January 05, 2011

Under the cloak: Creepy crawlies

Wood carvings might be the world's most ubiquitous souvenir. You can find "traditional local crafts" made of wood nearly anywhere with trees and tourists.

My collection of wooden geegaws from around the globe includes a Buddhist prayer wheel from Nepal, a foot-long manatee from Belize and infant-sized clogs from Brittany.

But the Masai woman from Kenya, pictured here, cured me of carvings and is the last one I will ever buy.

When we returned home from Africa I displayed the carving on the sideboard in our dining room alongside other souvenirs of our travels. One night while we were eating I glanced at the sideboard and noticed that the top of it seemed to be moving.

I got up to inspect and let out a scream that made Mike drop his fork. "Bugs! Bugs are crawling out of this carving!" The Masai woman was alive with tiny critters that were spilling from behind the piece of intact tree bark that had been shaped into a cloak that ran down her back. I picked her up and threw her into the kitchen sink while Mike ran a Pledge-dampened rag over the sideboard to collect the insects.

I ran hot water over the infested carving and watched scores of beasties fall out of it and disappear down the drain. Scalding and drowning the bugs was probably sufficient, but for good measure I ground them up in the garbage disposal. Then I took the piece outside and pried the bark cloak that housed the critters off with a butter knife.

I scrubbed the area that had been under the bark with a Brillo pad, then shot half a can of Raid ant killer all over the carving, steps I later repeated.

It took a few hours for the wet, Raid-infused carving to dry in the July sun, but I kept it outside on our concrete stoop for a few days, checking it often for signs of life.

When I was satisfied that my eradication methods had been successful I returned the cloak-less lady to her perch on the sideboard.

I do like her but admit to feeling a hint of the heebie jeebies when I look at her.

There's a world of wood carvings out there waiting for us tourists, suckers for traditional local crafts. You've been warned; some harbor stowaways.

Caveat emptor. And if you do buy, keep the Raid handy.