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  • Writer's pictureMichael Roman

Rat Karma

“This flatbed has problems, so hold on tight,” Jess yelled. “It sometimes detaches.” Red Bullets, the open ocean, and now this. I prayed for swift mental healing. The dirt path to her village, ladened with potholes, suffered greatly from recent storms. Peace Corps made sure each volunteer had a life jacket for any sea travel. On the boat, it was my pillow and on the truck, my cushion. With each pothole, we jolted from left to right. Laughing a hardy Pacific laugh, he yelled, speed bump, before impact. Either to reassure us that everything was going to be alright or to make sure we held on for dear life.

Villages were separated by vast amounts of bush. Breadfruit trees, taro pits, pigpens, and small gardens surrounded each house. Few people were outside. An Australian ex-pat once told me, only mad dogs and English men went outside under the equatorial sun. “It’s hot as hell out there!” He was right. Everyone was either sleeping on their Kiakia (small open-aired raised platform) or somewhere avoiding the sun, mad dogs, and prowling English men.

We had somewhat adjusted to the tropical heat by the time we arrived at her school compound. Spoiled by the constant promise of air-conditioned rooms in Tarawa, the only cool place was her oceanfront yard. An education volunteer, she lived in the school compound with other teachers and families. An optimist, by nature, Ignore the Skeptics greeted us as we walked into her house.

She loved nature, animals, and feverishly sought to keep the rats around her house content by leaving bits of soap for them at night. According to her, good rat karma kept everything in balance. “Feeding them soap,” she stated, “keeps them happy and cleans out their insides.” Some neighbors threw baby teeth on roofs while others did nothing. Though I respected the island rats and the practices, rat karma was something I didn’t adopt.

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