lunch, the boys (aged 3 and 2) and I strolled over to the edge of our rented place…a small, one bedroom rondavel type deal. The bedroom had a thatched roof, the kitchen and bathroom a tin one and the hallway….well, the hallway had NO roof. Walking to the bathroom during the rainy season frequently involved a pair of boots.
Strolling to the tree line, the boys tossed their sticks down the side of the mountain.
I picked my two year old up, placed him on my hip and turned around to head us for the house.
Suddenly I heard a noise.
Surprised and somewhat embarrassed to recognize the sound of a river, I thought to myself, “Whoa. I didn’t even know we lived this close to a river. How did I not know that??”
I put my hand up to quiet the boys and leaned my ear over, to better hear and judge the distance of the river down the side of the mountain. I had a thought that we could maybe find a path down to visit the river later that afternoon.
With complete and utter silence, I strained to hear the sound, again.
SSSSSssssssssssss., I heard, for the second time.
Confused, I shifted my son’s weight on my hip, which caused his leg to swing.
That movement caused the third and strongest sound.
Something moved right on the hillside, directly below my son’s leg. Glancing straight down a steep drop, I saw a Puff Adder Snake, totally reared up to it’s full height. Mouth WIDE WIDE WIDE open, ready to strike.
Now fully cognizant of what was causing the sound (the snake, people! the snake!), I grabbed my three year old son’s hand and, literally, THREW him into a run towards the house.
It was only when I overtook my son by a half step that I recognized how terrified I was.
Reaching my arm back I nabbed him and sprinted the three of us through the door, where I bolted us in.
(Please note that above, I told you how the hallway didn’t have a roof. So now I’ve closed AND LOCKED the doors to this hallway, with the roof wide open. Like that’s going to solve anything.)
My heart RACING, I tried to make sense of what I knew about snakes, in my head. Do they CHASE people? Do they get angry, like bees, and keep after you??? What do snakes DO?
Later that night, retelling the story and describing the snake, I learned that it had been a poisonous and deadly Puff Adder and that what had saved us was the fact of the steepness of the hill.
What a day, what a day. My heart raced even to type the retelling!