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April 29th, 2007
I was ashamed. I couldn’t speak of my family’s problem. I was ashamed our home and all living things in it had been overtaken by fleas. My pets were in agony. Their soft bellies were bitten, bloody, and scabbed. The scratched constantly, and so did I. The fleas thought my husband’s midsection a delicacy; my ankles a treat.
Buddhists believe in the sacredness of every living creature including fleas, leeches, and mosquitoes. I try to live in harmony with the insects that appear on my walls and floors. Since we live with our doors open year around, we see a lot of bugs. I catch and release moths, beetles, geckos, and prehistoric bugs with long antennas that seem to be missing a head. I let spiders, large and small, fuzzy and shiny, live freely in the corners and crevasses of my home. However, I do admit I have issues with fleas. I have bitterness and malice in my heart towards them. I feel they have shamed me into feeling dirty, cheap and itchy. I have come to terms with mosquitoes – bats and birds eat them. I can even pick off a leech and throw it back in the lack or remove a tick and flush it down the toilet. But what purpose does the flea serve? Who bites them?
When I first moved to Costa Rica, I moved into a home that came with fleas. The dog that lived in the home before us never entered the house. He lived with the fleas in the bodega – storage area – under the house. In contrast, our dogs and cat had run of the house, in fact we were outnumbered. The fleas that had been hanging and hopping in the grass hoping to jump on a bird or the dog went into a feeding frenzy when we arrived. Our dogs brought, it seemed, gazillions of fleas into the house with them. The fleas had fresh blood and plenty of it.
I fought the fleas with every natural treatment I could think of. I bathed the dogs everyday with a mint shampoo. I had heard ants didn’t like spearmint gum, so I thought it was worth a try. I fed the dogs garlic – another sworn remedy. I washed everything made of fabric: rugs, towels, sheets, and clothes. But fleas laid their eggs in places I could not reach or fit into the washing machine (once infested with a bug, you get mighty familiar with their breeding and overall lifestyle habits). There was the sofa, the cracks between the wood floors, the grass in the front yard, and the plants in the garden. I felt defeated. The bodega under the house was sealed and the animals confined to the back yard.
We were diligent about putting a flea medicine on the dogs. However, in order for the medicine to work, the animal had to be bitten then the flea would die unable to lay her eggs. I began a nightly and afternoon ritual of picking fleas off, one by one, and drowning them in a glass of water. It was the only way I found I could kill them. I spread pink camphor oil on the bitten pets’ stomachs. We were outnumbered and couldn’t keep up. Nothing worked. We itched more, bled more and we began to look like we were living in 17th century England. My disgust turned into hate. We surrendered and called the exterminator.
A Volkswagon Bug, with ears and a tail stopped in front of our house. The car was paintedred and yellow and green and looked like Mickey Mouse. Two men in green jumpsuits carrying large tanks of, I assumed, toxic poison. No breathing thing, if itwanted to remain alive, could be in the house for six hours after the pesticide was applied.
We rounded up the animals. Outside, the men in green put on large bug-eyed chemical
masks and began to spray. Our maid, in the middle of pressing a pair of pants, stood with a look of dread on her face. I had no idea they would start so quickly. “Go.” I said. “Run for your life!” (or some lame equivalent in Spanish). She flipped the ironing board up with one swing, grabbed her bag, and left.
“We’ve got to get our of here fast,” I said to my husband. The three dogs hopped into the car. I leashed the cat and put her on the floor next to my feet. We left our house and all its belongings to two men that looked like creatures from a B horror movie from the 1950s and who drove a car that looked like a mouse.
The air conditioning in the car was broken. The cat panted on the floor, and the dogs wanted to jump out of the car or the front seat to play, or possibly torture, the cat. My disgust and hate towards the fleas turned to rage. What the hell were we supposed to do for six hours in the heat with four animals? The drive-through at the fast food place only took ½ hour. We kept moving. Driving kept the air moving through the car. The animals, including me, were kept at bay.
We returned to the house. A liquid path of killer flea poison was in every cupboard and ran along the floor. We secured the back yard and kept the pets there. Since we had had the dogs, all of which had fleas in the car, we now had to fumigate the car.
The fleas lasted about a week or two after the fumigation by team mouse. Scabs began to heal, the itching stopped. I have searched my soul and decided coming out in the open about our flea problem would be cleansing, freeing and help raise public awareness that fleas are not discriminatory – any skin color, socio-economic level, or species will do.
We licked our wounds for a while more. I grew through this experience, and I respect the fleas right to live, eat and reproduce on this earth, and I have no fear for their extinction. But this is a big planet, and they can do what they do somewhere else.Filed under Costa Rica, Expatriate Life, Humor, Life in Costa Rica, Living in Costa Rica, Susan Lutz (Carmichael) | Comments (3)