If there are any benefits to being stranded just north of pleasant climates, it’s that the persistent chill keeps bug life to a minimum. Like any other country, they flourish mainly in the gentler seasons – so we are blessed that we spend so much time outside the company of pain-in-the-butt, pint-sized pests.
South of the equator was a different story. Our house was a surrogate home to any number of creepy, crawly, atomic-sized insects. The freakiest were the giant black centipedes whose jet black bodies measured 6-8 inches long and were a centimeter wide. They slunk along on thousands of ruby red tentacles, and contracted into a tight spiraled package the moment they were knocked off their path. We have them in Canada, but they’re 1/100 of the size and not nearly as spine-tinglingly peculiar.
My run-ins with cockroaches, mosquitoes, ants, and centipedes (not to mention more mobile game like rats and lizards) became as routine my morning coffee, and at some point I dropped my Western standards of hygiene and started looking the other way. This was especially the case when the bugs got between me and whatever I needed – like the sugar in my tea. Ants invaded the sugar tins. They swarmed the shelves in the pantry and it was next to impossible keep them out or avoid scooping up a straggler or two when dipping in for a teaspoon of sweetener. My strategy was to dodge as many as I could, and then carefully eye the stream as I poured the grains into my tea. They also loved to run up the legs and along the surface of the dining room table. There was a bottle of exterminating spray, but the particles would hang in the air after spraying, making it difficult to enjoy your food while choking down mouthfuls of disinfectant.
The same went for my daily layering of mosquito spray, but it was hardly something I could avoid. None of the bedrooms in the house had mosquito nets. It wasn’t much of a problem for the locals, but my blood was like the nectar of the gods to the little biters and they swarmed in through the screen-less window in my room whose shutter had fallen off it’s hinge and wouldn’t fit back into the frame. There were several make-shift attempts to resolve the problem, but in the end, bathing in insect repellent, cranking the AC and sleeping with my head under the covers was the most effective solution – my apologies to global warming.