August 19, 2014

Creepy Crawlies

First night in the D.R.

Once, after I had just moved to my community, I thought there was a rat under my bed and I had difficulty falling asleep. In the morning I investigated and couldn't find anything. I told my host-family and they all laughed. They said it was probably just a big spider rustling up the plastic bags stored below my bed. No big deal. Since rats are the only critters that freak me out, I was fine with the idea of sharing my room with a big spider. Plus, I had my mosquito net to keep anything from sneaking onto me in the middle of the night.

I know many people who would not be comfortable with only a net separating them from a variety of creepy crawlies, and none of them are Peace Corps Volunteers.* I even know someone who said they could never be a Peace Corps Volunteer because they wouldn't be able to handle living somewhere where there are big poisonous spiders. In the Dominican Republic we don't have any animals with enough poison to seriously injure a person, but we do have plenty of animals that make sure us volunteers properly tuck-in our mosquito nets when we go to bed. Here is a run down of creepy crawlies that call the Dominican Republic home:

One of the many reasons to use a mosquito net.
Mosquitoes - They can be found everywhere. Many communities, like mine, do not have running water, so there is always stagnate water around for mosquitoes to breed in. They can infect humans with the Dengue, Chikunguya, and malaria viruses. In order to protect us against Malaria, volunteers are expected to take regular doses of a nasty tasting medicine. There is no drug to prevent against Dengue or Chikungunya, but they aren't as deadly as malaria, so no worries.

Tarantulas aren't so scary when they are dead.
Spiders - There are lots of spiders around too, to catch all the mosquitoes. Since spiders kill other bugs, I don't kill them. Spiders can come in all sizes but they are harmless to humans.

Tarantulas - Tarantulas can jump pretty high and bite, so they are not a volunteer favorite. Some volunteers see tarantulas every time they use their latrine, others will go their whole service without seeing one. It all depends on where you live. I have see two. One at an all inclusive, and the the other was in my bathroom. My cat killed the one I found in my bathroom, his hunting skills are why I adopted him.

Cockroaches - Again, the number of cockroaches a volunteer sees will depend on where you live, but they are much more common then tarantulas. Every once and a while I will see a dead one that my cat has caught, which creepily brings a smile to my face.

Black flies - They are my least favorite creepy crawlies (after rats and mice). When they bite they leave a small red pin prick of blood, to let you know they were there. When you first begin to get bit, the bites itch like crazy. I would wake up in the middle of the night because I would be subconsciously scratching at my bites. Eventually almost all of the itchiness will go away, as your body builds up its immunity, but every once and a while you will still get a bite that will drive you crazy. Black flies love to hang-out at one of the schools where I work. I made the mistake of wearing a dress one day, and was treated to over thirty bites which went all the way up my legs. I only wear pants to school now. 

Scorpions - These guys are not to be messed with, they can sting and the sting will hurt. Luckily, they are not too common.

Centipedes - Not to be mistaken with their harmless cousin the millipede, centipedes like to bite. Like the scorpion's stinger, a centipedes bite will hurt. Centipedes have been known to burry into the hair of people who chose not to use their mosquito nets.

Ants - You can never get rid of ants from your home. They will always find a way in. Dishes cannot be left out with crumbs on them unless you want hundreds of ants on your counter in under two hours. They can find their way into almost everything. Many a volunteer has sadly discovered a box of cereal filled with ants. Many a volunteer has then shrugged their shoulders and poured themselves a bowl of protein enriched cereal.

The boy in front is carrying a snake home to torture.
Mice and Rats - Ew, ew, ew, if I have one fear, it is a fear of rats and mice. It's strange phobia for a girl who as a child had pet guinea pigs, but man do those tails freak me out. Plus, I am not about to mess with a creature that helped spread the Bubonic Plague. I have always said that the one thing I didn't know if I would be able to handle a volunteer would be living in a house invested with mice or rats. Luckily, I have not had to deal with said problem, but not all of my friends have been so fortunate.

Snakes - As I mentioned in a previous post, Dominicans hate snakes. Many think, falsely, that snakes here are venomous, and will therefore kill them without hesitation. It's a shame because more snakes would be useful at keeping the rodent population under control.

Mongooses - An invasive species, mongooses were brought to the D.R. to kill the snakes. Instead they have become the main carrier for rabies in the country. Rabid mongooses have been known to kill humans, particularly infants. They are therefore ruthlessly hunted down like the snakes they were meant to kill. One morning I got to witness my host family on the hunt for a mongoose. It was a successful hunt.

Pato, my cat, is a great hunter.
Lizards - I will miss the lizards when I return to the States. There are so many different types that can be found around the island. They are cute little things scampering about and eating the annoying mosquitoes and black flies. Look out below for a bunch of adorable lizard photos.

There are many other creepy crawlies to be found in the D.R. like the giant frogs and snails which sometimes wander into my home. I could go on and on, but I don't want to dissuade any of you from visiting me. 

Special shout-out to the amazingly fabulous Karla Kornsey for giving me the idea for this post. 

*I know plenty of volunteers are not happy with the cockroaches, mice, rats, centipedes, etc. that inhabit their homes but for us the creepy crawlies come with the job. You have to be a little crazy to be a Peace Corps Volunteer.


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