December 12, 2009 10:20:00 PM
(Occasionally, a reader will ask me when we will have something else by my grandson, who is in the Peace Corps in Peru. He obliged by sending the following. Nothing in the content represents the Peace Corps or the United States government. It is simply the observation of an individual.)
I was waiting by the side of the road waiting to travel to the market town an hour away from the rural community where I live, Potrerillo. It was a few minutes before eight o''clock, and the sun had not yet broken through the gray morning clouds. My host mother, Carmen, was accompanying me this particular morning, and we both waited for a passing car to pick us up.
The cars form a part of an official colectivo taxi service, but you might have to wait anywhere from five to 50 minutes before one rambles down the road. Ever prepared, I took out my book and started to read, not knowing that the morning calm would soon be shattered. After reading a few sentences, my eyes had fallen on a land crab that had slowly begun to the cross the road, waving its claws and defying the notion that its kind can only live near the ocean.
"Kill it, kill it!" I heard someone shout a few houses down. Among the noisy confusion that ensued, I recognized the voice of my neighbor, Olga, shouting the aforementioned command. Hoping to see something interesting, I got up and trotted over toward the source of the racket, only to be greeted by three more neighbors wielding large sticks and intently poking through the fence at a thick bundle of plants in the neighbor''s garden.
I watched expectantly, wondering what could possibly have caused such a fuss. A stray dog? A snake? An iguana? All of the sudden, a small beady-eyed head popped out from between the fence. Immediately, my club-wielding neighbors set upon it, giving it cause to run across the road and cross the shallow creek bed on the other side.
Two dogs named Milo and Gohan followed in close pursuit of what we might call a varmint in the States. It had the shape of a squirrel, but had dark brown fur and no bushy tail; in other words, it was a weasel. One part of me wondered if weasels really lived in Peru, and another part of me wondered why they had chosen to bludgeon this particular one.
The dogs followed in hot pursuit, but appeared to lose their quarry in high grass at the edge of a field. My neighbors kept searching, and as much as I scanned the grass from across the road, I figured the crafty creature was already hiding and laughing in its tiny underground abode. My eyes turned back to the crab, which was still ambling towards my side of the road, when suddenly, to my surprise, the weasel creeped past the crab, back over to my side of the road!
I sounded the alarm as the weasel jumped into another neighbor''s garden, while both dogs and people hurried back across the road. Keeping hidden was not this varmint''s strong suit, as Milo immediately rooted it out of the garden. Instead of swallowing it in two bites, though, he lost his grip and the weasel''s jaws latched onto Milo''s snout, causing him to yip and whine. I bravely approached and tried to kick the weasel away, but he got wise and let go, running behind a stray piece of adobe brick.
Gohan jumped through the fence and avenged his fellow canine''s injury, shaking the weasel until it stopped moving. My club-wielding neighbors promptly beat the rest of its life out. After it had clearly passed away, the neighbors took turns picking it up by its short tail and scrutinizing it.
The word in Spanish for weasel is comadreja, though in this part of Peru the people apparently call such animals huayhuas (pronounced like "whitewash" but without the -t or -sh sounds.)
Weasels, of course, kill and eat chickens and turkeys, though the belief here is that they suck the blood in vampiric fashion from their fowl prey.
Checking it out
I researched South American weasels on the Internet the next time I got a chance to go to the city, only to discover that all weasels on the continent are either extremely rare or not native to northern Peru. And yet, they are common where I live according to my neighbors, causing a nuisance by destroying crops as well as attacking chickens. Maybe I was barking up the wrong tree, maybe it only appeared to be a weasel.
In fact, it reminded me of the strange varmint my sister and I had seen when we visited Macchu Picchu last June: an animal that appeared to be part-rabbit part-squirrel. We later found out that it is a common Andean creature known as a viscacha that is related to the chinchilla.
Don''t get me started either on the giant rodents that live in the Amazon jungle (which I have only seen in stuffed and lifeless in museums.)
The world it seems is full of varmints, of varying sizes and degrees of furriness, though some I hope to never meet (at least not without a large stick and two country dogs.)
Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.