by Pamela Ebel
A note from the author about A Rat’s Tale: I came across the news of Magawa’s passing and the photo of him with his medal moved me greatly. So, I did research and out of that comes this story. As a child of the Sixties and the Viet Nam war I have vivid memories of photos of the ‘Killing Fields’. That a rat could make such a difference so many years later provided me with some solace.
“You did well in your previous life, my friend.”
Magawa looked up into the smiling face of the King of Rats, who sat in an ancient rocking chair made of teeth-hewn cypress. As he rocked, the Rat King looked at those assembled around, he and Magawa, who thought there must have been hundreds of other rats staring at him.
“This is the brother I have been telling you all about. He has finally been called and moved on to join us here in our peaceful valley. In this place, Magawa, there is no hate or fear. There are no humans using us as, forget the pun, ‘guinea pigs’ for research or stalking us with traps baited with poison. No cats, dogs, or others chasing after us in fear. Here we are able to forage for what we need to eat and can drink from cool streams of untainted water. We live above ground and run the hills, sleep in the sun, and visit with each other.”
Turning to the assemblage King Rat picked Magawa up gently and placed him on the rocking chair seat so he could see crowd below.
“Magawa is unique amongst us rats. He was raised by humans to do a dangerous, but important job. After living for eight years, a long time in our rat world, he has been hailed as a hero by the human world.” There were murmurs of disbelief, and the crowd moved closer to get a better look at the Hero Rat. “I am going to let Magawa tell his own story now, since I only watched from afar as he traversed the dangerous ‘killing fields’ that humans created.”
“I am Magawa, a Gambian giant pouch rat. I was given my name by the humans who raised me. It means “courage” in Khmer, the language of those I worked with in Cambodia. I was born in 2013 in a research lab in Tanzania and started my training when I was six months old.
Even though the people who created the training program were very smart, my success was really because my mother gave me her exquisite sense of smell, which is how we rats detect the materials that make up explosive devices.
I was a quick learner, and when I was three, I moved to Cambodia. My human there took great care of me. I learned the terrain I would be working in and what I was looking for, and what smells I needed to alert the humans to. I worked for five years in various places. They told me I cleared 2.4 million square feet of land and found seventy-eight land mines and thirty-eight other explosive devices during those years.
What the humans didn’t understand was that my exquisite sense of smell found more than land mines. I could smell the blood that had seeped into the soil and bone fragments would get caught in my nose or would stick to my feet. I was in the ‘killing fields,’ and I could hear the cries of all of the humans and rats who died there, and it made me sad. So, I started to slow down, and they decided I was old and had served my purpose. They gave me this gold medal, and I spent a year in retirement eating all my favorite fruits and playing with my toys.
Still, the memories of my work stayed with me and I felt sad. Then, one evening my mother came to me and said I should come home and be with my real family. I took one more look at the humans who had raised, cared for, and trained me. Then I went to my nest closed my eyes, and when I woke up, I was here in this wonderful land. I saw my mother first, and she told me I needed to find the King of the Rats and tell my story.”
A Long Tailed Giant Rat moved closer to the rocking chair and stood up. “My whole family was lost in the ‘Killing Fields’ in 1970. We could have used a Hero Rat like you to save us.”
“I’m not really a hero, and I don’t have any more courage than any of you. One thing I learned by watching the humans was that all of us possess the same sense of purpose and the capacity to do brave things. The really brave amongst us do heroic things and act courageously when no one is looking and no one knows what was done. That’s what real courage is and I know that the next group of Gambian giant pouch rats that are training now will continue the work even though it brings sadness.”
The King of Rats and Magawa slid off the rocking chair together.
“A well told tale brother rat and now it is time for you to meet your brothers and sisters and enjoy your new home. I am going to take your medal and keep it in a safe place because you won’t need it here.”
Magawa took the blue ribbon off and looked at the gold medal then handed it to the King of Rats. Looking up at the clear blue sky, into the gold glow of the sun, Magawa raised his nose into the clean, cool air and his exquisite sense of smell told him that this was the scent of freedom. Smiling, he moved into the crowd of brothers and sisters.
Since we didn’t have any photos of Magawa for this story we have included some of Drusilla Kehl and the Illustrated Rat’s wonderful rat artwork. To learn more about her art you can visit her website.
You can find more pet rat related articles in our Rodent Ramblings section!