Jane Haines is a Community Economic Development (CED) volunteer serving in a pueblo in Atlántico, Colombia.
It’s two o’clock in the morning when a loud clanging jerks me awake.
Robbery? No, my neighborhood is safe; the noise came from inside my room. Did something fall? I turn on my light to see everything in place, but my usually reliable fan is making a strange ticking noise.
I get closer to see a mouse stuck in the bottom of the cage, shaking a little every time the fan blade grazes its now lifeless body. I wasn’t surprised there was a mouse in my room—when the power goes out in the middle of the night I can often hear them scurrying around in the stillness. Luckily, most of the time my fan is running and I can happily drown out their squeaks and pretend I’m not sharing my bedroom with other living creatures.
That night, I wasn’t so fortunate. I was shocked to see the mouse had managed to crawl through the tiny slats of the cage and wondered why it decided getting close to the whipping fan blades was a good idea in the first place.
By this point, I was wide awake and forced to decide what to do with the dead mouse fan. I wasn’t going to keep it inside the room for fear that another mouse would come looking for his friend, or that the carcass would start to decay right there at the foot of my bed. The house was locked up, so throwing it out on the patio wasn’t an option without waking my host mom. I carefully placed the fan, dead mouse and all, just outside my bedroom door.
Then, I realized my host mom would awake in the morning and wonder why my fan was sitting there for no good reason. I didn’t want her to have the same rude awakening I did when she saw the creature inside, so I carefully crafted a series of WhatsApp messages explaining the situation. I hazily revised the several paragraphs of Spanish text before sending and dozed back to sleep.
After a fitful night’s rest, I awoke to the sound of my host mom’s voice. She was talking to herself, as usual, trying to figure out what was going on with my fan. I looked at my phone; she hadn’t read my texts. There was nothing I wanted less than to face her judgement. I was sure she’d think my room was dirty and that the mice were looking for crumbs. She plugged in the fan and let it run for a bit without realizing where the clanking noise was coming from. I was too ashamed to walk outside, end the confusion, and prevent more damage to the tiny mouse carcass.
When she left, I made myself breakfast and moved the fan to the back patio. I still didn’t have a screwdriver to open the cage and free the mouse. Reluctantly, I realized I’d be forced to explain the situation to my host mom at lunchtime. Sleepily working in the library through the morning, I dreaded returning home midday.
To my surprise, when I stepped onto the back patio at lunchtime, I found my host mom had taken apart the fan and started bleaching the blades; there was no dead mouse in sight. Relief washed over me as I listened to her curse the mice for entering her home and apologize for not sealing the doors properly. Then she blamed a neighbor who apparently keeps a “dirty kitchen.” A quintessential part of pueblo culture, after all, involves maintaining a well-groomed reputation and gossiping about friends and neighbors when they don’t.
To my host mom, cleaning the dead mouse fan was the least she could do for a surrogate daughter who seems too incompetent most of the time to do things for herself. Nevertheless, her gesture nearly brought me to tears, and I offered her a large helping of the rice, beans, and avocado in return. Surely she would never understand why the clean fan meant so much to me, but I knew she would at least appreciate a free lunch.