Sunday, February 5, 2012

Living in the Third World, USA

I don't care how many times we read it or hear it--the word bedbug immediately sets off feelings of revulsion and disgrace. So what if they've been found in NYC's Plaza Hotel? If you find them in your living space, you don't tell anyone but your closest friends, do you? And then the news is broken in hushed tones. You watch the people you trust with that knowledge flinch, you see that tiny recoil, and congratulations! You've somehow-- in the back of your own mind, at least--become a pariah.

You can tell yourself they are actually less harmful than mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can kill you, while bedbugs can only make you pray for death. An exaggeration? No. Try switching on the light and finding a bedbug plump with your blood crawling across your high-thread- count sheets and then try to sleep after you've crushed it. Enough nights like that and the most sane people in the world will start thinking about the peaceful solution of an overdose.

Luckily I've only had one of those nights so far. In response to it, I've thrown away my wooden bedframe which the sniffer dog claimed was the insects' happy hunting grounds and I've taped the zipper end of my futon shut. I've washed my bedding and dried it on the hottest setting and my apartment reeks of borax powder and lemon oil and lavender. I still feel disgusted. The second treatment with whatever toxins are allowed in this country takes place this week, with one more to polish off the vermin. We hope.

A friend in Myanmar told me about a powerful poison she uses for bedbugs--it's legal in this country but only if you pay an exterminator. It's not for household use in the U.S. Fortunately my landlord is paying for my bedbug eradication. He says they've had a 100% success rate. Hope comes into play once more.

In the years I lived in Thailand, I saw traces of bedbugs in one hotel. One. I never lived in an apartment or house that had them--cockroaches yes, bedbugs no. In the last year or so, a number of tourists died in a Chiang Mai hotel of mysterious causes. Their deaths were rumored to be caused by breathing toxins that are now banned in many countries but are still used to kill bedbugs in Thailand. But that was in only one hotel in a country that has thousands. Who knows what really killed them? I'm beginning to think one or two tourists may be a small price to pay for a nation-wide good night's sleep with no visible scars in the morning.

In the U.S. bedbugs are found on city buses, in theaters, in the bindings of library books, even in clothing purchased from department stores. In Thailand I rode the cheapest city buses at times, took long distance sleeper buses and trains, bought second-hand books that had been left behind in guesthouses by backpackers, often bought clothing and shoes in street markets, frequented movie theaters and in the decade and a half that I lived or traveled in that country, had only one fleeting encounter with bedbugs. It took a trip to high-tech Malaysia to get me up close and personal with them, and my return to a country that regards itself as the world's greatest to have them become a fact of my life.

So far I'm lucky. I have few possessions and the ones I have are vermin-free except for my bed. I hope. It would be nice to have friends come over again or to lend someone a book without fearing that it may harbor bedbugs in its binding. It would be nice to have the same comfort in America as I had in the Third World.


Kristianne said...

Oh, Janet. I am wishing you & your home a speedy recovery.

Janet Brown said...

Tomorrow I'm going to buy an air bed and toss the futon, if there are signs of life tonight. Thank you very much, Kristianne.

Alison said...

I remember my time in Tacoma and the awful times that I had with fleas. I washed poor George and Sam until they twithced when they saw me coming (cats for those who may not know - or who may care to know) and Shadow ... well, she was a neurotic mess before the fleas. After the fleas? No amount of therapy could bring her back mentally. I remember crying in the middle of the night and getting pans of water with dish soap in them and then shining a bright light on the pan because someone told me that fleas can't swim. Some one lied. They do a great backstroke. It's all hell and I am sorry that you are going through this.

Janet Brown said...

Fleas with backstrokes should be illegal! I think throwing away my futon frame did the trick--although my fingers are crossed every waking moment.

Aiban said...

nice post

Ebriel said...

Oh no! So sorry to hear you've had to deal with them - again.

My favorite hotel in Lampang has had incidents with them. An all-wooden compound, it's the perfect breeding ground. The bugs of course have been left by wandering tourists.

Hurrah for cheap travel and global warming.

Janet Brown said...

Thanks, E--yes we do pay for our travels--and for wanting to have character in places where we sleep. My Chinatown apartment is in a building dating from the early 1900s. Fortunately the landlord is paying for the fumigation and it seems to be doing the trick.