Ode to Bugs

Charlotte Kaufman - Ecuador


November 8, 2013

In reference to a previous blog post, I have decided to create a list of the various bugs I have directly encountered during my first week in the Amazon…

First, there are the mosquitos. I never really see or hear them but they make themselves noticed through the hundreds of bites I have all over my body.

‘Bichos’ or ‘Isangos’ are next. They are red and almost invisible, but the bites they leave enflame to about four times their size. They seem to be everywhere because they nest in your clothes, leaving you deliciously freckled with red, bumpy, itchiness.

Tarantulas- fuzzy and friendly really. One said hello to me on my shoulder the other day as I was was wheelbarrowing dead leaves. I gently brushed him (her?) off. Another, about the size of my stretched-out hand, joined me in the shower. They make for good company. I haven’t encountered the poisonous type yet of course.

Two other types of spiders- One very big, but not fuzzy, that enjoys perching just above my bed to wish me sweet dreams as I try to fall asleep. The other kind is microscopic and brown. It dwells mostly where food has been.

Ants- There are more types of ants than I can count but the three I have encountered the most are: 1.The kind that is just everywhere. They are small and black and are good living room decor. 2. The kind that is yellow and lemony eat them out of the bulb of a plant for good health. 3.The kind called the conga ant. It is the largest ant in the world (longer than the diameter of a quarter). If it bites you, you are doomed to terrible sickness for over 24 hours.

Termites- They nest in wood; preferably rotting wood. It is recommended to break off a piece of their nest, let them crawl all the way up your arm, and smash them on to your skin as a form of bug repellent.

Cockroaches- They seem to like my room a lot. Also, the inside of my shoes.

Lice- All of my family members have lice. It is a pleasant afternoon activity for the ladies to sit by the river and pick through each other’s hair.

The list continues…

At first, I was just going to post a simple list of insects as my blog. I wanted to express my frustration with these bugs which were becoming a huge problem for me. I had been losing patience and was overwhelmed by the amount of bites all over my body. They were a constant bother and something I couldn’t get away from. I had tried to tackle the scratching with countless US ‘anti itch’ creams, but all to no avail.

One night, however, my host mother caught me scratching my legs until they bled. She quickly sat on the floor and pulled up the sleeve of my pants. I was a little embarrased about the state of my legs but as I watched her rub menthol all over them, I felt a wave of relief. I was relieved because she was concerned for me. What had been such a problem, was now out in the open and being taken care of.

The next day, my host mother came up to me with a simmering pot of leaves called ‘Chiriyuyu’. One by one, she pulled the wet leaves out of the water and squeezed them on my wounds. She said it would help with the scarring and sure enough after a few days, the skin had sealed.

A couple weeks ago, the inevitable happened and I got lice. After the numerous shampoo treatments, my host mother proposed that I cut my hair and without any real consent, she grabbed the scissors from the counter and snipped off 5 inches of my hair in no more than a minute. For the past ten years of my life I have had long hair. Now I have short hair and look different. But, I don’t feel different, because I no longer care. I simply feel lighter and freer as I slowly let down my guard. And, as I say goodbye to useless products, past superficialities, my hair… I am able to embrace the methods and values of my new community.

In honor of this new mentality, yesterday, I ordered my first batch of ‘Chontacuros’ from a local tienda. They are giant worms which come in threes on a stick off a grill. I savored every one of them in their juicy and crunchy splendor. So all I have to say to the bugs now is: You may be biting me and may continue to bite me……. BUT I WILL BITE BACK.

Charlotte Kaufman