Friday, June 26, 2009

The War on Bugs

As I lay sprawled naked and facedown on the bathroom floor, I realized that our war on bugs wasn’t going quite as well as I had hoped. I had just finished my morning shower and was feeling refreshed after another humid night of restless sleep. My rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” had almost been in tune, so I counted it a good morning. As with practically all of the bathrooms in Bangladesh, the entire room acts as the shower stall; there is no tub or enclosed area to contain it. The water flies everywhere during the shower and tends to collect on the tiled floor, so Kristel and I use a squeegee mop to push the water to the drain in the corner in an effort to dry the room a bit faster. Grabbing the squeegee, I made a swipe at the floor and out of the squeegee jumped a spider. Not a hairy tarantula or black widow, mind you. Just an ordinary house spider. Regardless of its small size, I jumped back out of instinct, completely forgetting for a moment that the floor was currently a skating rink. One foot went up in the air, soon to be joined by the other. Anyone watching me might have thought I was clicking my heels in joy. I timbered to the floor, somehow managing to avoid impaling myself on the squeegee or bashing my head on the sink on the way down. Even more miraculously, I avoided landing on the spider, which seemed remarkably unperturbed by the commotion. It crawled slowly away from the crash site, unprovoked by the four-letter words that I was hurling in its direction. Hearing the ruckus, Kristel arrived at the doorway and said, “Oh, fuckyducky.”, which I thought summed things up nicely. She peeled me off the floor and I checked to make sure all of my limbs were in working order. My right shoulder and hip took the worst of the fall and would be a purple and yellow mess in a few hours, but otherwise, all was fine. I picked up the squeegee and put it back in its corner, but not before using it to send the itsy-bitsy spider to join Charlotte in arachnid heaven.

Our apartment in Chittagong is a nice two-bedroom flat located across the street from the YPSA office. Having seen the small flats occupied by our colleagues and their families, we recognize that our apartment has an embarrassing amount of space for the two of us and count ourselves lucky. Soon after arriving, we christened it the “Maple Mill”, a name representing the combination of our Canadian and Dutch heritages in our new home. Located on the main level of the YPSA Guesthouse, we enjoy the benefits and deal with the challenges of being on the ground floor. One of the latter has certainly been the invasion of critters that pay us a visit on a daily basis.

Of our unwanted guests, the least objectionable have been the lizards. They race up and down the walls and provide a surprise that replaces coffee as our morning wake-up jolt. Generally no longer than five centimeters or so, they usually appear and vanish before we can get a good look at them. Often, they’re much smaller, and one has to almost touch one’s nose to the wall to get a good look at them. For a couple of weeks, one of them had taken up residency somewhere near the head of our bed, and it often serenaded Kristel and me with its series of clicks and trills. Despite the fact that they’re a bit of a nuisance and likely causing more destruction than we know, I’m still amused by them and can’t bring myself to kill any of them, especially the tiny ones. In the pantheon of pests, they are able to chalk up enough cuteness points to merit preservation.

As you might have gathered from the opening tale, spiders haven’t earned the same degree of consideration from me. Actually, with the exception of satisfying my need for revenge, I tend to be a compassionate host, though this kindness is driven more by self-interest than any real sense of benevolence toward my fellow creatures. My reasoning is that spiders catch and kill the more annoying bugs that we must endure, such as mosquitoes, so if given the choice, I’ll turn a blind eye or shoo them out of sight before Kristel sees them. She tends to be less accommodating when it comes to our eight-legged friends. I think it may have been the gigantic one that crawled up from under our stove top that was the last straw for her. When she told me about it later on, I actually felt some regret. Not over her killing it, but that I didn’t get to see the monster before she reduced it to a bad memory.

But the worst of our visitors have been the cockroaches. I know it’s not their fault that they were born creepy, but oooo-waaaa-gehhh. The mere sight of one of them skittering across the floor releases some primal urge to destroy. Or, in my case, to flee, especially when the roach seems to show a suicidal lack of direction and heads straight for my bare feet, at which point I do a dance step like I was auditioning for A Chorus Line. One night, after we had turned off the lights and started to drift off to sleep, my voyage to the land of Nod was interrupted by a bite on my foot. And this was no mosquito nibble. I jumped up and counted toes to make sure all my little piggies were still there. “Whassyoudoingsszzzz”, said Kristel. “Something just bit me!” I yelled, as though I had just suffered a shark attack, and we both grabbed for our flashlights at the same time, spraying spotlights over the inside of our mosquito net. Sure enough, a cockroach scurried up the side of the net closest to my head. Kristel and I looked at each other and thought the exact same thing: “Abandon Bed!” We dove through the net to safety and checked to see whether we were carrying any passengers. Standing on the outside of our formerly cozy bed, we weighed our options and decided that surrendering the bed to the little bastard for the night was not on the list. So, we shook the net and pulled it up to make sure the roach was really gone before we finally tucked the net back in and returned to bed, both of us careful not to put our heads too close to the net. Sleep returned slowly that night, as the slightest touch either of us received from the other was mistaken for the cockroach’s return and given a reflexive jump.

With the monsoon season now officially here, though not yet underway, we expect the number of visitors will rise as they head for the nearest dry ground. On the bright side, we’ve yet to see any sign of the rats or scorpions that were infrequent guests at our homes in Nigeria. But maybe we’re just not looking hard enough. In any event, we’ve reluctantly grown accustomed to sharing the Maple Mill with the local creatures and understand that they probably regard us as the unwelcome pests to be endured. I’m sure there will be a creepy-crawly celebration held on the day we finally pack our bags and leave them to enjoy their home in peace.

P.S. As this will be my last post before July 1st, a very happy Canada Day to my fellow amuck Canucks back home and abroad! I'll enjoy a Moosehead vicariously through you. Cheers!


cochrane said...

Nice tale! We had some experience with the little devils at the rental in Florida for a few years and yes, it interrupted our sleep too. Ugh. I read it to MJ to make sure she remains content in our comparatively pest-free home.

[Insert free swing at that gift to you.]

Happy Canada Day to you guys!

Anonymous said...

Ouch! Ow! Ugh! Gross! From pain to disgust in one fell swoop. Nice.

I was in cottage country the weekend before Canada Day and was devoured by mosquitoes. Black Fly season is over, mozzie season is in full swing, and we eagerly await deer fly season. The mozzies attacked in clouds of destruction. I have full-body welts; the most itchy are between my toes!

Roaches...I head to Shanghai in August and dread it for the worst heat, humidity, yellow pollution, and roaches.

Like you, I live in the lap of luxury: two bedrooms, kitchen, office, living room, dining area, two bathrooms, air conditioning, three TVs with cable, furnished, etc. Nothing like the locals who sleep on the sidewalks at night because their cramped apartments are airless. While this causes some guilt, I do share local experiences -- mostly the bugs.

The singing of the cicadas in the heat of the day is entrancing. I hadn't heard such a buzz since childhood. We seem not to have cicadas in Canada -- or at least not in my part -- I miss the summer song.

Roaches are the smug survivors of nuclear attack. In the summer, my apartment is rife with them -- from the teeny babies I meet in the bathroom [where the hell are those damn parents?] to the furniture movers I meet in the living room, to the mid sized ones in the refrigerator [they come with the food and die in the cold].

I learned not to do certain things: not to walk barefoot at night; not to leave the suitcase, briefcase, or shoes on the floor; not to put bread in the toaster until you slap that thing silly to dislodge the night feeders.

I learned to ignore a lot of things I would never tolerate at home: the roach scuttling among the dinner plates at a buffet, or roaches crawling up the wall in your fav restaurant. If I can eat dog or pick out my own black scorpion to be deep fried, why be squeamish about roaches in restaurants?

I recall once being plunged into darkness because of a black out [not frequent in Shanghai]. So I got out of bed and sat on the living room sofa waiting for the lights to go back on. This wasn't a smart idea.

In darkness, I didn't see or feel anything crawling around. Only when the lights went on did I realize I was surrounded by some of the largest m...f...ers I had ever seen. My skin crawled. I almost wretched.

Furniture movers...big, brawney things without muscles. Each night when I went to bed I was sure I'd wake up to find the living room furniture shifted. And that stare -- an insouciant glare half between disbelief and mockery as if to say, "We were here first, who the f... are you?"

I don't know if Bangladeshis eat bugs the same way Asians do. When in Beijing, I avoid the midnight bug market [yes, it exists] to gnosh on deep fried larva or succulent moth cocoon on a stick. I was warned off of the grey pebble-like condiments that accompanied my BBQed beef in Seoul. They are larva that Koreans enjoy -- along with kimchi, hot peppers, and watching westerners try to keep lunch down. You wrap the meat around them and chow down -- not! My life as a bug!

The challenge of not bringing unwanted friends home!