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December 2, 2023

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A TAIL OF SELF-DISCOVERY:What I learned living with a rat

You learn something about yourself when you live with a rat. Moreover, you learn something about other people — namely who you can count on (you know who you are). Have you ever faced a situation that turned you from a staunch idealist into someone willing to do whatever it takes to survive? I have. Let me back up.

I came home from a coffee date to find my ayi running around the apartment with a butcher’s knife.

“Are you OK?!” was the rather ridiculous question I asked.

“There’s a rat,” she said.

Stop for a moment and take that in. This woman was trying to catch a rat with a knife. She’s getting a pay rise.

I suggested the ayi put down the knife and we lay rat traps. She insisted on the glue variety. “When you hear screaming, you’ve caught the rat,” she said.

With that, the ayi left, and I went into 48 hours of psychosis. I should say I hate glue traps. They’re awful, and I felt like a hellish human using them. The best-case scenario was catching the rat and it dying a slow, painful death. There would be no happy ending to this story.

Then I saw it, roughly the size of a camel. It scuttled from under the fridge and stopped directly opposite me. I, huddled on top of the dining room table where I’d sat since the ayi left, threw a dog toy at it in self-defense. The rat-camel ran back under the fridge.

Some time and several gin and tonics later, it reappeared. This time the rat went around the room, cunningly avoiding all traps and scurried into the bathroom. I moved faster than I ever have and slammed the door behind it.

Then, being the big girl I am, I stopped crying and called my landlord. He’s a sweetheart and immediately came over. But for love nor money he could not find the rat. His resolve was to lay more traps and keep the door closed. He left.

It’s then I noticed that the main bathroom door doesn’t shut properly, there’s a gap and rats can squeeze through the tiniest of spaces. I couldn’t take this risk. I drew on all my survival instincts, and tied the door shut with the belt of a dressing gown. I laid more hideous glue traps and then sat on the floor opposite the bathroom with two schnauzers and the remaining gin. Like a guard on duty, I did not move nor sleep for nearly 24 hours.

I am not at all embarrassed to say I was a wreck. I’m a pretty tough cookie. I’ve been through my fair share of stuff. I’ve traveled alone, and I’m not afraid to speak my mind or stand up for things I believe in. But in this situation, I turned to jelly. And to get through my jelly-ness, I turned to social media and tweeted my way through what has since been dubbed #RatGate.

And people tweeted back. You shared your own rat tails, compassion for my situation and suggestions on how to handle it. Moreover, some of you closer to my Shanghai home offered to come over with peanut butter, hammers and other rat-reducing items. One dear friend dropped off a bag of goodies to make me feel better amidst the madness. How impossibly kind is that? I mean would you be that nice? I don’t know I would. There is a very much real and very much wanted gorgeousness in this world. And we need more of it.

The rat died. Thankfully I didn’t hear any screaming, but the landlord found it caught the next day. I lit a candle in the bathroom in some sort of remembrance meets seance move that I still don’t quite understand. Guilt, I guess.

I appreciate the irony: gushing about the kindness of people within the context of a dead animal. But save your judgment for someone else because I’m over it. Me and the rat couldn’t coexist. It is odd though, how quickly we turn in these situations. I fast went from “No, I won’t use glue traps” to “bash its head in if you have to.” And maybe you would too. In fact, I’d bet on it. Either way. While the rat is dead, community is well and truly alive. And to know mine had my back is a happy ending after all.

Amid #RatGate, I was reminded that in our increasingly interconnected world, the power of community transcends physical boundaries. Whether it’s an unwanted guest or more significant hurdles, we all face moments of fear and confusion. My experience underscored the idea that no challenge is too small to draw strength from the bonds we share with others. It’s a reminder that kindness, compassion and support are not limited by geographic distance or the scale of a problem. They are universal forces that unite us in times of need.

So, while it may seem amusing to connect the concept of community to a dead rat, the message remains clear: Through togetherness, we find solace, resilience and the assurance that we are never truly alone.


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