How Do You Catch Your Rats?

Elizabeth Farrell - India


December 14, 2018

We’ve all been there – Minding our own business and going about our lives,
when out of the corner of our eyes we spot something move. Something small,
and relatively fast.

Without putting any thought to it, you whip your head in its direction only
to have your suspicions confirmed. What you saw in your peripheral vision
was not an apparition, but rather, something real. Something undesirable. A
rodent. Depending on who you are, you might just scream after coming to
this realization (the noise level is also dependent on the individual). Or
perhaps you’ll shout out an obscenity and just move away from where you
spotted it last.

Alternatively, it piques your interest, and you begin to investigate who
this rodent is and how he got into your space. Then comes the age old
question: “How the heck do I get rid of the little bastard?”

So, how do you catch your rats?

When I pictured my gap year in India, rats were not a part of the picture.
They weren’t even a footnote. Yet, I have come to know rats better than I
could have ever imagined during my time at my apprenticeship with “Teach
for India”.

The school I work in is not a state-of-the-art structure. It is well-loved
and well-used. It also houses the education of many children throughout the
day, as there are actually four different schools occupying the building.
As a result of the traffic the school receives in a day, it is not the
cleanest place on the planet. Keeping the halls of the school spotless is
not the biggest challenge the school is facing, so it takes a backseat to
other things.

The dirty halls are likely indicative of a greater issue – a lack of
resources and functioning facilities (the school doesn’t even have proper
restrooms). This means the hallways and staircases are usually equal parts
grimy and unpleasant.

You might be surprised to find that despite the less-than-ideal state of
the school’s corridors, cleaning is actually one of the most-loved
activities in the classroom. My students and I keep our classroom fairly
clean. The kids love racing to the broom and dustbin in the morning, hoping
to be the lucky individual who gets to sweep the classroom. It’s funny to
watch the kids bicker amongst themselves as they attempt to discern who is
best at cleaning and who is most deserving of the coveted cleaning
responsibilities. On more than one occasion, I’ve had students come up to
tattle on another student who stole the dustbin from their hands as they
were trying to take out the trash.

The cleanliness inside the classroom does not render it immune to the grime
and grease of the halls outside, however. At least once a week, we will be
in the middle of a class when a student shrieks “Libbie didi*! Rat!”

With that, the process commences.

When a rat is found within the classroom space, the students are asked to
climb atop their desks. This is done in large part to prevent students from
stomping on the rats and subsequently crushing them to death. Two students
are left in the centre of the classroom as designated rat catchers. While
our students stand on their desks in utter fear of the mischievous rat, the
rat-hunting vigilantes take centre stage.

Two students in particular have fine-tuned the art of rat-catching. We will
refer to these masters henceforth as Student A and Student B.

Student A arms himself with the trusty class broom and an old piece of
homework. His technique involves spooking the rat out from whichever corner
it chooses to cower in, then chasing it and attempting to snare it with the
sheet of homework. After about 5 minutes of this, Student A usually manages
to capture it. He clenches it in the sheet of homework, raises it high, and
expels it out of the classroom – hopefully never to be seen again.

Student B takes a more diehard approach to the discipline. He carries with
him only his God-given body and mind as modes of justice. Student B stalks
the rat through the classroom, then scares it from its hiding spots using
powerful stomps placed too close to the rat for its own comfort. When he
feels ready, Student B grabs the rats by their tails using only his bare
hands. The raw, unadulterated energy he brings into this activity makes it
seem like an extreme sport. Finally, in an impressive show of teamwork,
students still standing on desks and chairs open the door so Student B can
throw the poor rat from the classroom at record-breaking speeds.

One might think that the trauma rats face as they meet this unpleasant
upheaval would encourage them not to return (or, at the very least, to tell
their rodent friends to steer clear). Yet, this whole routine repeats
itself at least once a week. It is incredible to watch. I will leave India
with many a rat story to tell.

In travelling to India, I went from living in one of the only places in the
world in which rats do not make their home** to bearing witness to exciting
new and avant-garde methods of rat control and co-existence. It is less
than ideal to have rats parading around my classroom, but like many other
aspects of my year abroad, they’ve taught me that it’s impossible to
predict the curveballs life throws you. You’ve just gotta go with the flow
sometimes – even if it means standing on your desk and screaming in terror
as a student armed with a broomstick hunts a rat scurrying around your
classroom.

So, the next time you see it out of the corner of your eye, think about my
students and their state-of-the-art rat-catching techniques… and go get a
rat trap instead.

All my best,

Libbie

* didi means big sister in Hindi, it’s what the students call us instead of
Mrs or Ms.

**Link to an article about rat free Alberta: bit.ly/2FZ0dl9

Elizabeth Farrell