Every new day is another day in a continuing battle at our house. And each of us plays a key role to ensure that success is had before night falls. This war will last many years and will continue long after we have left this tiny island. Strategies and logistical patterns are noted and documented. Ample supplies are kept on hand at all times. Brave and bold hearts are necessary because the squeamish and weak will be quickly overthrown.
This is the great battle of the bugs and for a native Minnesotan, it’s about as bloody as it can get. It makes perfect sense that beautiful and large things grow and thrive in hot climates. There is plenty of sun and moisture and all of the greenery seems to feed off of one another. So, it comes as no surprise that in this type of climate where things grow so quickly and easily, the insects would do the same.
Living in Mauritius also very clearly demonstrates why in Minnesota nothing lives very long to ever get that big or juicy. In Minnesota and in Chicago, I always greeted the summer months with a new amazement each season. Even though the same cycle occurred each year, it never stopped to amaze me as everything that was frozen slowly de-thawed and became alive once more. The blast of heat that hits the mid-west each year always births a new generation of summer pests; but almost as soon as they make their debut, they quickly and most certainly die. Nothing seems to die here. The bugs just seem to keep getting larger, stronger, and faster…smarter.
I find it funny, now, to think back to the Sunday newspaper advertisements during the summers that would announce a new sale on some sort of bug zapper or mosquito killing machine. With names like the ‘Mosquito Terminator’ and the ‘Coleman Mosquito Deleto Inhibitor’, these weapons of choice are used to fight, what now seems, like such a short battle in such an über-aggressive way.
Perhaps, this is simply our style. Since the summer months are so short and pass by so rapidly, we feel a need to squeeze every drop of life out of summer and to run head-first, swords blazing, helmets tossed to the ground into combat. The beach towels will barely have a chance to dry out before the cold snap will inevitably hit again, taking with it any living creature not coated in fur daring to remain outdoors. We act frantically in an effort to feel success in the kill.
Our tactics here on the island are more subtle, but still deadly. At home, I have my French quartermaster. He ensures that our weapons supply of sprays, chalks, and smoking coils is never out. The daily tools for combat usually involve some sort of chemical or heavy shoe. The one-two punch technique works well for the larger crawling insects. A quick squirt of spray immediately followed by a heavy shoe will almost always ensure success. Acting without the chemical component may yield only a dazed insect that will not be afraid to show himself once more; and when he does, he’s usually a bit cheekier. He knows what you’re up to and he has adapted his war strategy.
At first, I was hesitant to use any sort of chemical product due to the various health warnings; however, now I quickly grab for a can of chemicals at first sight of any dark crawling object. I use only as much as needed and then ventilate the space. It seems odd that I would care about the dangers of chemical sprays now considering that when I was growing up, my parents used to practically hose me down with deet-laced bug spray before going outside to play. They do not appear to do any mass chemical spraying here on the island, at least not in our neighborhood; but given the recent frog deformities discovered in Minnesota, maybe this is a wise choice.
Growing up where I did, I consider myself a bit of a mosquito expert. I know when to douse myself in bug spray and when I can get away without it. I am all too familiar with that persistent buzzing sound so very close to the ear that only ever happens when you are in a dead, deep sleep. Since coming here, I have really only experienced a few bites which have not been that bad. They were never too itchy nor red or big. And they went away almost as quickly as they arrived. I think over the years I have developed a certain mosquito toxin level within my body which acts as a natural antibody.
The French expats, on the other hand, seem to be having a different sort of reaction. My Frenchman is attacked at night and has, at times, resorted to getting up to put on bug spray. Not something that you strive for between the sheets, but he does what he has to do. If I begin to get turned on by the smell of citronella, his course of preventative action may need to change. The mosquitoes never seem to bite me, only him. And when he does get bitten, the bites swell to an enormous, angry, red size. Some of his French co-workers are also experiencing the same reaction when bitten.
The mosquitoes here are of many different varieties, but there is one that, I think, is particularly nasty. He is known as the tiger mosquito and he is large and black with grey stripes on his body. He was also the responsible carrier for the chikungunya virus that was on the island a few years ago. The virus is no longer here, apparently, but they are finding it now in places, such as, Italy. The symptoms include a fever and some joint swelling which causes pain. It’s not usually fatal and there is no real treatment. Victims just need to rest it out.
But the thing that drives me crazy about these particular mosquitoes is the way they fly. The mosquitoes that I am familiar with fly in a very lop-sided, drifty, kind of drunk pattern. If you want to smack them between your hands, it’s not that difficult to do. But, the tiger mosquito flies extremely fast and, I swear, he knows what is going on. You really have to concentrate and try to establish his flying pattern before you can smack and kill him.
Shortly after moving in, I discovered our first cockroach. He was sitting in our bedroom on top of the curtain rod with his antennae moving around. I made the mistake of turning on the light which only made him scurry behind the curtain. After grabbing a broom, I returned to find him missing. What is worse than actually finding a cockroach in your home is having found one and then being unable to locate it. Where did he go and what could he possibly be up to?
The next day, we discovered him dead on our outdoor back patio. I don’t know what finally killed him. It may have been a lizard or it may have been a product that they use here that is known simply as ‘the chalk’. Our housekeeper and landlady told us to buy some because it would keep the ants and cockroaches out of the house. I had to go to a small local shop out of the way to purchase a few boxes. I have never seen anything like it in the States and the French expats here have not seen it in France.
It’s a white rectangular stick that looks exactly like a piece of chalk used to write on blackboards. You simply walk around your house and draw with it where you don’t want bugs coming in or where you’ve seen them in the past. I marked all of our window sills and made a huge rectangle around the patio. If we had children, I don’t think I would be drawing all over the place with it, but so far so good. It seems to be working and dead cockroaches will occasionally turn up on their backs.
Sometimes when we are outside, we will see the larger cockroaches crawling on the outside walls or along the outside fence. That’s when we hit them with the one-two punch. Cockroaches are one of my big squirm factors, and the ones here are pretty big, pretty dark in color, and pretty fast with the creepy-crawl. But since I’ve been living here, that fear has been slowly going away. There is only one me and probably millions of them. I have no choice but to take a deep breath, remove shoe, aim, and swat.
The daily battle tactics for mosquitoes and cockroaches seem to be working and have now become a regular part of our lives. There is one other pest, however, that warrants a much tougher resolve. The ant or I should say, the massive amounts of ants here, requite a diligence that I have never practiced before. If you leave one crumb, one drop of anything sweet or sour out on any surface, within hours, you will have a pile of ants. Guaranteed.
This lesson was learned in a most unpleasant way. We had just finished putting away the groceries from one of our first big shopping trips. I filled the sugar jar and left it out on the counter. We left the house and decided to hit the beach for a few hours. After returning, I made myself a cup of tea and upon lifting the lid of the jar, discovered a moving heap of darkness covering the sugar. Tons of ants were everywhere – in the jar, on the sides of the jar, on the countertop. They were making their way up to the countertop from the floor in an orderly line of traffic. There was definitely a rockin’ party in the sugar jar and word had apparently travelled fast.
Sometimes we’ll be watching TV or having dinner and we’ll notice a straigh-line movement accross the tile floor. It’s the ant gang on the move to some new locale or sweet dropping. The amount of white chalk marks can, at times, get a little out of control. The tile floors sometimes look like a bizarre arial map or Jackson Pollack creation. These sweet craving ants are very small and, of course, very fast. The only way to really control them is to practice extreme militant discipline when it comes to food. Sugar is now kept under tight lock and key.
They are stronger than us and they will be here for far longer than we ever will, but while I am here I will continue to keep up the fight.