You know you are in the tropics when the first discussion of the day revolves around cobras, and whether a check has yet been done at the factory construction site for their presence. And whether it is safe to walk the American the 800 yards to the site, or if it would be better to drive.
By American, they mean me. I work on a USAID project afterall and we all look the same really.
Just to be safe I am told. Not that that was in any way reassuring.
We did not meet any cobras at the site but we did run over one later in the day. Unavoidable really– it was either us crashing into oncoming traffic or kill the cobra. This upset the Buddhist driver immensely ….. I was personally relieved with his choice as to which of God’s creatures were to live another day.
Dengue is another scourge of the tropics, and it is a real threat. Especially in Colombo.
The dengue-carrying mosquitos come out in the day time and don’t make a whirring sound, so you have no idea they are around until you discover you have been bitten. There are other mosquitoes that rear their ugly heads at dusk and this variety cause more discomfort than anything else when bitten. Deet is the only reliable repellent, the citrus-scented treatments work for about 30 minutes and then you have to reapply, not really very practical. Even with deet, you have to reapply every 6 hours. With all this deet, I’ll definitely have grown a second nose or a third ear with all these chemicals I am applying to my body multiple times a day!
Mosquito nets are great in principle but for some reason in Sri Lanka, there’s never any good hooks or corners to hang the net, especially in hotels who all swear they are mosquito-free (when they are most definitely not).
I know, you have heard all this before, but there is a reason for the repeat. You see it’s the luck of the draw if a dengue-carrying mosquito finds the one spot of your body you missed and tucks into your tasty blood.
Luck wasn’t on the side of my roommate Maheshie who rather suddenly came down with a high fever, aching joints and no energy whatsoever a few weeks ago. Within 72 hours of the first symptom, the diagnostic test revealed she had dengue fever. There is no specific treatment for dengue, it calls for very close monitoring in a hospital environment with blood tests every 4 hours plus a whole lot of hydration. After a 6-day hospital stay, Mahehsie was released home with a recommendation of one full month of rest, followed by a further two months of keeping her life low key. I’m happy to report she’s making a steady recovery this past week.
Dengue really is serious stuff and certainly not something to be taken lightly! Everyone has some horror story to tell and depending on the level of dengue you happen to get, it can trigger internal bleeding, respiratory and neurological problems. Maheshie’s variety was not too bad in comparison but it still scared the living daylights out of me to be honest. It reminded me to be consistent in applying deet by day.
Fortunately the apartment in Colombo does not seem to attract mozzies all the way up on the 21st floor. By night the stuff just rubs off when sleeping so I have taken to bringing one of those plug-in mosquito repellents with me when I travel. In most hotel rooms I stay in, the mosquitoes “fall out of the sky” as it were after it’s been plugged in for one hour. Sigh. I’m monitoring for signs of that third ear, don’t worry.
The bane of our lives at the apartment is the presence of ants. Teeny tiny ants that delight in any leftover crumb and march up and down the countertops, no matter how much we disinfect and clean them. Every single solitary food item must be kept wrapped up in tupperware or ziploc bags, otherwise it is infested with the little buggers immediately. This is normal, everyone sniggers when I ask what I can do to be rid of them.
Fire ants are the worst, their bite is really more like a sting and it’s actually an ‘ouch ouch ouch’ moment when it does happen. We don’t have any in the apartment (the plus of being 21 stories high) but at the yoga place, I get bitten/stung nearly every class I take. The yoga studio is located in a wonderful old building with seasoned old wooden floors, tall ceilings and floor to ceiling french doors that open onto the veranda. Sounds beautiful huh?
But scattered through the lovely grounds are ant hills, dammit.
There’s no air conditioning in this lovely old building but fresh breezes and fans cool the temperatures somewhat … but do nothing to keep out the ants.
I have figured out the route the ants usually take and no longer place my mat by one of the french doors, but instead head for the centre of the room, away from walls and windows. You get less of a breeze but at least you don’t get stung.
A girl learns pretty quick you know.