Jamaican Memories: Ants and Christmas by Eileen Garcia
Cartoon drawings by Reina Girvan Randall
For many northerners the word “Jamaica” may conjure up images of swaying palm trees and beaches, but for those who live there, there is so much more.
Without winter, insects proliferate. I recall an abundance of bees and butterflies as well as the night-glow of fireflies. Cockroaches littered the night floor and scorpions hid in the woodpile. But most of all I recall ants. Ants did not spend much time on the beach, but were abundantly present inland. There were tiny, red ants which we called “pity me little” as well as many sizes of black ants. Ants made the earth move and they also kept people moving: not much fun sitting under a tree with ants in your pants.
Although ants do establish well travelled “trails”, by leaving the scent of formic acid to lead them back to their nests, they can be found scurrying almost everywhere. Their ability to climb walls and enter cracks was a reminder to us never to leave bread on the kitchen counter. It would not have occurred to my folk to get out a can of Raid. Insects are part of a tropical “paradise” along with other critters like lizards, mongoose and rats. It was our job to adjust.
When I was about seven, I was chosen as the angel in the Christmas Nativity play. I was to stand very still, arms raised, during the singing of several Christmas hymns. Unfortunately, on performance night ants were also in attendance; they collected just where I stood with my little bare feet. The children sang endlessly to the shepherds, to the cattle and the baby. I did not move.
No one sang to the ants then, but now they sing to me. They tell me that the most beautiful beach in the world is a barren desert without food. We humans will not do well without insects to dig the earth and pollinate the trees. In short: some things are worth being bitten for. Forget the Raid, stand still and be in awe at Life! Merry Christmas!
Click on drawing to see the ants