What A Four-Winged Insect Teaches Us about Architecture
‘Habari ya jioni!’ Good evening! I called to Filimani, our askari (guard), through the window as he patrolled the perimeter of the house.
‘Salama! Habari, Lulu?’ Peaceful. What’s new with you, Lulu? he replied.
‘Salama kapisa. O! Nina shida kwa nyuki… Subiri kidogo.’ Completely peaceful. O, I have a problem with bees… Wait a second. I asked him, slipping out from under my mosquito net to run out back to meet him.
I flipped on the porch light, and explained to him that there was a large wasps’ nest on the door frame. And additionally, I explained whilst flipping on my flashlight, there’s a nest starting in the little hole in the plate on the doorjamb where the spring bolt extends when the door is closed. I showed him.
He nodded solemnly, then turned around and went to the bushes that line the yard. He returned with a leaf. I pranced back a few paces and put my hand over my mouth to keep from screaming. He stuffed the leaves into the doorjamb, then pulled them back out and threw them into the yard. He grabbed another leaf and returned to tackle the larger nest.
You know. Killing wasps with his bare hands. Like a Maasai do.
I thanked him profusely, repeating the same few phrases thanks that I know, and reiterating that I do not like bees. Filimani just quietly nodded. He has a demeanour that says that he’s never hurt a fly, but I like to picture him how he must have been hunting a lion alone in the night in order to become a man.*
The bees dispensed with, I could finally close the back door.
But the light that I had turned on attracted scores of those weird dragonflies. I swatted some out of the kitchen before closing the door. They’re not very good aviators; they tend to fly into walls, then fall straight to the floor, flying along it for a bit before finally becoming airborne again to do it all over.
One manages to make it back into my room. I catch him** by the wing, open the screen, and fling him outside into the darkness.
But I must have missed, or he clung to my hand or something. He’s back inside. And he’s brought a friend. I swat these two to the floor, pick them up by the wings again, and fling them back outside.
And then I realise that they’re somehow crawling in through the space between the glass and screen in my windows. Dozens of them.
Their bodies about an inch long, their four clear-brown wings flapping against the walls that they keep hitting, these dragonfly-moth creatures are everywhere. And yet I can’t bring myself to kill them, partly for the practicality of not wanting to leave insect carcasses everywhere for the tiny ants to swarm around. So I slowly capture and banish a few handfuls of these creatures before shutting my windows all the way so that they can’t crawl back in. Their weird flight patterns took them into my hands, my arms, my legs. It was a little eerie when I felt their little legs suction onto my skin, but some thrashing about shook them off without a worry.
The last one gone, I had to know what they were before I sat back down to my work again.
Google searches for dragonfly-moth combinations were unsuccessful. They seemed a little like green lacewings, so I guessed somewhere in the Neoptera superclass of insects.
Thinking about it some more, they reminded me of the bugs that seem to spring forth from everywhere after the rains. Four-winged creatures, flopping about on the wet ground or launching themselves a few feet from the earth before crashing down again. I Googled ‘tanzania insect four wings rain.’ And I found this post: Bugged Out.
I just saved a bunch of termites.
I just had termites crawling on my skin.
As a growing nausea rose in my gorge, my immediate reaction was to shower. But then I recognised that no amount of showering could ever make my arms clean again, and I should just go with it. I’m in Africa, after all.
Where apparently an architect was inspired to design a shopping centre with natural passive cooling, taking inspiration from the way in which some termites build their mounds. The Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe was the first building in the world of its scale to be ventilated and cooled entirely by natural means. And it’s inspired other buildings, including the Portcullis House opposite Westminster Abbey in London.
*I understand that the practice of going out alone into the bush overnight and returning with a lion in the morning in order to become a man is illegal, and isn’t practiced as widely now as it used to be. But if you’ve met Filimani, you’d understand how entertaining it is to romanticise him thus.
**This is a good place for a digression about language. Swahili doesn’t have a word for ‘it,’ and there’s only one second person singular pronoun (whereas in English there are two, ‘he’ and ‘she’). So there’s a nice bit of gender equality built into the language—imagine never having to clarify s/he in formal language, it’s all just the singular equivalent of ‘they.’