House of Broken Crickets

Being back in the US, I’m rediscovering little things that I forgot about. One that comes to mind as I listen to a confused chirping from the corner, is the crickets. My family isn’t sure why, but our house attracts crickets. Often they have missing or crushed limbs. Others are babies, so small that you don’t see them until you realize that the spec on the linoleum is hopping.

My family is comfortable with the crickets. They’re rarely a nuisance, and waking up the morning after heavy rain to their chorus in our bathtub is met with more amusement than annoyance. My parents taught me at a young age how to gently usher them into a plastic cup with my hand or slide a piece of paper under the cup to trap them. We place them based on where we think they’ll flourish. An old one missing a few legs? Put him next to the bushes. A tiny baby? Under the deck. A robust, directionally challenged teen? She’ll find friends by the drain spout.

In Ecuador, my desire to save bugs wasn’t understood. People asked why I wouldn’t swat mosquitoes when they bit me, why I would waste energy saving a small and insignificant beetle, or an unsavory roach. Not even dogs and cats got that kind of love, yet I cared for vermin.

At first, I saw it as a conflict with a right side and a didn’t-know-better side. I spent my brief weekly phone calls with my family crying about animal mistreatment. Eventually, I decided that the problem was the country and culture. I was exploring fallow fields one day and ducked under a low tree only to find the branches covered in two-inch long thorns blocking my exit. I almost burst into tears with the thought that everything in Ecuador is cruel and hostile, even the trees hoping to inflict pain.

I never had a revelation or changed the minds of those around me. When I left, I still picked up bugs from perilous positions and my friends and family still shook their heads at the crazy American. What did change was how I saw what I did. As I settled into life in Ecuador, I re-evaluated my perspectives. I saw my host cousins killing a chicken when they had no money to buy food. I saw my little brother mocked for the color of his skin in school. I visited my mother while she hunched over a hot stove for her $5 a day pay, despite the back injuries it caused. They were too focused on surviving to expand their giving to every creature they saw. They weren’t callous because they didn’t want to care. They couldn’t afford to care.

After I discovered the profound differences between my life and theirs, I didn’t see it as a conflict. I realized it was another layer of privilege to wrap around me on cold nights, and just one more thing I wanted to give and couldn’t.

A small baby tarantula with legs splayed on linoleum
A baby tarantula stepped on by one of the Spanish teachers in Tena.