Little Things That Go ‘Bump’ in an Expat Night


I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. ~ Nelson Mandela

Fears! Things that go ‘bump’ in the night! We all have them. How we handle fear determines what kind of life we will lead…shackled or challenged…intolerant or tolerant. Throughout my life, I have learned the hard way; it is much easier for me to make friends with my fears than avoid them or deny that they exist. It hasn’t been easy, particularly living abroad, where a whole new set of fears have been unleashed. The fears that go ‘bump’ in my expat life certainly are different than the fears I faced in the states.

Below are some of the ‘little’ fears, mainly bugs, parasites, and viruses…oh my!, that I have developed in living on a tropical island.  I’m facing them…one at a time…but how does one make friends with some of these wicked things?

A scorpion with hundreds of babies found on our roof tile

Scorpions! I have never seen a scorpion before moving here. Wicked, primitive creatures! Why are they on earth? This one has hundreds of baby scorpions clinging to its back. If they sting, supposedly one’s tongue goes numb. If that happens to me, I couldn’t even cry out a pitiful, terrified call for HELP! Ron says, “Face it, Debbie. Someday, you will be stung!” It gives me nightmares! That’s why I’m raising free-range chickens. My little chicks love scorpions and other nasty creepy crawlies.

A Bot fly emerging from a man’s head

OMG! Parasites! I knew we made a horrible mistake watching, Monsters Inside Me: Animal Planet. Half the world’s human population is infected with parasites. I don’t want to be a statistic. Although we have city water, we sterilize and filter it daily. Once a month, we gulp two yellow parasite pills…just in case. Oh, I’m shuddering at the thought of this Bot fly emerging from my scalp someday.

Chagas Beetle

I guess the Chagas beetle would fit into the category of parasite, but it needs special attention because it is emerging in Nicaragua as the new ‘Aids’. Known as the kissing beetle, it bites the face of a sleeping victim, then defecates in the bite. It leaves behind a tiny parasite that can lie dormant in the body for years and years. There is no cure, but once the parasite takes hold, death quickly follows. Fortunately, only 2% of the population of people who are bitten by the Chagas beetle, have grave symptoms. But, I’m not taking any chances. We sleep blanketed under a mosquito net.

Dengue! Severe dengue is a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics. Transmitted by mosquitoes, there is no known vaccine to prevent infection of the dengue virus. I know at least five expats who have had a a mild form of dengue. When I say mild, I mean severe headaches, high fever, nausea, vomiting, and muscle and joint pains. Severe dengue is a potentially deadly combination because it causes hemorrhaging throughout the body and respiratory distress.

So, how do I make friends with the fear of dengue fever? I take precautions, especially in the rainy season. Fans run constantly in our house to blow away intruding mosquitoes and other flying insects. Yet, we rarely see mosquitoes. I think the reason is because we live on the lake shore and there is a constant breeze. We sleep under mosquito nets. Although it is impossible to have a house completely free from bugs and other flying insects, we have screens on our windows, and shuttered window panes that we can close at night. I’m stocked up on Skin-so-Soft, purchased from my neighborly Avon boy. I swear, Skin-so-Soft works to keep the bugs and biting insects at bay.

We caught two mice in one trap!

During the rainy season, we have a problem with mice and rats. Recently, everyone I’ve talked to on the island is trying to figure out a way to get rid of the mice and rats. We’ve tried traps, but many of the rats take the bait…oh they are very intelligent critters, like the Rats of Nimh. They are eating all of Ron’s soybeans and sweet potatoes in the garden! We can’t poison them because it is too dangerous with our little chickens free-ranging.

Two September’s ago, when we were building our house, a traveling doctor and nurse came door to door dispensing powerful antibiotics to prevent Leptospirosis. It is a bacterial disease caused by rat droppings, which contaminate food and water. If you really want to be freaked-out by the number of diseases rats carry..check out this website: Diseases Caused by Rats.

I’m chuckling to myself as I write because I have a lot of friends who freak when they encounter bugs, insects, and rats….I don’t think they will be coming to visit us any time soon. But, these are things one needs to know when considering living in the tropics. One can choose to be paralyzed by fear, or accept the many challenges in dealing with the little things that go ‘bump’ in an expat night. This is reality! We learn to take the good with the bad, create inventive ways to prevent the boo-boos and bumps from occurring, and gain more knowledge everyday along the expat road filled with creepy crawlies that go ‘bump’ in our lives.



10 thoughts on “Little Things That Go ‘Bump’ in an Expat Night

  1. hey again
    i returned home today and am reading posts; this one has been top of the list, and i enjoyed reading your tales.
    in the dozen years i’ve lived in latin america, i have been bitten by bats five times. three times in guanacaste/CR, once on your sweet island, and once in ecuador. ‘why me?’ who knows, but i am glad that you sleep under netting!
    i have had dengue once and i hope i never get it again. it’s like influenza on steroids!
    when a friend asked what a scorpion sting felt like, i told her that it hurt really bad for the first hour then it was basically over. ‘ no big deal,’ i boated, ‘a wasp sting seemed worse,’…

    so a few weeks later when i was popped again, life decided to teach me a lesson! i became more ill with each hour, and the next morning found me at a doctor’s, where i received a shot which immediately restored my normal health. now i am much-more careful to avoid scorpions.

    and that is my report on things that have gone bump in my life! z

  2. Thanks for explaining what we go through. My first encounter with a scorpion was when I lived in Granada. One was hiding under my backdoor mat. I freaked, then I found out that they come in pairs. Ahhh.

    The weekend I moved to Ometepe I had another encounter with these nasty things. This time it was my boyfriend who was clearing out our backyard and was bit on his right hand, then immediately after another bite on his left hand. Being a local and used to these nasty things, he sprang into action to self medicate by stabbing them in the stomach and taking the goo and rubbing it on the bites. He avoided a trip to the hospital. Note: it’s not just your tongue but your whole body that goes numb.

    P.S. If you have a run in with a local centipede, drink a glass of milk and then 7 (not sure why not 6 or 8?) drops of lime. You will still some of the pain, but amazingly this combination takes away the rest of the symptoms and no need for a trip to the dr.

    • Vaga…that’s what I love about this country..everyone is more than willing to share their advise about what to do when stung, bitten, or injured. Most of the home remedies mentioned to me involve either coconut water, lime juice, vinegar, coffee, or oregano leaves. My friends tell me to drink a big glass of coffee if stung by a scorpion. I hope I never have to do that. They swear that coconut water is used in the IVs in the hospitals. lol Why does everything come in pairs? I was clearing brush one day and came across a black coral snake. They locals said it
      was poisonous ( which I still have my doubts…I know what coral snakes look like, but I trust the judgment of the locals, too), and to burn it to draw out the mate because they always have a mate hanging around very close. So we burnt the snake and sure enough…another one arrived at the scene. Thanks for the advise
      about the centipedes. My neighbors are deathly afraid of the centipedes and the
      gusanos.( they look like tomato worms to me).

      • Ha ha re the snake. Thankfully I have not had a run in with that yet as I’ve been warned not to walk around the back of our property unless I have my boots on. Though I watched a local kill a boa on Christmas day. All the neighbours came out to thank him. Could you imagine your neighbour back in the “other world” thanking you for killing a spider?

        I’m lucky as my boyfriend’s great grandfather was a shaman so have the inside
        scoop on natural remedies. Sad that there are none left here.

  3. Well the good news is the scorpion from your roof is a big one ! That usually means their poison is not as powerful than the little ones. Those are the ones you really have to look out for. And !!! they’re all edible, yum ! The bad news is that they’re probably everywhere and you’ll have several varieties. I’ll bet the chickens love ’em though.
    Bot flies = double YUK !

  4. I had a patient who went swimming in Mexico and had a bot fly burrowed in her thigh … It does make a person wonder what kind of critters are around in different locales. To venture outside of the norm is bravery in and of itself. The life of a critter wouldn’t it be nice to know what they are thinking while we run scared or as we kill them (must we?)

    Thank you for the information. Forwarned is forearmed….

    • Ewwww! One of my worst nightmares! Cassie, I do have problems killing the mice and rats, but I’m more afraid of the rat diseases, than the rats. That’s why we are adopting two kittens. They were thrown into a dump in Granada and only two of the litter survived. Little brother and sister are with a foster mom now, but they will soon have a new home with us. I can’t wait. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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