[originally written for the JHR website]
Before I moved to West Africa, I was bombarded with warnings about the hazards I would face living here. Wild animals. Bugs. Malaria. Especially malaria.
Three months later I remain healthy and free of bite marks from large carnivorous animals. However that's not to say that I haven't had any interaction with Ghana's creepy crawlies.
I've had the odd tussle with the hard-as-rock Ghana chocolate millipede. These big bugs have hundreds of legs and curl into something resembling a fiddlehead when harassed. They seem docile enough, though I can't say I enjoy stepping on them in the middle of the night or finding them napping amongst my dirty clothes.
I also share my home with a collection of spiders that would make a natural history museum proud. The small ones I don't bother with, but those bigger than my hand I toss outside with a with an emphatic "Eeeew!"
There are other interesting critters too: Snakes that choose to die outside my bedroom window and the odd definitely-not-dead scorpion. I once found one in the kitchen, and after a healthy scream, squashed it with a cinderblock. I was amazed to see that that its tail continued to flick back and forth for about 30 seconds after the stoning.
I don't worry about the snakes and spiders and scorpions too much. What concerns me more is malaria and trying to avoid it.
Health experts will tell you that avoiding malaria is easy: don't get bitten by mosquitoes. What they fail to tell you is how to avoid getting bitten without living in a sealed bunker beneath the South Pole.
There are steps that you can take to reduce the risk. I take an anti-malarial pill daily which, hopefully, will shut down the disease should it enter my system. However this isn't a vaccine -- it only reduces the risk of infection.
Each day I do what I can to avoid being bitten by the little bloodsuckers. I keep the door to my bedroom closed at all times. My windows are covered with good screens and the room smells like an old tavern thanks to the daily burning of mosquito coils.
Every night before going to bed I cover myself with enough DEET-laced bug spray to ward off small animals and evil spirits. And still I get bitten!
The only thing I don't use on a regular basis is a mosquito net, although I have a good reason: there is a ceiling fan directly over my king-size bed.
The fan prevents me from hanging a net from the ceiling and the bed is so big that even if I could hang a net, it wouldn't cover the bed. Believe me, I've tried.
When I first moved into my house I decided that I could live without a ceiling fan (ha!) and tried to hang my fancy $50 mosquito net that I brought from Canada. Several temper tantrums later, the net was suspended directly over the bed. I accomplished this by tying it to one of the fan blades. Brilliant, until I accidentally switched on the fan.
After a few more tantrums, the net was again suspended over the bed. That night I burned my coil offering to the malaria gods, sprayed myself down with poison, and slipped under the safety of the somewhat tattered mosquito net.
I awoke several hours later, floating in a pool of my own sweat. While sleeping I had flopped about so much that half of me was resting outside the protection of the net, providing a tasty buffet for the little bastards.
I weighed the value of getting a good sleep with the ceiling fan against the health risks of contracting malaria. Sleep won.
I thought I could find another solution, but it seems that no matter what I do, I wake up each morning with bites. Some mornings there are only a few. Other days I look like I've got measles.
Here's the weird part: My two roommates, both Ghanaians, use no protection whatsoever and never get bitten. They think this is funny.
It occurred to me that maybe something else was snacking on me. Perhaps bed bugs -- or worse. I followed my roommate's instructions and hauled my mattress outside to give it a good spray of Raid (kills Dougs dead). Then I let it bake in the sun all day, hoping this would fry any remaining insect squatters.
In the evening I put the mattress back in the bed frame and gave it another spray of Raid. As an extra precaution, I used a treated mosquito net as a barrier between the mattress and the bottom sheet.
Later I repeated my drill with the coils and spray. I wore a t-shirt tucked into my underpants (a nice sight). Then I sprayed even more bug dope around my shirtsleeves and collar and re-treated my legs. I switched off the light, covered myself with a sheet and took the slumber train to Sleepyville.
The next morning I stumbled into the bathroom, peeled off my chemical soaked shirt and discovered at least a dozen big bug bites. I shook my head.
My next step is to call Michael Jackson to see if I can get a deal on his hyperbaric chamber. Failing that I may have to move to the South Pole and put up with a hell of a commute.