Part two: Of Mice and (Wo)men – or how to kill a rat in Jakarta

My post yesterday got me thinking of other rodent wars I’ve soldiered through. Jakarta, 1980.  My husband and I lived in houses rented for us by his employer. Although there were just the two of us, these houses were enormous, with a minimum of four locals who lived in as our staff.

The city was a polyglot kaleidoscope of cultures clashing and melding. We were well acquainted with the other Americans living there; they either worked, as we did, for the oil industry or were government employees at the Embassy. Our circle of friends extended to people from all over the world in a city where elaborate compounds of various nationalities of ex-patriots sat surrounded by villages, called Kampong, of desperately poor local families. The city grew up around a series of canals left by the Dutch on a humid plain surrounded by majestic mountain tea plantations. The canals served as the city water and sewer system. Needless to say, one did not drink the water. Our houses had dug wells but that didn’t mean the water was potable and amid our luxurious gardens and high fences, open gutters took the rain and waste water to the sewer system on the streets. These eventually fed into the canals which emptied into the harbor.The Kampongs hugged the sides of the canals  and it was not unusual to see someone brushing their teeth in the tepid water, just downstream from another person defecating in the canal.

Needless to say, rats were common, regardless of how high-class your neighborhood.  I lay in bed, terrified the first few nights when I heard a ‘mischief” of rats chasing along the metal gutters and clay tile roof.  I sought advice from fellow ex-pats. All advised “one gets used to it” and to turn on the AC. Turning on the air conditioner drowned out the scuffling but also made my body less well acclimated to the heat. It also didn’t solve the jitters I felt every time I saw a terrier-sized rat race by the windows or doors.  I enlisted our live-in help; we were scrupulous about food and cleaning.  Finally, Lamina, the elderly housekeeper and cook came to me. “There is only one way to rid the house of rats. It is difficult and you must let us do it our way, but it works.”

She had the houseboy set two crude, wire traps well baited with chicken. One rat was killed immediately, but left in its cage. The other was deprived water and food. After several days, the live rat was ravenous and dehydrated. They placed the dead rat in the live rat’s cage. It ate with a frenzy and they released it. Lamina recounted the story, as watching it unfold was not an option. She told me the rat was gone and tell its cautionary  tale to warn away all the others. Though it all sounded bizarre and far-fetched, the only sound that night was the breeze through the fruit trees in the garden. Though they still ruled the streets, I never saw or heard another rat in our house in Jakarta.


This photo is from, not Jakarta but you get the picture…


15 thoughts on “Part two: Of Mice and (Wo)men – or how to kill a rat in Jakarta

  1. Rats are disguisting! We have a war on them now due to our neighbors free range chickens! Joe just got his 6th one yesterday! The are not in the house yet but trying to get in through the foundation!

  2. In Guyana they used to run round the house walls under the raised roof. We were lucky that we had a very good ratter in a cat that adopted us. So after a couple of times that the cat placed the killed ones on our outside table, very neatly, in line, 4 each time, we didn’t get any more…they moved to the houses either side and the cat took absolutely no notice of them in spite of all the neighbours did to entice it over!.
    One mouse made a nest in my brand new wedding present towels….
    And one night we heard a funny whirring sound on the top of our wardrobe. Gingerly shining a torch we saw two mice running for their lives on the wheels of the suitcase trolley. It seemed the mere act of shining a light made them stop and they managed to run off onto to walls and out…

  3. How horrible. I hate rats. We see them in the city streets here, dashing off into the undergrowth. Modern life in the city suits rats just fine. Lots of discarded takeaway food and plenty of nice parks to hide in. Luckily, we don’t have them in the suburbs, at least not that I’ve seen.

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