To WOO HOO the upcoming release of my third novel, Driving in Neutral—a love story about claustrophobia—I am running the 75 Days of Phobia series. Thanks to everyone who’s been following along and everyone who’s joined in to share. As Olivia, the heroine in Driving in Neutral says to Maxwell the claustrophobe, “Everyone’s afraid of something.” TM Clark’s creepy terror is understandable.
Hello, my name is Tina Marie Clark and I have Ophidiophobia also known as herpetophobia. The fear of snakes
Famous people with this phobia: Indiana Jones.
I was so excited to be asked onto Sandra’s Blog… then I read her note further, what I was going to be giving my opinion on… and my heart sank.
There is a huge difference in a phobia and a fear. “Fear is an awareness of danger and the need to escape from it, while phobia is an unreasonable fear (as in you can be aware of a danger that would not be expected to happen, or does not exist, yet still seek to escape it).” Extract from yahoo answers.
Just let me tell you right up. I now live on an island within an island, and it is only connected by a tiny bridge. I bought here because I was under the misapprehension that I would never see a snake while gardening… I was wrong. To some, like my hubby and teenage sons, snakes are creatures of fascination. They want to touch them, hold them, perhaps keep them as pets. Beautiful animals… But to me, they bring out the worst that I am.
I get cold sweats, I run – in the opposite direction, I hyperventilate and can’t breathe, I scream and the words out my mouth are in Ndebele, not my native English. I have been known to vomit with the total adrenaline rush, and sob uncontrollably as I physically shake. Some will think that my reaction is over the top and unwarranted.
Come walk in my shoes for a moment:
I grew up in Southern Africa. In this area there are twelve venomous species of snakes: Gaboon viper adder, Puff adder, Bird snake, Cape cobra, Egyptian cobra, Forest cobra, Mozambique spitting cobra, Rinkhals, Coral snake, Boomslang, Green Mamba, and the Black Mamba, those are on record as having caused human fatalities. There are still another twenty three other poisonous species, who’s bite can inflict serious damage but which haven’t been recorded as actually being responsible for killing anyone – yet.
When I was younger we shared our farm with many snakes, but two baddies who spring to mind that still give me the hibby-jeebies…
The Egyptian Cobra and The Puff Adder.
The Egyptian cobra to a child is a big snake. Growing to 2.5m in length, you can stand on the back of a hay wagon, and the snake will still spread its hood at your level. They are big, scary and poisonous. When you get between them and their hidey hole, they come at you with everything they have… and when they get inside, into your farm house and are cornered, they are lethal, multiple strike in quick succession to protect themselves.
Growing up, whenever the staff saw a snake they would call in Ndebele for my mother – inyoka – that means snake in Ndebele, Zulu and is recognised by most Africans in Southern Africa. A universal word. It became a habit for us girls to do the same, that way everyone around knew exactly what was going on and that there was a snake.
I remember playing in the garden one day by the chicken run, and Kela, our garden boy, pulling us away there, making us go inside and fetch my mum because of a snake. Except, I’m still not sure how that darn Egyptian cobra (Naja annulifera) got from the chicken run and down towards the house…. And then into the kitchen when the bottom half of the stable door was left open in error. I do remember clearly the size of its hood, and the swiftness that it can dive for cover when needed. My mother had a double barrel shotgun, and when the kitchen staff called for help, she came running… but the snake was already inside, and in front of our cookboy. Hiding behind my mum, I watched as she fired one shot. And missed.
The snake then saw the pot cupboard open, and dashed into there for safety. My mother reloaded while the boys found a broom to open the cupboard more. Mr Egyptian cobra same out of the cupboard on his tail, fully hooded and ready to strike. My mum shot that snake with both triggers at once. The snake, collapsed on the floor, and we had to get a new set of pots because my mum had shot holes into every single one. My dad was six foot tall, he held that snake by the tail and stood on tippy toes, with his hand held high, and its head was still wrapped around in a coil on the floor. He was huge. But he was dead, me and my sisters were safe, and we could continue to play outside…
Yes, I had a healthy fear of snakes, the real, okay you are in danger – flee type of response. But it is Mr puffy that cemented my fear…The Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) is responsible for the most human fatalities and is therefore, considered to be Africa’s deadliest snake.
I love horses, and we used to do a natural steeplechase course on our farm. Down past the lands, through the vlei, down into the riverbed, then up again, over fallen trees and across dongas, through the dam, up the road, and home to the stables. But it was during a wartime, and we were in the African bush, so we were always armed. It was also an era when we were taught that cowgirls don’t cry either…
Our horses were well trained, (I used to shoot a rifle and a hand gun, off the back of my horse, and he didn’t care) so that is the level of obedience and trust I had in my horse. Yet, despite all that training, if an animal is in enough danger, and can avoid that danger, they will deviate from a path, and when a horse does that at speed, and you are not expecting it, your butt and the saddle part ways – and you hit the dirt. The only problem that day was that on that ground was a huge Puff Adder, the very reason he had changed direction after clearing the jump in the first place. And it was now only about 20cm from my head. Looking at a snakes forked tongue up close had never been on my bucket list, but he was coiled and ready to strike.
I couldn’t move, just stare at the snake.
My father cleared the jump after me, and obviously saw me and the snake. I remember him stopping his horse, and telling me to be real still. To trust him. A moment later, my ears were ringing so much, and I couldn’t stop spitting out the dirt and the blood off my face as he jumped down and hugged me close. He shot that puffy right next to me, and saved me and my face from certain disfigurement and probably death. And yes, I cried and I’m darn certain he did too that day.
So, from then on it seems like if there is a snake in the neighbourhood, it will always find me…I was at Victoria Falls, just minding my own business, walking around, showing my then boyfriend (now hubby) the beautiful scenery of my homeland, and I am standing under a thorn tree, and this green mamba drops out the tree, uses my back as a ladder, slithers down to the floor, and then decides to slither between my feet to make its get away…I’m having a freak out about it, I’m screaming and running in the opposite direction, can’t breath, am screaming about the snake in Ndebele, and my hubby is trying to find where the snake disappeared to, so he can see it better, not understanding a word me I am saying, until he hears Green Mamba. Then he slowly backs away from the place to give the snake respectful distance, and comes to see if I am all right. Note to him that luckily he took to heart: I am never all right where snakes are concerned.
There are many more adventures with me and Mr Snake in Africa, but I think you understand enough that why when I see an ‘earth worm’ size snake, I still run for the hills – screaming.
I know that this deep-set fear will never go away. I can’t actually touch a snake, my fear is too great for that and I physically want to throw up when they come too close in other peoples hands, but I haven’t past this onto my boys, who will happily hold a snake given to them by a handler, and I can get close enough to photograph. Just don’t be stupid and try pass the darn thing to me!
One day this fear could save my life – or it could stop me reacting as I should around snakes, and cost me dearly. Only fate knows that outcome.
I used to believe that the only good snake was a dead snake, but now, years later, I know better. They have their place in the ecology system (other than to scare me) and they are an important part of the food chain. They keep down the rats, mice, frogs and most importantly the other snake populations, while they inturn feed beautiful birds like, the Secretary Bird, and Marabou stork. And other furry animals like the playful but vicious mongoose eat snakes too.
I have reached a place within me now that they can just go about their own business as I go about mine, and hopefully in different orbit patterns that never cross! So much so that I will stop my car and wait for a snake to cross the road. I don’t want it dead – I just don’t want it near my car where it can by some miracle get inside. And yes, I have stopped traffic before to get a huge python across the road in Ningi. Pythons are not dangerous. I can look at them, just don’t want them near me. This particular one was HUGE and many years old and deserved to carry on with its life, not have car tracks on its beautiful skin. BUT I didn’t go near it. Amazing how everyone stops when you park your 4 x 4 across 2 lanes of traffic and have all your lights flashing… even the busses stoped! Not bad for someone with herpetophobia.
So although I can’t even pronounce my ‘phobia’ I know that it will remain with me for years to come – so now lets talk about lizards, aren’t they beautiful! I could have one of those as a pet…
Thank you Sandra for having me on your blog today – even if I had to find pictures of snakes just for you! Good luck with your new release!
Born in Zimbabwe, Tina Marie completed her education in South Africa. Now living on a small island near Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, Tina Marie combines her passion for story telling with her love for Africa. When not running around after the men in her life, she gets to enjoy her hobbies, which include boating, reading, sewing, travel, gardening, and lunching with her friends. (Not necessarily in that order!)
Passionate about Africa, different cultures and wildlife, most of Tina Marie’s books are set somewhere on that ancient continent. Readers are welcome to find Tina on social media: