Grenada Chronicles Part I: Fly Hunting
Part tribal rain dance part drunken toddler wobble, the fly hunting crouch and pounce is artful in its gangly inelegance. Toe to tile, toe to tile, heels up, knees bent, arms wide and hands poised. CLAP. At our disposal is an arsenal of chemicals, both legal and illegal in the US, but most of the time, a twisted kitchen towel provides the right amount of speed, leverage, and surprise required for a successful kill.
You wouldn’t know it by glancing up the hill from Morne Rouge beach and seeing freshly laundered sheets drying in the southern wind, but there’s a quiet war going on here at Marisposa Residences, Apartment 2B. It simmers every day, all day, but it rages at the edges of daylight, when blood-thirsty mosquitos are feeling their boldest. There are no screens on our windows, which are open through rain and sun, all the time. Screens, we were told by the landlords, “keep the bugs in.”
First, we have the green incense coil, which supposedly smokes out mosquitos. It’s called Baygon and is manufactured in Indonesia, distributed through Barbados by SC Johnson, A Family Company, which is required by some country’s label laws or their own moral code to say this product should be kept out of a child’s reach. The active ingredient is .03% Transfluthrin (according to Google, a fast-acting insecticide with low persistency) and we are told that in case of accidental ingestion, medical assistance should be sought. We light these throughout the evening, giving our livingroom/kitchen a pleasant, bohemian musk that is assuredly excellent for our lungs.
Second, there’s the tiny canister of rolled fly paper that hangs underneath our one proper kitchen cabinet next to the stove. It gets changed every 3 or 4 days or when I’ve maxed out my tolerance for seeing black fly carcasses floating on ochre sticky paper in the corner of the kitchen. This is called Fly Ribbon and it’s made by a company, PIC, in Poland, which has apparently produced “Dependable insect and rodent control since 1953.” It boasts of no vapors or poisons, but it immediately kills flies as soon as they land on it, and not just because they’re rendered immobile. There are no active ingredients listed. Don’t touch it though, the yellow sticky goo doesn’t come off unless you spray yourself with aerosolized canola oil.
Then, there are the candles. The yellow, patterned, summer barbecue kind of citronella tear drops and oversized citronella tea lights, both of which blow out in the frequent ocean gusts that whip through the room, and the big squares of OFF-branded “outdoor only” (we used them indoors, naturally) citronella candles that are also, suspiciously, slightly poisonous. Again, all of these are excellent for our lungs. We light them as dusk settles us in a grey cloak of sticky humidity every day around 6:30 pm.
Our secret ballistic missile of the armory is the giant green spray can of Bop – there are three in the house and I hate them. Its active ingredients are listed as Tetramethrin (highly toxic to bees, fish, aquatic invertebrates, and amphibians, but apparently “ok” for humans in small quantities?) D-Allethrin, Cypermethrin (a fast acting neurotoxin for insects that’s unlikely to accumulate in the body), MGK 264 and Piperonyl Butoxide (both have no inherent pesticidal quality, but act as synergists that enhance other active ingredients). It’s made in Barbados and may cause nausea if used incorrectly. It makes the room smell like chemical death and requires that you vacate for 20 minutes, but it’s more accurately after about 24 hours that your nose stops tingling. The good news is that it doesn’t contain any CFCs, the can proudly claims with a bright yellow smiley face in the bottom right corner.
The large hotels and resorts fumigate once a week and cloud their common areas with a bop-like chemical mix and scent that lingers for hours. Guests are told to stay indoors for the 30 minutes of spraying. If you’re caught in the middle of it by mistake, you should close your eyes and hold your breath as much as possible until you’re in a climate controlled indoor area. Obviously, it’s quite safe.
Finally, we get to the 4 types of OFF bug spray in various strengths (they seem to have cornered the export market). I really wanted to like the hand pump DEET-free Family Care (“Clean Feel, not oily or greasy”), but it turns out it doesn’t work for shit. So we are left with the Active (15% DEET), Deep Woods (25% DEET), and Deep Woods Sportsmen (98.25% DEET) – which you should definitely not get in your eye, like I did the other morning. These all do a decent job of discouraging blood-sucking and render any perfume or shower-fresh smells you might have lingering on your skin absolutely useless. What’s that you’re wearing? Oh, this old stuff? It’s just Eau d’OFF – il est tres exclusif.
Why do flying pests require such extreme chemical eradication? The story is two fold. One – this one’s more vanity than anything else – they are gross and flies constantly swarming around your ripening mangos are just kind of disgusting. Two – every time a mosquito bites you, it’s injecting you with over 30 million years of evolutionarily-tested pesting expertise, or more specifically, a protein-saliva mix that prevents our blood from coagulating and elicits a quick immune response from our bodies, resulting in an itchy swollen bump that goes away once our white blood cells break down the foreign proteins. This saliva-protein deposit is why mosquitos can carry and infect humans with malaria, meningitis, or around here, Dengue Fever and the newly-found in the Caribbean, Chikungunya, viruses with lasting effects resulting in fevers and joint pains for months and even years after initial infection.
To ward off the itching and potential diseases, we do our insect hunting crouch and pounce, occasionally chasing flies around the house and clapping our hands triumphantly over them only to find they’ve thwarted our advances yet again. It’s a clumsy dance that can last for minutes and spontaneously arise throughout the day, no matter the music, no matter the company. It supersedes ALL other activities and there’s nothing quite as satisfying as that one in ten successful clap and gotcha. We surround ourselves with highly toxic chemicals, placing our own health above the flora and fauna on this beautiful, tropical island in hopes that we’ll wake up again with strong knees and elbows and body temperatures just 13.6 degrees above the ambient 85 so we can fight the good fight all over again.