La cucaracha, la cucaracha,
ya no puede caminar
porque no tiene, porque le falta
las dos patitas de atrás.
The cockroach, the cockroach,
can’t walk anymore
because it doesn’t have, because it’s lacking
its two back feet.
I grew up in rural southern Oregon on five acres. The Williams Creek is a meandering, wandering salmon tributary in the summer that turns into a raging torrent in the winter months; the Creek bisects the property serving as a focal point of my and Doug’s adventures. We had a barn with hay bales to jump off and a huge garden with rows of weeding to accomplish and slugs to kill. Like all good country living, we had a revolving cast of animals. We had cows to eat and one to milk, pigs, a pony that was inevitably switched-out for a horse when my legs grew too long, honey bees, dogs, cats, ducks, a crazed goose that use to chase me and bite my inner thighs, and yes, even chickens! One of my favorite summer activities was finding worms to throw to the chickens. I could spend hours searching under rocks and pieces of wood. We had mice in the barn and in the house; hence the squadron of cats. When the mouse population became a little too apparent, we’d introduced a natural predator; the lucky cat got to stay inside a night or two and the mouse population would be reduced to a more manageable level. Cat caught a lizard and presented it for praise? It’s wounds were treated with neosporin and the lizard was released back into the wild with a healthy head-start over the pursuing cat. Spiders were determined a good thing because they caught flies; no squishing of eight-legged arachnids in our household or girlish screaming. Crickets that ended-up in the day basement were gently caught and released outside. You see, bugs, rodents and the like have never really bothered me, rather, I’ve always been a bit fascinated with the complexities of their segmented bodies, multitudinous eyes and legs.
So what does all this have to do with anything about living Jakarta? Nothing, except I’m making the case that I come from hearty, country-living stock that is not squeamish around bugs and household intruders of the four, six and eight-legged variety. There are no histronics from this girl when a mouse dashed across the dining room floor at the local dive “Joy Cafe” we’re eating at. So what that it came from the direction of the kitchen? I’m sure our food was safe. I was amused while watching a little mouse dance around the tiled floor at school as it fled from the cleaning staff, and felt a twinge of sadness when the inevitable mouse trap was set under the stairs outside my office. The little centipedes that vigorously skitter across our apartment floor have become favored pets, especially since they’re reputed to eat mosquitos though I doubt this is true. But what I truly hate and despise in this country are two incessant intruders; ants and cockroaches.
Since our arrival, I had been diligently keeping the kitchen counters clean and free of food bits that might tempt these invaders. We have a maid that comes twice a week to do laundry and clean, well, she kinda cleans but that’s another conversation. Food in the cupboard is in airlock tupperware, in ziplock bags or is canned; anything sweet like syrup or brown sugar is tucked safely away in the refrigerator. So you can imagine my angst as the ant population not only expanded with surprising speed but they grew larger. Although I hate spraying poison in the house, we broke down and bought some; I would spray a line of death along the floors but that still didn’t seem to do the trick. I noticed that they had moved to the kitchen table when I would be bitten as I sat at my computer working on my classes. They would march down the living room wall and bite us as we sat on the couch. I squished and sprayed and wiped to no avail; I was fighting the fight but I was losing, big time. Then it happened. We were infiltrated by La Cucaracha..cockroaches.
I don’t know where they came from or why but one day we were cockroach free, and the next they were crawling in and out of the cupboards, across the kitchen table and rapidly multiplying. I squished them between paper towels before throwing them in the toilet until someone told me that squishing them was most likely bursting their egg sacks and scattering the eggs. Direct hits with bug spray was messy and slow; I guess there’s a reason why they’re suppose to withstand nuclear blasts. I finally caught a medium-sized one in a tupperware container and sent it to school with Greg to present to the person in charge of our housing. I dreamed of a legion of men bursting through our apartment door wearing hazmat suits with litres of bug spray strapped to their backs ready to fumigate our apartment and the entire ninth floor. A girl can only dream. What I got was three guys with some ant chalk and a bottle of Raid. Who the hell has ever heard of ant chalk, anyway? I held back my disappointed tears and dutifully let them in to draw lines on the floor and spray the cupboards. They managed to kill a few ants but the cockroaches hid in the walls until they left.
Later that night, as I was working on homework at the kitchen table, I noticed a line of ants on the floor. I followed the line up the wall and along the seam of the ceiling, behind the wall of mirrors (it’s an Asian apartment) into the living room and down towards Greg’s head. There were literally hundreds, perhaps thousands marching in lock-step. “Look!” I pointed with horror. I was quite literally at the end of my ant/cockroach rope and I think Greg could sense I was one more ant-bite away from a bug-induced melt down. Greg swung into action like a five-star general; this was war and he was going to win. With a can of Raid in one hand and the other covering his mouth, he sprayed a thick line of poison through the seams of the entire apartment; along the floor boards, across the mirror, the gap between the door and apartment, where the walls meet the ceiling, behind the refrigerator and washing machine, and underneath the cupboards. Greg sprayed like there was no tomorrow, and for the ants, there was none. He nearly emptied that entire 40% more bottle of Raid in one go. Satisfied that the air was properly saturated with poison, he grabbed the box of ant chalk and chased the little buggers along the walls, drawing circles around those that tried to make a break for it…it was a massacre on a major scale. I had retreated to the bedroom by this time but when I awoke the next morning to thousands of little bodies scattered along the floor and countertops, I rejoiced. The cockroaches took a big hit too, and while I still find the occasional bugger running across the countertop, they are not nearly the same size or quantity as before.
The moral of the story? Poison in our friend, at least in hot, humid Jakarta; use it early and use it often. Greg is now in charge of the killing in our apartment and I’m happy to leave him to this task.
I don’t have any pictures of La Cucaracha, but I do have a picture of the mosquito larvae that I discovered growing in our insta-hot water dispenser cup. Imagine my horror when I discovered this wriggling mass of larvae… Dengue Fever anyone?