Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Entomology 4 Gringas

I have become like the hunter.

Because in this world, it's all about survival, and in this world, it is self against nature. It is the most timeless theme, man vs. nature, the struggle to conquer or be vanquished. And here in the wild tropics, the theme and the threat are larger than life. So immense is the danger presented by the elements in lands close to the equator, that they have come up with a term that describes the hapless writer's reaction to it: Tropicalization. The sweet siren call of liquid gold sunsets, crystal blue breakers and the saturated green of the rain forest gives way to the cruel extremes of weather and nature. It is a truly perilous journey that I now find myself on, but I can feel myself adapting, out of necessity, out of instinct, out of that clawing, scraping raw desire to live.

Because, after all, it's me against the bugs.

I have developed, through trial and error, methods which limit my interaction with these small enemies. I make sure that as few things as possible cluttering my floor so that my perimeter checks to ferret out corner lurkers and shadow squatters are smooth and quick. I turn lights on before entering rooms and block cracks whenever possible. Luckily the weather has cooled off and I can keep the slatted windows near my ceilings fully closed at all times to limit entry points. I know to look in my sink immediately upon entering the bathroom because there is a centipede that resides in the drain that, unless I'm prepared, tends to startle me (It's actually really funny, he can't quite make it up the sides of the slick sink and so his little legs, of which he really only has 40, work tirelessly to achieve nothing).

My senses have sharpened as well. I know, now, the rustle of the cockroach. I immediately become aware at the slightest buzzing sound. Flies have a particular, familiar buzzing, but there are all manner of new bugs here which I am not familiar with. I can spot an ant on my floor out of the corner of my eye, even though the floor tiles are speckled, and often try to trick me.

I have three different repellent methods of different strengths which I employ to keep bugs out of my bed (which is really the only objective, as I can easily deal with them when I am fully awake during day time): dryer sheets (work well, though not perfectly with mosquitoes), OFF with DEET (work better with mosquitoes), and not showering.

I have learned to live with some, and I think the bigger bugs have come to realize the zero-tolerance policy that is enforced within the confines of my room, and oddly, with cockroaches.

Long have I pondered our repulsion and hatred for cockroaches. To watch one, trapped and still, in a corner during daylight, they aren't threatening or repulsive really. Some are thinner with hard, glowing mahogany shells. Some are fat and striped. All have those long, elegant feelers that gracefully dip and reach. They aren't venomous, and hardly ever bite. We fear spiders because of their danger and their propensity of munch on human flesh. We abhor mosquitoes for their obvious taste for human blood, and also because they make us itch like the dickens. Could the reason we hate cockroaches be solely a societal construction? Could we only hate them because, they eat our trash instead of our flesh and so tend to be found in places that we associate with filth? (Which of course leads to disease-carriers, but so are flies and we don't, generally, shudder at the thought of a fly.) They are big compared to other bugs, but small compared to us. So what exactly is it about these creatures that causes girls to squeal and boys to cringe.
It could be that peculiarly loud skittering sound they make, and ominous indicator of their unseen presence. It could be the sickening sound they make when killed which is too loud to allow their death to pass by casually as it does with so many other bugs. Or it could be the fact that they are FAST little bastards that, the minute they are scared from their disturbed little corner, take off in crazy circles, like a five year-old at the wheel of a Cadillac who can't see the road ahead and who knows WHERE they will end up, except we're all pretty sure it'll be on our bodies somewhere...

And so I'm learning. Learning to stalk, not silently like a jaguar, but with as much scary, ground shaking noise as possibly. Learning to appreciate the smell of roach-killer (as I have become hardened to bug-death by my life among the creatures). Learning to sleep without cocooning myself in my sheets. For the most part...

In other, completely unrelated news: What with the coming of the rains, days here feel like the opposite bend of the season, the one which takes us into the throes of winter. I awoke this morning to the rain, cool and fresh and comforting. And it turned out to be a very good day to listen to The Cure and to delightfully apocalyptic Eastern European romantic music composers.

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