I have nothing against ants. In fact, I have great respect for their organizational skills, their intense focus, and their ability to sniff out a tiny sugar crystal from great distances. But, my respect level dropped when I discovered that these creatures had set up home in my kitchen, they were living in the gaps between the tiles.
No one was allowed to enter my kitchen without my permission, and to set up home at that! The gall of the freeloaders! I had to get rid of them. I could choose the easy way out and fumigate my kitchen – but the repercussions would be immense – the fallout would pollute every cup and saucer, not to mention fresh food items and my family members.
I had to think of another way.
I could use insecticide, I did try, but these resilient creatures didn’t care, they reproduced an army by the next day.
So, I set up a meeting and invited my efficient domestic helper, and arm-twisted my daughter to join us. As a former financial analyst, I needed her help to strategize a PowerPoint plan, graphs, and probability reports. We discussed all possibilities including sealing the gaps between the tiles. And we thought of other more creative ideas over a cup of tea.
I then took action. I tried all the different ways to block, suffocate, and distract the ants from entering my kitchen. But these insects were just too smart and conniving. They would find another route and dig their way into my countertop where the sugar jar rests.
After a Zoom call with an Auntie, who was an expert on these issues, she suggested that I wipe every exposed kitchen surface with a vinegar and salt combination. Ants will never return, Auntie said wisely. The problem was that initially, this didn’t have much effect on the ants; instead, my family members were deterred from entering the kitchen. The smell was terrible, and my family grumbled constantly. I suggested they wear masks for a few days. While we sprayed and wiped the countertops every two hours, Auntie estimated that in less than a week, my unwanted guests would disappear.
One week passed by. The ants were even more resilient and persistent. In fact, it appeared as though they had multiplied. They were taunting me with their brazen approach towards the turmeric tea that had dripped from my cup. It wasn’t even sweet. When I looked closely, with my glasses, I noticed that the ants had managed to enter my sugar jar. This happened despite the circle of cloves that formed a barricade around the jar, which Auntie said was a deterrent. I even noticed the tiny critters crawling crazily around my honey tub. I was tempted to call Auntie again and tell her nothing was working, these ants were just too smart for her. These insects had listened to our Zoom conversation and were secretly planning their own counter-attack.
The situation has gotten worse.
We’ve stopped eating marmalade, peanut butter and other spreads. I’ve dropped two kilos in a week. But that’s not the point. The situation went from bad to worse when suddenly one morning, I saw two rows of ants marching brazenly from opposite directions towards an apple peel. I quickly wiped the area clean. The ants went helter-skelter while my helper clapped her hands in glee.
My mind was in turmoil. How would I get rid of these tiny creatures? A couple of times I had serious conversations with these ants, even asked them politely to leave, to go find another place to procreate, but to no avail. They ignored my pleas – they were not going to leave.
Now I was livid: this was all-out war. I had been too nice with these freeloaders. I had used organic products as bait, including cloves, and aromatherapy oils, to dissuade their entry into my kitchen. Nothing worked. I was being noble, the message I sent out was that I was being the bigger person here, and allowed them to live. They didn’t seem to get that I had the upper hand.
After a few sleepless nights, I decided to consult an expert.
And when you’re at war, there’s no better authority than Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War. His wisdom helped me develop the intense resilience and objective approach I needed to face the enemy. Sun Tzu’s advice:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
It hit me: it was all about knowing the way the ants think.
To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.
I haven’t been able to think like an ant (yet). Not sure how to do that.
The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.
I decided to check Auntie Google with: ‘what ants like’ and ‘what ants don’t like’ and discovered the winning formula: baking soda mixed with icing sugar, which would both attract and repel, confuse the living daylights out of the ants. I was going to mess with their minds.
That was the magic formula.
I sprinkled the white powder in all the nooks and crannies, in between tiles, around the window sills, and around the honey pot and sugar jar.
Can you believe it? They’ve gone, disappeared. No ants anywhere. I don’t know if they are regrouping and planning a silent attack. Or they have really left my abode.
For now, there’s a certain kind of quiet, a lull in my kitchen. No rows of brown insects marching along white cabinets and tiled walls. Yet, the niggling doubt remains that one day they will return.
To be a step ahead, I shall study the enemy with every intention of outdoing them. The Art of War is on my bedside table. I am well aware these ants are worthy opponents. Their size does not diminish their capacity to think outside the box. The fact is, according to Science Daily: Ants, like humans, can change their priorities. Which means there is a possibility that they will return one day. ‘For the first time, Arizona State University researchers have discovered that at least in ants, animals can change their decision-making strategies based on experience. They can also use that experience to weigh different options.’
So, for the time being, I shall be alert, because Sun Tzu says: If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril. I shall maintain a notebook on all information related to ants.
And keep you and Auntie, updated.
Main image via LifeCycle Pest Control