Monday, May 4, 2009

"You'll Never see a poisonous snake." Peace Corps Doctor - July 5, 1968

A Green Mamba - a bad actor

It was true that one might not see a snake if you lived briefly in Sierra Leone, but the irony of the above statement which was given to us in an introductory lecture while up at Fourah Bay College, was that while the Peace Corps doctor was reassuring us that we would never encounter a poisonous snake, out side there was a commotion as men were killing a black spitting cobra with a cutlass. That was the only snake that we came across in Freetown. I remember seeing a gigantic  boa while we continued our training at Njala - its head was the size of a large alligator's.  And soon after we arrived at our post in Kenema I started to see a number of spitting cobras that were nesting near our house.  It was too risky for us to tolerate these as nights could be quite dark - and one step on these could be deathly. We even had a snake around our outdoor toilet.  I was not fond of these confrontations - but was spat on by one of these cobras and remember getting an irritating red rash on a forearm - no more sick than that. I do remember hearing that a volunteer elsewhere was struck in the eyes by a spitting cobra while going into his latrine one night. He ended up with a two week horrible eye irritation. My back yard cobras - I used my cutlass and a long stick to deal with. There were many.  The Teachers Training Students who lived on the compound were also bothered by cobras and several times would come to me for help in eliminating the snakes.  Night time was also risky for the Gaboon Viper - a fat, slowmoving snake that you might confront on a road while walking home at night. The snake was very slow unlike to Mambas or Cobras - but if you stepped on them unknowingly their bite could also be deadly. There were two mambas that I remember coming across. One was on a bush road heading to the River (Moa) when one fell from a tree and brushed my shoulder as it scattered into the bush. I was lucky. I think the other I came across again on our school compound when I was called to the TTC quarters because a snake was trying to get inside.  The Mamba (green Mamba) was a very scarey snake - fast moving - and if it bit you you did not survive.  There were non-poisonous snakes also but most Sierra Leoneans considered all snakes to be poisonous. The statement by the Peace Corps doctor was one of a number of inaccurate medical advice statements made to us on that 1st day

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