Wednesday, September 24, 2008


( A re-post for Hermit: The not -so-great-things about the jungle!)

Insects: In ,on, and under the skin!

It often seemed that while living in the jungle, one was at war with the entire animal kingdom. Fighting off "critters" would become a full time, never ending battle. No matter what you were doing or planned to do, the insects and other critters had to be taken into consideration. They devoured food,destroyed clothing, swam in your water supply, infected children...

All our dry foods had to be kept in large coolers (such as Igloos) with airtight seals. We ordered dry goods only once every three months and if not completely airtight, it would all be ruined in a matter of days. Not to mention the four footed furry vermin!!! or the bats...or snakes...

By far, the most dangerous animal in the jungle is the mosquito. The mosquito carries the dreaded malaria as well as yellow fever, and dengue. Any of these can, and do, kill humans on a regular basis. You begin to be aware of the mosquitoes living habits. You plan to not be out from under screens and nets between 5 -7 a.m.and 5-7 p.m. as this is when the mosquito is out and eating. You sleep under the mosquito net, not only to fight the annoying buzz of the mosquito, but also other flying insects... and bats...rats...snakes...

Another most annoying bug is the nigua. The nigua is everywhere. Due to the dirt floors and the constant contact one has with the dirt and with others who also happen to have niguas, you can never truly avoid this bug. Some refer to it as a burrowing tic, but it is rightly, a sand flea. It is almost impossible to see with the naked eye, but it makes itself known!!!

The nigua will burrow into any exposed skin, most commonly the toes, but also the hands and in small children who play on the floor, I have seen them on the babies bottoms. They must be removed. This is best done with a small thorn from a bush the indians use for this very purpose. I used a needle so that it could be disinfected. Another way to prevent them, is to step in kerosene daily. During dry season, I would keep a shallow pan near the door for this purpose. We also would wash our chancletas (flip flops) in kerosene. Kerosene has no lead so was safe to use in this way.

An indian boy was brought to us once who had both feet so infected by niguas, he could not walk. We had to clean and remove infectious tissue for several days. The Sanema of a certain village were so inundated with niguas, that every member of the village could show you scarred and missing digits from their feet, caused by niguas.

Another common problem was scabies. Yuck!!! So many babies with scabies. I concocted a body shampoo, of sorts, for my family to use regularly in order to not be infected. Part of this shampoo was a dog shampoo. Sounds gross, I know, but ever so much better than scabies. I would say that we saw patients with scabies at least once a week. It is difficult to treat because it also infects clothing and bedding. And since several people share the same hammock...

With the dampness of the rain forest climate, fungal problems were also a concern. You had to stay dry! If you sweated, or were rained on, you had to change to dry clothing quickly or you would end up with rashes and other issues. Closed in shoes were not a good choice for daily use. I have seen a lot of newbys come into the jungle wearing leather military type boots or rubber mud boots, HA!! You knew they would be by asking for medical attention soon. Sandals and plastic flip flops are a much better choice as they can be treated and dried quickly. I have seen some severe cases of athletes foot! Many fungi respond well to being treated with white gas. We had to constantly come up with economical, yet safe, treatments for common problems.

The constant rain caused a lot of difficulties with clothing. Very hard to get the clothes dry. Many a time, I have had to re-wash all the clothing as it began to mildew while on the clothes line. We often would have everything in the house drying and yet, it would remain wet and begin to smell. When we arrived in town, our clothes smelled rank and mildewy. Eventually, we would keep city clothes in town and jungle clothes in the jungle. I was so happy when Febreeze became available in Venezuela!!!

Parasites were another problem. Dysentery type illnesses were common and we would have to de-worm the entire village every so many months. Since they share a common eating and drinking gourd, when one was ill, all were ill. When ever we ate with the people, we would suffer for a few days with stomach ailments, but we seemed to slowly grow more resistant to the bugs and were able to eat with less problems each year.

Culturally, the Ye'kwanas share gourds and when offered a drink or food it is very rude to deny it. It is the worse possible insult to not take part in the meals. A girl would serve you a large pot of yucuta, made from casava, and you were required to eat or drink it all. You could swallow it and spit it out, but you had to finish the pot. Vomitting it up was NOT rude and much preferred to returning it unfinished. In the common round house, you had to be careful where you stepped as much vomitting is normal. All of this makes a wonderful breeding ground for more parasites!!!

The other problem that was a daily battle was the head lice, as everyone is infected. In the evening, the indian family will sit around and de -louse one another. I am sure you have seen the pictures where they appear to be eating the lice. Actually, they are only using their teeth to kill the lice. If they only remove them and toss them to the ground, they will be back. It is a sign of affection to de-louse someone.I remember my youngest daughter would play at de-lousing her dolls. The indians thought that was so sweet, what a good little mommy she would be!!! We used the same dog shampoo, weekly, in order to not get the lice.

On occasion, it was inevitable and one of the children would end up with lice. The quickest way to get rid of the problem is to cover the head in cooking oil, pop on a plastic shower cap for 24 hours, and then, shampoo out. The oil will smother the lice and even penetrate the nits and end the problem with one treatment.

So many bugs...

My husband became infected with onchocerciasis. This is from the bites of the black fly and can lead to blindness. It also caused some severe itching which he suffered with for years, until finally able to kill the disease completely. The parasite, once in the blood stream, can live for 10-15 years. It causes raised bumps under the skin which are colonies of eggs. Very difficult to treat. There is a large portion of the Sanema tribe of Venezuela who are going blind as I write this, entire villages infected and not receiving treatment. It will eventually cause lesions upon the eye itself and is painful. You can even see the larvae crawling along the inner eye, just under the sclera.

I could go on and on...

We saw some insects that made me think of aliens. I am sure there are a few undiscovered bugs we saw. But the other bug that was a problem was the army ant.

Now, this is no ordinary ant! These ants would come out of the jungle, swathing through everything. The largest group I saw were about 4 feet across and walked through the village for an entire day. They eat everything in their path and you can not stop them. Not by water, fire, nothing. You must get out of their way and remove anything organic you do not want to be eaten. The indians tell stories of babies being eaten while asleep, as these ants would march by.

These ants will cross creeks and rivers by making boats of large leaves. Very freaky!!! You can hear them coming in the distance as they eat. Chomp! Chomp! We had to cancel classes a few times while we waited for them to walk through our class room. My kids loved that, as we had no snow days, so they loved Ant Days! There is even a hot sauce the indians make from ants which my husband eats and enjoys. But, my daughter prefers termites! Easily accessible at night while attracted to the inside light, all one must do is scrape them off the window screen and pop them in the mouth. Our screens became the fast food joint for many children!!

And of course, the infamous 24 ant. Yes, it exists. It is a large, black ant measuring a good 2 inches or so. It not only bites with pincers but stings with its wasp like tail. It feels as if it tears skin away while biting and does cause slight bleeding. The toxin it injects with its stinger is like liquid fire and quickly causes the entire muscle area where bitten to burn for several hours, thus ,called the 24 ant. It wont kill you, but for 24 hours you will wish it had! And yes, I am speaking from experience! (And my children had better not tell any more details about it!!!!)

Although controversial, we treated many snake bites and 24 bites with electrical shock. We had a small ammo box which was converted to a kit. Inside was a small magnito attached to a handle outside which could be cranked to produce a small, high voltage low amperage shock, similar to a taser. Leads were attached on either side of the bite. This only works on certain toxins and must not be used except on extremities. If applied quickly, it greatly reduces the swelling involved in most bites and we have seen it used this way several times. It changes the molecular structure of the toxin.

I haven't even mentioned spiders...

I remember reading the Apostle Paul's book of Romans while dealing with a bad case of niguas and seeing it in a whole new light.

Romans 12:1

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

At times, I felt as if my body was a living sacrifice! Being consumed daily by the critters!

Roaches and chagas deserve a post of their own!


Kris said...

what a great read. i wonder if i would have the fortitude to live in a jungle and go through the things you mentioned in your post.


Ken, Christie, Camille, Caroline said...

Wow. It's impossible to find words to comment on this one.... You are a brave, rare woman. I can't begin to imagine what your reward will be in heaven.

PS-Gotta get your recipe for lice repellent. ;)

Gringo said...

Fascinating narrative.Never a dull moment. You did not engage in self-pity, pining for the nearest Safeway/Publix/A+P but figured out what had to be done to survive, and did it. Were there a rampaging Moose in the vicinity, you undoubtedly would have figured out what to do about it!

And the other thread shows that even in the critter-infested jungle, there was much to get attached to.

In the American frontier, in the jungle, in Alaska and other places, marriages were/are partnerships in survival. Each half brought/brings necessary skills into the partnership. The feminist narrative doesn't work in such places. The children vs. job conflict doesn't apply, because 1) survival is at stake and 2)the full-time job is survival. As soon as they can, the children help contribute towards survival.

Now that you live in the relative luxury of Asuncion, you may have the spare time to become oppressed.

BTW, there are plenty of insect and parasite critters in the Chaco, if you ever pine for some "action." Though being drier than the jungle, not as intense. However, I judge the Chaco to beat the jungle in terms of thorns.

Jungle Mom said...

You need to start a blog! I bet you have great stories!

Anonymous said...

Sounds right. The Jungle is not a benign environment for troops, seems like it is not very sparing of missionaries either.

Betty said...

Who is this gringo guy? He is so right about the thorns!
This was a very interesting post!

firepig said...

jm..good morning.Thoroughly enjoyed the post.

Fascinating about the ANT Days !Do you have pics?

I also find it super interesting abut the snake bite cure.

Some of it sounds like a super exaggerated version of Caracas but there are strange differences as well: especially the Ants.

A friend of mine used to go to the end of the road from Pto. Ayacucho in edo Bolivar to stay with an Indian chief called Captain Bolivar and his family.As a souvenir she would bring me back some hot sauce made with Bachacos....did you have any thing like that where you lived, and if so did they use it to protect themselves from mosquito bites?I heard that hot sauce makes the skin repellent to mosquitoes.

Sis. Julie said...

Wow!! We sure do forget about all the critters and such that y'all have to deal with. Most of those that you mentioned I either had never heard of or had never thought of. When I think of the jungle I think of tarantulas (or other deadly spiders) and snakes. Those are bad enough but the other critters you all have to deal with I just never thought about. A person would definitely have to be called of God to go to a place to deal with such things. You all are in my prayers!!

Jungle Mom said...

firepig, yes, we did have the bochaco hot sauce. and yes, they use such things as repelant. Also, eating lots of garlic seems to discourage the bugs, and humans! LOL!

Brooke said...


I'm FREAKING OUT just reading this!

Findalis said...

Great post. I never thought of that with head lice. My neighbor's son had them and her solution was to shave his head. Took care of the lice and nits.

Anonymous said...

This was so well written, I'm starting to itch. Honesly, you have my profound respect and admiration!

Wow ... just wow.

Semper Fi

Subvet said...

And I've been griping about fire ants since moving to Texas. Think I'll just go sit in the corner and shut my mouth.

cube said...

I enjoyed this post even though it made my skin crawl. It makes me thankful that there are people braver than I who can do what you do.

theotherryan said...

That was very interesting stuff to learn!