It happened while I was studying the hunter-gatherer Baka people of Cameroon. I always stayed in a tent when I visited their camps. Everyone regarded my tent, which was set up under a tattered roof, as my “mongulu” (the traditional dome-shaped dwelling of the Baka people). Tents are vulnerable to fires, so no flames could be lit nearby, and it always felt “cold.” As a result, it was often attacked by ants (safari ants).
The incident took place before dinner one day. It had rained heavily from about 3 pm, and I was stuck in my tent the whole time. I fell asleep at one point, and when awoke, it was dinnertime. Suddenly, I felt that I was being bitten here and there. It hurt a little bit. My experience told me that it was definitely ants, and I found a few when I checked the inside of the tent. I was relieved that there weren’t many, but then a really terrible scene unfolded outside. The ants there were too numerous to count, and they fully encircled my tent up to a radius of three meters! I didn’t want to be eaten up by ants, so I called out to a Baka woman.
"Meli! Come here! There are ants everywhere!"
She approached the tent, laughing,"Hahaha… How scared this woman is of ants!" But then she suddenly came to a halt.
"Oh! Girl, get out quickly!"
Her voice faltered a little. I couldn't imagine a good way to do this.
"What? How do I get out?"
"Just get out fast!" she repeated. "That's a lot of ants!"
Grumbling that of course I was aware of this, I got out of the tent as quickly as I could and put my shoes on. I had no choice but to step on the ants to escape this hell.
It was already dark outside. Meli and some women were getting rid of the ants from around my tent using burning firewood. Some girls helped me find the ants that were still on my body – not just in my shoes and pants, but on my back and in my hair, too. They were all over me! I was glad it was a full moon and that all the men had gone drinking. Because of this, I was able to remove all my clothes to check for ants.
Over an hour had passed since I was able to escape ant hell. The area around my tent finally looked safe. I found the courage to go back into the tent and remove all my belongings, thinking that if I didn’t, any ants still there would remain inside as I slept. I asked Meli to kill them for me.
The men began to return to camp. Upon hearing about what happened, they earnestly asked, in a way I had never seen before, “Are you okay? Are the ants all gone now?” They were supposed to be drunk, so I felt a little bit strange as I looked at their worried faces. My anxious feelings were unexpectedly calmed.
The camp returned to normal two hours after I had escaped ant hell. The men were noisy, drunk from having consumed the alcohol that farmers had given them for their work, but the women, including myself, were tired from battling the ants. We ate quietly then went straight to bed.