02 July 2009

Bugs from the Beginning of Time

le 1er juillet 2009

Sometimes in Cameroon it’s better to be in the dark. Then the rustlings are only imagined roaches, what have you, less comfort here without a resident cat. Just walked into the latrine with my confident headlamp – I’m getting used to this, again, it’s like riding a bike… and the few inches-long cockroach on the door is more startled than I am. I didn’t have a headlamp, before; that would have fixed my months of no table situation, reading propped on aching wrists, elbows, hunched in front of the kerosene lamp while trying not to get in its shadow. I miss those, the lamps. The smell of them. The comforting swish and clink of petrol against cheap metal, the spreading splash on the cement floor as I didn’t realize it was empty until after 6 pm…
Petrol bottle – a 1 liter soy oil bottle – I had from first day in village. Filmy green now. Yellow cap.
So, the roach and I. He won’t move, I do my business, get ready to leave. A light comes on over the wall – startles me. So the other side of the house’s latrine has a lightbulb. (4 rooms in a row, narrow, cracked concrete verandah). I remember how 2 weeks ago in clinic (or was it just last Tuesday?) I heard a rustle, gathering the trash, and a roach arced onto the floor. Medium one, by my standards. Not by everyone else’s. They were impressed by my quick reflexes – splat. Y moved to pick it up with a paper towel and I, slightly taken aback, reached under the sink for a disinfectant wipe. Our clinic is by no means sterile, for America. But here, I don’t reach. There’s a small one when I pick up my washcloth. Reach into my bag for a pen and one zips neatly over the side.
Light doesn’t help much. There’s one bulb in here (I’m alone, second night in a row, VP is sleeping in the end room). Not really enough to read by. Last night, up at 3:30 and wired for no reason, I finished a novel by headlamp. Now, I can’t tell if this pen is blue or purple. That is to say, much more light than in my first home in Cameroon, host family in Bandjoun. I couldn’t see the color or texture of dinner most nights – helpful, in the beginning (and I’m the least picky of eaters. Except here). Roaches and I still haven’t bought a mosquito net…get home so tired. All this jumping into 9 hour work days and humidity (80%? More?) Adjusting. I’ve got a hell of a lot more support than last year, which is good. (Latest rustle from inside my rain jacket. Ohwell). But American boss and Cameroonian boss are saying different things – and I’m more inclined to work with the Cameroonian one, Dr. N (not Doc. A lot more formal – and older – than that. Then again, he’s also the only oncologist in the entire country, and one of three in Central Africa. Big man). Dr. R, the American boss (who isn’t here, yet) wants me to be in charge. I’m project manager, or something. Do I have the skills? Actually, as I’m discovering, yes. My research-in-Africa experience from last year in Kenya, writing surveys, piloting, training interviewers, interviewing – and all that I learned here, before. (And, I’m pleased to note, medical knowledge. This year was of use. Not doing clinical stuff – yet – Dr. N’s getting a meeting for me with the head of hospital, end of this week or beginning of next.). Tomorrow evening I’m going to a medical seminar, though. My first – and it’s here. Fitting.
Roaches. The first time I was offered snake I didn’t eat it – picture vividly Régine lifting the top from the frying pan and the meat crawling with roaches. I guess they would have left with reheating, don’t know. Didn’t find out. That was 2 weeks at post, give or take. There’s the night I woke to one crawling on me, trapped under the mosquito net. The several times I had to completely disinfect the kitchen, killing hundreds in a morning (with the babies, no exaggeration there). It’s not that my house was dirty – it’s the rainforest, there are cracks in walls and floors, windows and doors don’t’ close, and they lay pods everywhere… realizing what the dark oblong pods were, on walls and kitchen shelves. The satisfaction in crunching them. And the night Cécile and I were waiting up to travel to Ebolowa (anywhere between midnight and 4 am, whenever the Kouma driver woke up and felt like leaving), and I was hanging out at her place with the kerosene lamp while she checked on patients. A roach illuminated in the penumbra. I tried to focus on the patterns on his back, whorls, tortoiseshell (I’m convinced that, in addition to being twice as large, they’re more beautiful here), and we stayed like that, quiet, still, contemplating each other.


** Addenudum** This morning, Pascale mentioned the roaches. She’s used insecticide to get rid of the large ones, but the smaller ones, a different species apparently, just won’t leave. Nothing to do.


  1. Anonymous11:16 AM

    The best deterrant for roaches is lizards! They were all over my house in Cameroon, and I remember hearing them munching roaches in the kitchen at night.

  2. My cat would sometimes, too, though she preferred mice. Spiders she would just play with.
    I tried the suggested magic chalk - brought it home triumphantly - and Pascale showed me 3 boxes she already had! The little roaches are resistant, apparently.