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Rain & Bugs
By: Laura Vaughan
Tags: , , , ,
May 14, 2015

In contrast to the “will-this-never-end” heat throughout January and February in Moshi, March through May is wet and green. The brownish-red volcanic dirt is covered with grass and flowers almost overnight from the rains. Mount Kilimanjaro occasionally pokes its snow-covered head out from behind the clouds, but doesn’t come out again to play until June. Our neighbor called the rains in Moshi, “manly rains, not like the wimpy kind we have in England.” We laughed when he first said this while we were sweating in February, but after the first round of thunder and lightning in the end of March we were impressed. Macho-rain it was indeed.

In anticipation of the rains, every imaginable scrap of land is planted with something, mostly corn or beans, and just like food in Tanzania, very little is wasted. Along pathways, in front of houses, and next to ditches, every red patch of earth was put to use growing food. The price of corn and beans both went up in April because so many people were planting seeds. Alongside the road, people would be out in the fields with hoes working the land by hand, some singing while they worked. Spring had come to Moshi.

After the rains started, the temperature was still hot, but during the day the locals pulled out their sweaters and jackets. Our guard showed up for work wearing a women’s leather jacket with pink stitching at the start of the rainy season. We were in shorts and t-shirts. I started sweating just looking at him. As mentioned before, “water is life” so people didn’t complain even when it was absolutely pouring buckets. The villagers who had spent the last few months carting drinking water in plastic water containers strapped to donkeys could take a much needed break. But I complained, because the rainy season brought more bugs. Things in Africa just seemed to grow bigger than elsewhere on the planet. The elephants, giraffes, and animals are all healthily over-sized, and so are the insects. Tanzania had the fire swamp equivalent of “insects of unusual size.”

We would joke that Reid was being slowly eaten from his toes up to his head like a Shel Silverstein poem. He must have tasted the yummiest out of all of us, because it would be typical for him to have 10-20 scabs at a time from bug bites on his arms and legs. It didn’t matter that he wore bug spray and his clothes had the fancy fabric with repellent sown in.

Each night bugs would somehow sneak through the window screens into the house. Do they practice bug yoga to contort themselves through the mesh? I couldn’t ever figure out how they got in. We would diligently fix holes in screens and spray any suspicious crevices we could find. We used permethrin, citronella, and bought local bug sprays containing chemicals that had been banned in the U.S. since the 1960s. It was definitely not a silent spring for us.

There were four things that saved us during rainy season: geckos, bed nets, malaria pills and lack of a social life at night. The geckos were adorably small, and camped out in every imaginable place in the house waiting for flying tasty treats. Sometimes if felt like we were hosting a party on our walls. They were very polite, clean guests and would quietly hang out in the livingroom, the top of the toilet, and even around the outside of the tub while the shower was on. Tate kept trying to catch them and inevitably their tails would fall off and keep wiggling even if he didn’t touch them. When it would get 100% dark by 7:30pm, the kids and I would retreat under the mosquito nets in our bedrooms. We would be safe inside our nests reading, skype-ing, doing homework, or cooking dinner (wishful thinking) under the protection of the nets while the geckos patrolled the house.

The boys all took anti-malarial pills from March to May in Moshi. They didn’t even need reminding each night. We didn’t want to take the risk of getting malaria since we were there only for six months. It could definitely the spoil the experience and the point of the experience for the kids. So we all agreed that Malarone was a beautiful thing. It was $10 in Tanzania. Approximately 10% of the cost at home, with insurance. Most locals and many Europeans living in Moshi did not take anti-malarials during rainy season and would just tough it out. The attitude towards malaria was the same as the power outages and water shortages; “shit happens.” We all knew the symptoms to look out for, had a plan of which clinic we would go to to get tested if needed, and most people kept the treatment on hand at home. It felt like the fire drill at school, somehow the plan of what to do and where to go got drummed into you. Malaria pills and the treatment were very easy to buy over the counter in most pharmacies in town. My favorite was Artequin, but our neighbor’s favorite was Duo-cotexin. We had numerous debates over why one would be better over the other should the need arise. Duo-cotexin is not even approved in the U.S., so I was dubious. When several of Sam’s classmates came down with malaria two weeks after an early evening soccer tournament in Arusha and had to miss school during finals, we were glad that he had remembered to take his pills.

The lack of social life at night definitely helped avoid malaria. The mosquitos to worry about come out at night, and if you were home behind some sort of protection, it made for less of a concern. However, most Tanzanians do not have windows, much less screens. Most houses had only iron bars criss-crossing the windows and no glass. Mosquitos could fly right through. It was common for flattened cardboard or newspaper to be placed in window frames as a replacement for glass. For many locals, bed nets were theoretically all they had for protection, and most didn’t even have these; so it was common to hear of people getting tested or recovering from malaria. Maybe this is why the jackets came out with the rain. Smart. I think I would sleep in a down-filled anorak if it kept the mosquitos away.

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