Here, if a bug doesn’t move much, it’s safe. We have little flies with triangular black wings that just hang out on the wall all the time. They don’t move, or buzz, or bother you, or bite. If you want, you can kill them, but…really, why bother? Likewise, the spiders. They’re skinny little things that sit in the same place for weeks at a time, probably waiting for the flies that don’t move to find their webs. Very few spiders here have any size to them, and very few of them scurry across the floor. So, you can mostly ignore them, cleaning out the cobwebs occasionally.
We do have cockroaches, but they’re honestly quite small; I’ve seen bigger roaches in Baltimore. Of course, if you don’t do something about them, you end up with *lots* of small roaches in your kitchen, and that’s not fun. So, we should probably clean more often than we do. Last year we were spoiled to have Teresa living with us, and she would clean the house on her free day. This year, Guni helps us with the cleaning once a week, but we should still do better. We put out roach traps, but they didn’t seem to work. In tropical places, you’ll have roaches no matter what you do, but I’d rather have fewer of them, thank you very much. I don’t want to see a roach scurrying away every time I open a drawer or cabinet.
The ants are tiny, and mostly stay outside. We get more of them during the rainy season, but they don’t cause any problems. Much more annoying are the house flies. They are both lazy and persistent. The kids are mostly resigned to them, not even shooing them away, because if you do…they only buzz around and land on you again. Next time I’m out, I plan to buy a plastic flyswatter if I see one on the street. Even more annoying are the mosquitoes. We have a lot right now, so it’s a game to see how many you can kill during the day, so they won’t bother you at night. It’s hard to sleep with a mosquito buzzing in your ear! But oh so satisfying to smash them against the wall. We have something we can burn if we are out on our porch to help keep them away. At least we don’t have to worry about catching malaria; at this altitude, those mosquitoes can’t survive. It only matters if we travel south into the Rift Valley; the Ziway volunteers have to deal with that. Also in Ziway, they have giant flying…crickets. That would freak me out if they were in my house, but here, we don’t seem to have them. We have regular crickets that are a bit noisy, but stay outside in the grass.
The most annoying bugs, though, are the ones that infest you: lice and fleas. Lice are of course not fun, but quite straightforward to get rid of. You wash your hair with lice shampoo, comb it out with a fine tooth comb, and wash your sheets. Most volunteers here get them a couple of times a year. The kids have a harder time getting rid of them, since they might be sharing their bed with siblings who have them, and…yeah. Also, showering once a week (like our KGs do here) can’t really be good for that. So often they solve the problem by shaving their heads when the lice get too bad. Fleas are much worse. They’re hard to get rid of (even if you wash all of your bedding and clothes in hot water) and their bites are itchy. One flea can bite you repeatedly, leaving a track of bites on your skin. The fleas really like Marcy; at one point, she counted 100 flea bites on herself! In America, we have dog fleas. Here in Ethiopia, we have human fleas. They are well adapted to preying on their unwilling hosts. Fleas… jump. And once they do, you can’t find them any more. So even if you see the fleas, it can be very tricky to destroy them. They’re worse during the rainy season, for some reason.
HOW TO KILL A FLEA:
You wake up to the sensation of something crawling on your arm. Knowing what it is, you reach for it with your other hand without looking. Once you feel you have trapped something under your finger, you have to kill it before it escapes. You may very carefully trap it between two fingers. At this point, an amateur would sit up and look to see if there is a flea captured between your fingers. Do not give into this temptation! If you open your fingers enough to see what is there, you will give the flea the opportunity it has been waiting for. It will jump… and get lost in your bed. Now you will know you have a live flea in your bed; good luck falling back asleep. No, the experienced person will get out of bed and walk to the bathroom sink before checking to see what you have captured. Now, if the flea escapes, you can still kill it, and at least it’s not in your bed. Fleas are not easily squashed. Mosquitoes are fragile, dying with the slightest impact. Not so the flea. It must be crushed…squished…torn apart, using a hard surface. It may be crushed against the tile floor, ripped in half with finger nails, or smashed against the porcelain sink. A dead flea is a beautiful sight; those powerful jumping legs stick out just like the pictures on the bottles of bug spray they sell for cleaning up after a pet.
Preventative efforts are worth it; taking showers in the evening and washing clothes and bedding frequently. Presumably bug spray would be helpful, though I don’t think it’s healthy to spray DEET on yourself every day. But no amount of prevention seems to keep these pests away all the time. For longer term residents, the frequency of flea bites grants some acclimation. After a couple of years, the bites don’t itch so much. For one year volunteers…there's anti-itch cream. Keep Benadryl next to your bed, and you won’t scratch all your bites open.
And as the Ethiopians say… Izosh. (It means something like ‘be brave, be strong’ and can be used in myriad circumstances, from stubbing a toe to the death of your mother; the masculine form is ‘Izoh’)