Tuesday, January 27, 2009


For several months we all slept in hammocks as we had no floors or real furniture at all. It is very difficult to have furniture on dirt floors. Especially dirt floors in the jungle. There is so much humidity that anything left on the floor will quickly rot and mildew. Cement floors only helped to slow the process down slightly! I use to say that if I sat still too long, I would grow mold on myself!

As a home school science project, I had the children make a hand made barometer. The plan was to record the atmospheric pressure for several days. The problem was that once we made the barometer, the children quickly lost interest with the recording part. Due to the high humidity, the thing hit 100% immediately and never changed!

Hammocks were the only option left for sleeping. We all love hammocks so it wasn't a problem. For a short while we did set up small tents in the house and the children slept on foam mattresses inside the tents. I thought it would be safer, more protection from malaria. But it was too hot! And the foam started rotting! The indians knew what they were doing by using hammocks. Probably why they have lasted for centuries in the jungle...

One interesting thing about sleeping in hammocks in an indian style house, is that you rock each other to sleep! The poles used in construction are all attached to one another, so if you move in your hammock it causes the pole to move. Every time anyone moves, the entire house shakes.

After we poured the cement floor in our room, we decided to build a frame and fly out a water bed mattress. A regular double mattress was too wide to fit in the Cessna, so that meant a water bed .We had the frame built and set up as we waited for the mattress to be flown on. For one reason or another, it took nearly three months to get the mattress out to the jungle after we had the frame up.

We still did not have a water pump or water barrels at this time. That meant we had to fill the crazy queen size mattress up, bucket by bucket! Hundreds of trips down to the creek , then back up to the house with the water! It took a lot of buckets.

We never needed a heater on the water bed, which is a good thing, since we only had the generator on a couple of hours a day and did not even have a generator for several years. We used a thick mattress pad and that was all we needed since it was always so hot in the jungle.

The chief of the village thought our water bed was amazing! He would come up to the house and walk into our room just to push on the bed and watch the waves! Anytime someone visited from another village, we knew the chief would bring them up to the house to see our bed. We tried to get him to lie down on it once, but he said if he wanted to sleep on water, he would go take a nap in his canoe!

After we had our bed, the children started asking for beds. My husband had lumbered some wood in the jungle using an attachment to a chain saw called an Alaskan Saw Mill. He made each child a small bed and we bought the foam mattresses again.

They were all excited to sleep in their little beds up in the loft. They quickly tired of their new beds though. They said they were boring!

They said it was hard to go to sleep in a bed that did not move! My son even said it was "freaky" to sleep in a bed! He felt like a dead person!!! We always laid the dead out on a board for viewing before burial. He said lying on his back in bed gave him the creeps!

Needless to say, shortly there after, they were all back in their hammocks, happily swinging away as they rocked themselves to sleep.

When my son was checking out colleges to decide where he would attend, he inspected each dorm room to see if there was a possibility to hang a hammock. Unfortunately he did not find American construction of buildings to be very hammock friendly.Josh in Pemon hammock in California

Every few days, all pillows had to be taken out and put in the sun on the clothes line to "dry". This was the only way to keep them from mildewing. Even so, we changed pillows every few months.

We also slept under mosquito nets. We all had several bouts of malaria and dengue, except Jackie, who for some strange reason seems to be immune to malaria. And netting is also useful in keeping other undesirable things from crawling around on you in the night.

We combated malaria at all times. Sometimes we won, sometimes we lost. We fumigated regularly, kept sick people under mosquito nets, and treated those with malaria. Our village had the lowest rate of malaria in the entire river region. We also had the lowest infant mortality rate as malaria claims the lives of so many infants.

We did lose a few children and elderly to malaria. Usually when they came from hunting trips or travel and were already in an advanced stage by the time they reached us for help. It is very difficult to watch a baby's life slip away from a disease which is preventable.

We learned of the Neem Tree of India, which is a natural mosquito repelant. The leaves may also be used to prepare a tea which helps to kill the malaria parasite in the blood stream. When we began to see the resistant strain of malaria in our region, we were able to use this tea along with the drugs to help the patients get well. We imported several trees and were able to plant a few in the village. In our village, this is the only medication now available to them for malaria treatment as the government is not supplying them with medications nor helping with the fumigation.

I miss my water bed! I miss hearing my children sing themselves to sleep as they swing in their hammocks.

I do not miss the malaria or mildew!


Gringo said...


Kris said...

hi rita,

great post. so fun to hear about your life in the jungle...keep them coming.

Kathy said...

Wow! Amazing! How long did it take you to get used to sleeping without air conditioning? After you injured your back, how did it do on the waterbed? Would it be possible to sleep in a hammock if your back was bothering you? Does your son have a hammock now and if so, has he talked his wife into sleeping in it? Hope this isn't too many questions! Have a nice day and sleep well tonight!

Elephantschild said...

Did you guys have to deal with chloroquine-resistant malaria?

From '89 or so onwards, we had to take both chloroquine AND mefloquine.

I can *still* taste it!

Anonymous said...

And I thought I had it rough sleeping on a cot in a GP tent for a few weeks at a time. I don't see how you survived living like that for so long. For instance, didn't snakes slime in there into your house?

Brooke said...

I love hammocks, but I don't know if sleeping in one every night would be cool.

I love your story posts, JM!

Jungle Mom said...

Kathy dear,
I always know I can count on you for good questions!
We did not have AC in the city so it was actually cooler in the jungle at night than in town.
My back did ok with the water bed for a long time and only in the end was giving me difficulties. I can still rest in a hammock but do not think a full night in one would do me well.

Jungle Mom said...

Elephants Child,
We were developing resistance to the drugs in our area. We had manly Vivax which we treated with Arelin and chloroquine.My duaghter Jewel had several bouts of Vivax, I think 4 or 5.
We also had Falciparum and a very resistant strain sometimes causing problems for years. My son had this kind (it is cerebral) much more difficult to treat.
The taste never quite leaves you, does it?

Jungle Mom said...

It wasn't so bad, really! We 'mostly' enjoyed it. Yes, we did have snakes get into the house. As I recall, one under my bed, one under the washer, a bush master in the bathroom, one in the girls room, several in the palm roof. I am sure there were others. That's just the ones inside the house.

Liz said...

The pemon hammock is very BIG! and really beautiful... I've been meaning to buy a hammock for the balcony here in my caracas apartment.

Betty said...

Very interesting post. Again!
I tried to sleep on a water bed once, but it was too wobbly for me.
And a hammock is good for relaxing in between, but a whole night? No way. I admire that your kids are so adaptable!

Kristi said...

I enjoyed reading that post. I know you don't miss the malaria and mildew, but I do have a feeling you miss the people. Is there any way to communicate with them to find out how they're doing?


ABNPOPPA said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I was going to email you but I can't find it on your page :)

yes, it seems as though a lot of people have made some assumptions about what I do. Kind of funny actually.

I don't do the type of biology you might think :) but pictures of cool animals are always cool to look at. One could be a new species! then you might be able to have it named after you :)

feel free to email, should be on my profile :)

Jungle Mom said...

I removed your comment and am trying g to come up with a better opening line for this post. Any suggestions? I did not meant for to to cause such thoughts! LOL!
The Pelosi line was just too good, huh?

Pam said...

This made me cry! And when I scrolled down to that photo of your Josh, oh my, why did it touch me so??

Anonymous said...



gecko said...

I love the hammock Josh is on! I'd be quite happy lounging around on that. Did sound like quite an adventure.

ps I love the look of your new blog

Charles said...

Did you build a wet bulb / dry bulb thermometer to measure the humidity ? I had a build it yourself weather station kit as a child. Still use some of it today. What a great learning tool.

Here is a cool link for your readers if they want to do something like that.