Monday, June 4, 2012

Running into Giants in Tanzania

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania -- It’s good to be running in a foreign place again. Two things happen almost without fail: I see something shocking, and I shock myself with a new thought about something at home.

This morning, the shocking sight came first. I went running at daybreak (6:30 a.m.) along the Indian Ocean along a rutted path a few miles outside Tanzania’s largest city. I passed a group of men sitting under a large shade tree, perhaps a group of elders gathering on an important topic, and the road narrowed to the width of a bicycle path.

And there, right in front of my footfall was a beautiful conical shell. I narrowly missed stepping on it, and I stopped to reach down to pick it up, when …. OMG, there was a huge ugly snail in that shell, with two twisty and GINORMOUS antennas poking out of its head.

It was the Giant African Snail. I recoiled. I inched backward. I had known about the Giants from my earlier time living in Africa.  But they had never stopped me in my tracks before.

They are so nasty that they have made a list of one of the 100 top invasive species in the world. It is a pest that eats through natural ecosystems and crops, killing commerce, and, when eaten (who would eat them?) possibly causing eosinophilic meningoencephalitis. It is a type of meningitis that causes headache, neck pain, visual disturbances, and in some cases death.

One scientist even has said that the Giant African Snail was a hazard that could cause car crashes. Really. Here’s the quote: “A. fulica are also a general nuisance when found near human habitations and can be hazardous to drivers, causing cars to skid. (Mead 1961).”

The one inches from my finger was pretty huge -- as big as my hand. A fat boy. (Actually they are hermaphrodites, so it’s more accurate to call them fat boy-girls or fat hermies.) As I straightened up and backed away, I had the senses to look around me and there were more! Dozens more! All Giants, their tentacles slowly shifting in the air. I jumped like I was on a bed of hot coals, sidestepping them somehow in my distress, until I was in the clear.

The rest of the run didn’t quite measure that level of yuck. But I did have a revelation about one of my children, a high schooler who provides endless concern in large part due to his sloth-like, or Giant African Snail-like, behavior when it comes to school.

He just won’t study. Or rather, he will only study for an hour on the night before a test, or write a major paper for an hour the night before it’s due. Then it came to me on the run. I’ve been missing the signs all along. He is not a cousin to the Giants, he is a Savant. Must be. How else could still get very good grades? That’s the way I’ll think about him from now, throw that worry to the wayside, and believe blindly he’s on the right path. And for this newfound peace of mind, there’s only one thing to thank: the snails.

Next stop: Rural southwest Tanzania, west of Iringa. Maybe I’ll get dust in my shoes.


  1. How big is that snail in comparison to your hand?? Scale of photo is unclear to me. Small or giant, though, it's disgusting. Thanks for sharing. :-D

  2. What would kitty do with that guy/gal?

    1. I would have loved to have seen your "snail" dance. They come high on the yuck scale. On to sw Tanzania. Wonder what you'll meet and what new revelations you'll have. Happy trails. lolo