An Unwanted Guest

Puff Adder 1From: Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

While Bruce fixed breakfast, I swept the hut. As usual, I swept the bed. Even though we had stretched a cloth over the bed as a canopy, droppings from the grass-thatched roof still landed on the bed sheet. As I stooped my way around the room with my short broom, I picked up the laundry bag and stopped, broom suspended. There, tightly coiled, a small eight-inch snake glared at me.

“Ah, Bruce?” I called.


“Would you come here?”

He could tell from my tone that something was up. He bounded over to the hut. I held up my hand in caution, and then pointed to our unwanted guest.

“Oh, boy. I’ll be right back.”

“Bring a jar.”

He came back with a jar and his machete. Setting the jar a distance away from either of us, he carefully slid the flat side of the machete under the snake and slipped it into the jar, then quick as a flash reached over and screwed on the lid. After poking holes in the lid, we admired our catch.

Our neighbor Mosalif stopped by and viewed the snake from a distance.

“Can you get word to Peter Moore to come here?” Peter was a good friend of ours who worked in The Gambia for the British Medical Research Council. “We don’t know what kind of snake this is, do you?”

Mosalif shook his head and hurried off to get someone to tell Peter Moore we wanted him. I couldn’t believe how quickly Peter arrived. Within minutes he pulled up in his Land Cruiser.

He studied our snake. “This is a puff adder. Very deadly. Even though this one is quite young, his bite could kill. What I’m wondering,” he said in his dead-pan British clip, “is where are the other dozen or so? This one is too young to be far from its mother and siblings.”

Gulp! Several of us scoured the compound’s huts and grounds. To our dismay, ours was the only one found.

Peter asked permission to take the snake home to test it for malaria, as part of his research. He brought it back in a neat little specimen jar, pickled for eternity.

News spreads quickly in Africa. For the next several days we had a steady stream of people coming to our door asking to see our pickled puff adder.