Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Oh Rats!!... or, I Was Having a Slow Morning

This is a post about Chiclayo rats or, more specifically about people’s reactions to a single, stationary lacking-vital-life-signs rat.

To my knowledge rats are not a problem in Chiclayo. In over eight years of walking the streets I have seen maybe three rats. That’s not to say there aren’t rats in Chiclayo. There are several canals that run through the city that are not well maintained. People throw garbage into them and shrubbery of all sorts grows in them. Occasionally the city will divert the water and clean the canals but it’s not long before they revert to a raw condition. Rats live and breed in these canals. Sometimes young boys with nothing better to do can be seen with sticks chasing rats. The rats usually win.

Perhaps that is where this rat came from. I don’t know the circumstances of its demise…whether it was killed or just happened to die in the middle of the sidewalk, but there it was when I woke up this morning. Dogs roam the streets during the day but I doubt if they would mess around with a rat. Cats take over the streets at night and it is likely that one or two cats came across this rat either dead or alive. Perhaps all those cartoons I watched as a kid are wrong…maybe cats don’t eat rats.

Anyway, I was curious to see how Chiclayanos would react to the unfortunate creature, so settling at a window with coffee and camera I attempted to document their reactions.

About a third of the people stayed on the sidewalk and ignored the rat, some men even nonchalantly stepping over it, though most of them walked to one side. Those in this group tended to be older people.

Another third thought it prudent to get off the sidewalk. This group was evenly divided between men and women; old and young. 

Some weren’t sure what to do so contemplated the situation for a moment…from a safe distance.

Of course it goes without saying that you never…ever push a person in a wheel chair over or near to a rat.

The remaining third was the fun group…their reaction to the rat was not nonchalant. Perhaps I’m being sexist, but in this group as I expected women’s reactions were generally more animated than men’s. The panic reaction was mostly limited to younger women...

…though men were not immune to it.
Did you ever wonder why our hands fly to our face when we’re startled? I never thought about it until I noticed that I had three photos of women doing that. 

I call this the whoa reaction, where you stop and take a step back while trying to get your wits together. Apparently dogs react the same way.
The woman on the left is in a really serious whoa reaction.  I was too late with my camera to catch the double whoa when the woman on the right saw the rat.

I kept expecting a man to come along and kick the rat into the street. That’s what I would have done. I looked out the window just now and see that someone has moved the rat against the building. I wonder why they did that instead of into the street.

I don’t know what I’ll do this afternoon. Perhaps something even more exciting like trying to capture on video what I call the ‘dance of the plastic bags’. See, there’s usually a strong breeze in the street and it picks up the bags and swirls them around almost like a ballet, and…….


  1. I've thought of doing exactly the same thing with litter. Unlike a rat (though yours was dead) litter cannot attack and we all know that unless someone picks it up, it will stay there forever. I've become convinced that people simply don't perceive litter as they go on their way.

    I did have an interesting experience once when I picked up some litter along a street. A man, either Pakistani or Indian, jumped out of a cab that was standing nearby and praised my act saying "it is so good to see a man like you doing that!" A man like me? Did this refer to my race? I was wearing jeans, so it wasn't as if I was wearing a suit to indicate wealth. I don't know.

    1. Hi Clif…thanks for commenting.

      In my experience Chiclayanos do not pick up litter, though it is common every morning to see women sweeping the sidewalk in front of their houses and collecting any litter in the gutter. Also, there is a noticeable trend toward less littering, particularly among younger people.

      In my opinion there are two main reasons for litter in Chiclayo’s streets. One is the ‘recyclers’ who prowl the streets in the late night-early morning hours, tearing open trash bags looking for something they can sell. Second is city government’s inability to efficiently collect trash. Often it will sit for days and the bags will get torn open intentionally or otherwise. In both cases Chiclayo’s notorious wind distributes the contents.