They sent out a couple of drones at first, hovering inches from my nose, casually racking up data in their tiny sensor fields. Elegant things, the colour of mandarins. Their torsos and abdomens joined by a single cellular thread.
Then they began to build. It was a while before I noticed the nest. Tucked behind my bathroom door. Hmmmm, I thought. What do I do? I decided to wait and see. They hadn’t hurt me yet, I reasoned. I’m not sure why it never crossed my mind to destroy the nest. I live alone and I don’t have pets. Perhaps, it was the company.
Over the next week or so the nest got bigger and more of them moved in. I counted thirty by then. But they were so busy, they hardly seemed to notice me. Occasionally, one or two would hover next to me while I took a shower, but not in any threatening way. Then I went away for a week. The first time I went back into my bathroom, I was immediately surrounded, like bi-planes around King Kong. I was startled, but then I thought, these guys don’t know me. Either they were new ones (not up on the the life cycle of Indian wasps), or they’d forgotten I was ‘friend’ not ‘foe’. I stood stock still, while a dozen of them scanned me for potential threat. After a minute or so they went back to their nest, and continued to busy themselves with wasp-domestics.
It was at this point that it occurred to me to take down the nest. By this time, I realized that the situation had crossed some kind of invisible line. For one thing, I had no idea how to do this without causing myself injury. Secondly, the decision not to harm them had been made over a gradual involvement, dare I say, relationship, that had formed over, what to them must seem like a whole generation. I was the giant entity who came in and turned on the water. I always had kept my bathroom window open, so they had free access. They had found a safe place with resources and no predators. And, like I said, they hadn’t hurt me…”Yet” as Thupten reminded me over a cup of tea.
Were they going to simply freak out one day and go into swarm mode? What if one of them decided I was no good and convinced the other ones not to trust me any more? Who would advocate on my behalf? Electric lights stir them up. I feel a bit vulnerable standing naked while they do their aerobatics above my head, so these days I tend to shower and brush my teeth in the dark. But they still haven’t hurt me.
Occasionally, one of them stumbles into my bedroom and flaps around the lightbulb. Sometimes I managed to get them out and return them to their family. I think I’m getting rather fond of them. Even if they attack me, it’s only their nature, after all. It leads me to half-formed musings on the nature of conflict–national, regional, communal, familial, interpersonal. How often we pull the trigger before the fight has even begun, to protect ourselves from a familiar possibility. But how much more interesting to open up to an entirely new one. And how, perhaps more than compassion, what we really need is mutual respect. To allow for a margin of error between ourselves and a potential foe.
And then I stumble across this. An article about the peacenik paper wasps of India.
‘These insects seem to have an innate sense of their position in the succession line, and when the time comes for a new queen to take the throne, she is allowed to rule without riot or squabble. This is contrary to the common law of the insect world, rife with wars over territory and the right to pass on genetic material….“As far as we know, this [behavior] is unique among the social wasps,” said Robert Jeanne, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin- Madison and an expert on the behavior of social insects.
So, we stay in the moment. My mandarin wasps and me. They, building their little monument to life; me, brushing my teeth in the dark. And no one hurting anyone…yet.