Not being an entomologist, I find myself in that large category of people who find insects unpleasant, often gross, and generally threatening. It is amazing when I think about it how something as large as a human being can feel so threatened by a tiny living organism…but then often those tiny beings have fangs, or poisonous spines, parasites that threaten life, venom to inject into one’s system, or at least an annoying itch to deliver with accompanying welt!
We have many such treasures here in Kenya. For the most part, we have a truce between us – these tiny intimidating creatures and myself. But there are times with conflict arises, quickly escalating into outright warfare!
Take for instance, the common mosquito. I have always found mosquitoes very annoying but when we moved to Kenya, they have taken on a much more sinister aspect, as there are varieties of mossies (what many affectionately call them here) that carry diseases, such as malaria, which twice, dear hubby has had to battle. Not pretty. Not nice. So, I am fierce in my warfare with these tiny warriors! No mercy! The war with the lowly mosquito is waged pretty much every night in our home, with evidence of said battles visible on the floor, the furniture, the windows, every morning. What the spray does not eliminate (yes, these creatures often live through that fog of deadly mist and continue to harass you all night!) the all-night tablet that is vaporized at night at least keeps at bay. Many though, are the times when middle of the night hand-to-hand combat is waged with hubby trying to hide under covers to shield his eyes from the light and to ignore the noise as his warrior wife rages around the room with flip flop, rolled magazine, anything, to kill those suckers – eyes red with rage, with reaction to sudden light in the dark, and lack of sleep from the incessant threats being buzzed in her ears for hours! Who would have thought that something so tiny and innocuous looking could transform a mild-mannered, kind-hearted person into a raging maniac?
Then there are the Nairobi Eyes or Nairobi Flies. Whatever one wants to call them, they are a terror! Also tiny and innocuous looking (one could even say they have a perverse kind of beauty), these slim, long black creatures with the brilliant red stripe across the middle are wicked indeed. When threatened, they release acid…that’s right folks, acid…that eats into one’s skin, leaving itching, burning blisters that can take weeks to heal. These lovely beauties tend to come out in droves in the rainy season, so during that time, we have to remember that if we feel something landing on us, don’t assume it is a mossie and smack it. Don’t even brush it off. If you do you will be sorry! I had one land one night on my neck during a student end of semester party and absently brushed it away. Later, I wondered why my neck was itching so much. Finally, I looked into the mirror and saw the tell-tale blisters forming on my neck. Too late now. I just had to treat that ugly spot on my neck for 2 weeks, wanting badly to scratch the incessant itching, but knowing if I did, 1) it would spread and 2) it hurt to touch. No mercy for these guys either! If I see one, it is, grab a tissue (wadded up thickly so the acid does not reach my fingers) quickly grab the critter, squash down HARD, then toss in the toilet. No truces for the Nairobi Eye. Oh, the name? Many times when the creature lands on people’s faces at night when they’re asleep and they absently brush it away, they wind up touching or rubbing their eyes at some point with the acid on their fingers, causing a nasty blister in the eye area. Yes, nasty.
But, really, who can forget the scorpions? Yes, we have these lovely little guys here too…and they make my toes curl in anticipation (of a sting) every time I see one. We always collect our shower and bath water and recycle it for flushing toilets due to the dryness of our location and the lack of municipal water. Usually we find scorpions under the buckets containing the flushing water…waiting for our fingers to slip under the buckets in order to get a good grasp for pouring. One night I got up in the middle of the night for the usual business one does in the middle of the night, but Chip was in our bathroom doing the same business, so I went to the guest bathroom. I hate turning the light on in the middle of the night and there was sufficient light from the outside security lights that I could see my way around. In the bathroom, I stepped on something. I could feel it moving in the arch of my foot. I jumped away quickly, breaking my no-light-in-the-middle-of-the-night rule, and flipping on the switch. Immediately my adrenaline kicked into full gear and I went into combat mode as I saw the scorpion that only seconds before was under the arch of my foot, now seconds later, flattened and floating in the toilet. Thank God for small favors, though. The scorpions in our area tend to be rather small, being only the size of a dime, sometimes a quarter. Hubby and friends had to face scorpions in a more remote, hotter part of Kenya once, that were the size of his hand, with only a flip flop for arsenal!
I won’t go into our adventures with safari ants or flying termites or spiders of various kinds (for those adventures, see my 2019 blog entry called Life with Bugs) except to tell you about the promised spider story. In language school, I discovered one morning at the bathroom sink, a small black jumping spider with a tiny white dot on its back. I discovered that whenever anything tapped behind it, the spider would jump high while rotating 180 degrees in mid-air, landing facing whatever menace was behind it. It was so funny (and somehow seemed incredibly brave to me), that I decided this spider would have to live, rather than end up like most spiders did in my presence, not usually being overly fond of them. I adopted this cute little guy as my ‘pet’. To this day, Chip thinks I’m weird because I kept a pet spider in our bathroom. I usually found him every morning on the sink, waiting for me to play with him (I like to think).
I am continuously amazed at the variety and number of 6 and 8-legged wildlife here that seems to be missing in normal life in the U.S.A. When we first came to Kenya, I found this quite disconcerting at best and terrifying at its worst. But after 40 years living here, I have come to accept it as just part of life here. One has ministry mode… praying for, counselling, teaching and generally helping others of one’s own kind. Then there is combat mode where one turns warrior, inflicting all manner of damage on these little creatures, who have their own intimidating arsenal of warfare. It never ceases to amaze me. And the Battle with Bugs never ceases too. But I still prefer to not turn on the light in the middle of the night, unless I feel something move under my foot.