Rubber Worms

Susan M. Smith

© Copyright 2024 by Susan M. Smith

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

Walking out the door of my house in Garoua Boulai, Cameroon, I basked in the morning sun. Not yet too hot. Not too much dust in the air since it had rained the night before. The air smelled fresh and clean. To the right of my door grew a huge mango tree with fruit beginning to ripen. On the packed dirt in front of me, I saw a long, black thing about two feet long.

A snake? I knew some lived in the area, and even some poisonous ones, but I had never seen any. No grass nearby for them to hide. I approached it cautiously. No movement. Definitely not a snake. It looked like a long rubber worm. Where had that come from? I picked it up and took it back inside to the table to examine it further. Definitely man-made. It had ribbing on one side but I still couldn’t imagine what it was or why it was on the ground outside.

I left the mystery and went out to the market as I had originally planned. My brain pondered the “worm” as I walked along. On the way home, I noticed that one windshield wiper of my pick-up truck looked funny. It was only metal. Strange. Suddenly, I realized that the rubber worm was the part of the wiper that cleaned the windshield. How had it ended up on the ground? It couldn’t have fallen out. Who would do that?

Later that day, I hear cawing from a nearby tree. In it sat two large birds. They seemed to be more than a foot long and when one started into the air, the wingspan was a yard across. Initially, they looked mostly black but on closer inspection I could see a blueish-purple sheen on the heads, wings, and tails. The breast and sides were white. The cry sounded like a crow to me. Could crows be that big? And two colored? As I watched the birds and the ruckus they made, recognition dawned on me. One of them had “liberated” the “worm” from the windshield wiper. Was that possible?

Later that day, I searched on the internet. Pied crows, corvus albus, are adaptable black and white crows found in sub-Saharan Africa. The size fit and the location. They are known to steal food from other birds and nests as well as to scavenge for carrion. They eat just about everything, including lizards. Pied crows use sticks and even wire to form their nests which they make each year high in a tree – like the mango tree beside my house? I laughed. The crazy bird had liberated the worm and discovered it wasn’t edible spitting it out on the ground.
The next day, the other rubber worm from my windshield wiper was on the ground. Crows, in general, and pied crows, in particular, have a reputation of using tools, mimicking other sounds, and problem solving. Either this pied crow wasn’t as intelligent as it was reputed to be or its mate had gone for the second worm. Maybe the large truck windshield reflected the sun and made the rubber seem like a delectable treat.

The situation was no longer funny. I couldn’t get new windshield wipers in my town. The nearest store was three hours away. The rainy season was starting; I couldn’t go anywhere without wipers. I arranged to have a friend bring me some wipers next time he came through town. I began to park the truck under the overhang next to the house – no sun reflecting off the windshield and close to the building. And the rains begin in earnest – perhaps bringing more and better food options. In any case, no more destroyed windshield wipers. 

A long-time educator, Susan M. Smith, Ph.D., taught for more than 30 years, most of which were with the Pittsburgh Public Schools in the Spanish Magnet Program, teaching Spanish along with most other elementary subjects. She was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Central African Republic (CAR) in the late 1970s. She returned to CAR from 2012-16 as an Education Adviser for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of CAR. She also worked on the Refugee, Immigrant, Limited English Speakers (RIL) Team at the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh for a couple of years. She is now a part-time interpreter for Hearing & Deaf Services’ PLAN (Pittsburgh Language Access Network). She is fluent in both Spanish and French.

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