Genius Hour Confrontations: The Phat Snake

"Good morning Mr. J! See what I brought in for my project?" Phat said while holding a black bag, noticeably away from his body and with two accompanying friends in tow.
"I bought a snake! It will help me learn why snakes climb."

I suddenly remembered telling Phat that his question: "How do snakes climb trees?" might be difficult to investigate for two reasons. A: It is the sort of question one can look up on the internet, and B: I didn't have a snake in the science lab. I didn't fully realize the impact of the second reason because, A: We live in Vietnam where such creatures are readily available, and B: A resourceful student is a powerful thing.

"Um, Phat, I really wish you ran this idea past me before you bought this."
"I did. I sent you an email!"
I checked my inbox later and found his email. Postmarked 11:35 pm.
"By the way, Mr. J" Phat extolled, "You have some empty terrariums, so why can't we put it in there?"
"Because caring for it is a major responsibility. Do you know what kind of food this snake eats, and whether or not it is dangerous?"
"It's not dangerous, the guys at the pet shop said although it bites, it's not venemous."

While deciding how I would seek out and reprimand these pet shop owners for taking advantage of impressionable children, my coworker Lori came in and told Phat that such an organism could not be kept in school, for liablity, safety and a host of other reasons. Phat responded the only way he knew how.

Image courtesy of: bangkokherps.wordpress.com
"But I wanna learn about my snaaaaaake!" He sobbed and blubbered as if he flipped on a switch. I asked his friends who joined him for moral support to wait outside. Lori gave him a hug and our tact shifted to praise for showing such motivation. Eventually, I relented and set the poor beast (the snake, not Phat) free within the confines of his habitat-less terrarium. It slunk in the corner all day with a few stinky dead crickets for company.

It definitely created a stir. Students trickled in and out of lessons, tapping the glass, and I frequently tested to make sure the crayola marker box top was on tightly. One staff member, who was terrified of snakes, wondered how I could have such a dangerous reptile in my classroom and what kind of example I was setting.

Mr. Bai
We decided that Phat should take it home and we encouraged him to continue caring for it, just outside of class. The problem then came of how to get it back into it's original bag. After much research and diclaimer reflections on Animal Planet that "These people are trained professionals. Do not attempt to handle these animals at home," I decided to arm myself with oven mits and a will to capture. I'm the child of two veterinarians who grew up with a menagerie of animals in my childhood. What could possibly go wrong? I asked the third floor janitor, Mr. Bai, to serve as my assistant and tilt the terrarium up on its edge, and the plan was to "pour" it into the bag. Immediatly after our first attempt, it was clear that this snake took the excitement of his changing environment as an excuse to thrash widely.


Image courtesy of: www.pbs.org
Luckily for me, Mr. Bai is an experienced handler. He motioned for me to wait and he left and came back minutes later with long, rubber gloves, much like dishwashing gloves, except that they rolled down to his elbow. They were skin tight, red in color, and had the translucence of a large condom. I couldn't imagine what they could possibly be used for-my only guess was if one needed to perform a rectal examination on a large bovine mammal, and didn't want to get their arms dirty.

Mr. Bai removed the top and his hand shot down and grabbed the snake behind the head like a seasoned snake-handler. He didn't flinch or shuffle for a better position. He picked it up and while the snakes body started to curl around his forearm, I stood there, jaw agape to his heroics.
"Don't just stand there, man."  He said. "Open the bag!"

Phat took his snake home that afternoon. The next morning when I inquired as to how his new pet was doing, he told me that he "let it loose in the field". Considering his previous emotional breakdown, I decided to lay off giving him a guilt trip. I am however, waiting for the uptick in local news reports of our local biodiversity being upset by a mysterious organism and what factors transpired to bring it there.

When I walk home from school, I scan the grass fields, wondering if the Phat snake has found some peace amongst the rushes. I listen, making sure the crickets still chirp and whether or not their tune is a happy one.


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