Encroachment #5 ~ Roaches and me in Costa Rica Earthwatch Trip.

Cockroaches Aren’t Bad In Every Way
Roaches especially like half rotten bananas and arthropods.

           In 1986, I was chosen to be an Earthwatch Scholar and spent three glorious, adventursome weeks in Costa Rica on a Howler Monkey Expedition.
          The Science Supervisor in Mt. Laurel had suggested it. “Apply for a scholarship. What have we got to lose? They’re only accepting high school teachers, but I’m sure you’ll talk them into it, Liz. We need to put Rainforests into the Science Curriculum.”
I did indeed apply for a scholarship, and I was the first elementary school teacher picked to go on the expedition. The other teachers were all from the High School level. Unbenown to each other, good friend Lois Ann, had also applied without saying anything. She went on a Bat Expedition.
Although I was able to learn passable basic Spanish, my other research of what to expect didn’t prepare me for the overwhelming Arthropod populations. They were everywhere. The creatures stung, bit, buzzed, attacked, burrowed under skin, sprayed poison, and generally acted in definite anti-social manners. After we arrived and settled in, I told my roommate, “Apparently the human animals that had invaded their rainforest are considered intruders and need to be dealt with.”
“They’re doing a really good job,” replied Susan, scratching.
We participants were divided into pairs, and were assigned rooms in concrete bunkers used as a motel during the winter tourist season. We were told that we must spray the mattress and bedding each night with strong repellent, and an extremely effective insecticide. It was later identified as DDT, which was not banned in Costa Rica.
The foundation for each bed was a two foot high, solid concrete platform on the concrete floor. Bedding was put on the platform. Six inches from that platform was a three inch high wall around  each bed. Between the wall and the bed there was  a three inch high by three inch deep, wide depression.  The headboard for each bed was concrete and had been poured at the same time as the bed.  
          My roommate, Susan, and I, quickly got used to the iguanas in the shower. They were huge, but harmless to people.  During the day, birds, reptiles such as the iguanas and snakes, amphibians, and predatory insects such as cockroaches, and spiders wandered in through doors purposefully left open for them by the motel staff.
         I became friendly with the staff, and they told me  not to destroy the webs festooning the room, dripping with tightly wrapped predators. So, the spiders were larger than anything we were used to in the States, but oh, were they delightfully hungry!
         The doors were closed at night, of course, but we were cautioned, “Don’t overuse the  lights at night unless you put a cloth over the windows. The screens in most windows are somewhat tattered. Natural light, or a flashlight under the sheet should do you when you do your studying.”
The tattered screens and little light that showed were enough for the insect armies.
Yes, there was an army of roaches during the day, but I observed they ate the other insects with relish. “I would supply them with mustard and catsup, too.” I laughingly told Susan.
After supper and the mandatory classes on the second day there, I asked the motel employees about the depression around the bed and they told me it was used to hold water, and the cleaning woman would sweep it out in the morning. They gleefully told me that most Americans hadn’t noticed the moat, and, if no one asked, why, “No one will tell.” Actually, the employees and I got along very well, and at the end of the expedition, Susan and I were the only participants who received gifts from them.
After some socializing in the dining hall that night, I returned to the room. Susan was already in bed. She and I had become friends within hours of meeting and we remained so until her untimely death more than a decade later. This woman was brilliant and knowledgeable, a gifted writer, and an outspoken Humanist. She taught me so much about so much over the years. My children adored her when she came to visit us.
Susan had a rare hereditary disease and was severely handicapped in ability to walk without a cane, was almost blind, and needed hearing aids. “We think alike!” she would often say.
I agreed. “Yes, we are both loud-mouthed trouble makers, aren’t we ever?”
Susan chuckled and added, “Don’t forget the idiotic politicians. I love to picket their offices. When I’m in a wheelchair, the police leave me alone.”
Susan, I loved you.
      Since she was already in bed, I explained my conversation with the employees as I set about filling the moat with water. There was no hose in the room, of course, but I had borrowed a #10 empty can from the cook, which I filled up with water from the shower, poured into the moat, and then went for refills. About a dozen cans would fill the moat to the brim.
As the water level began to rise, I would gently nudge the roaches out of harm’s way with a small whisk broom.
Now, you know I that when I speak, I use my hands and facial expressions quite freely. When I concentrate, I look angry. Mind you, these were the first two days of our three week adventure, and we didn’t know each other as yet. 
About halfway through my project, I walked over to her bed on the opposite wall and glanced at Susan. She was sitting pressed against the concrete headboard, sheets pressed against her face, shaking like a leaf, her eyes two terrified balls almost falling off her face.
I stopped.
        “Susan! What’s wrong?” I cried out.
No effect. Just terrorized eyeballs.
I started toward her, figuring out quite easily something was wrong. But what? Susan dropped the sheet and dove for her fishing knife lying on her nightstand.
She pointed it at me and shouted, “Come near me and I’ll kill you!!!!”
        I was stunned.
Then it dawned on me.
       Susan didn’t have her hearing aids on. It was bedtime you know. I motioned to her ears and pointed to the night stand. She looked surprised. Then, she nodded her head and cautiously reached for the hearing aids and inserted them. Quite a difficult job because she was not letting go of that six inch knife. When she finished, she looked at me. I said, “Can you hear me?” She pointed the knife at me. Apparently she could not hear me.
“Susan!” I screamed as loudly as I could. I bellowed. “Turn them on! Turn them ON!”
         Slowly, her eyes started to return to normal. Then she said, “Oh. I don’t have them on. You look so angry, Liz.” 
         I sat down on the bed and started to laugh.  “Now can you hear me?” I shouted.
         “Not so loud. I’m not totally deaf you know.” She was laughing as she finished.
Then she said, “What is going on? Liz”
          I explained about the moat and the insects. “Oh,” she exclaimed. “Then they drown and don’t climb into bed.
“You know Liz, I forgot I didn’t have my hearing aids on. So when you came in I thought, who is this crazy woman? I thought I could trust her! I didn’t hear a word you were saying, and I couldn’t see your lips move because it’s too dark in here. But you kept spilling water on the floor, or so it seemed, because I didn’t notice the moat in the almost dark.
“And you looked so angry. And you were waving your hands all over the place and looked angrier and angrier every time you filled the can. I thought you were performing some kind of Black Magic! What kind of roommate am I stuck with?”
I roared with laughter. “I was concentrating on not spilling the water, Susan.”
         We both started to laugh until we cried. Then we hugged each other good night. Susan’s knife had been forgotten, and she inadvertently stabbed me in the lower back. She looked stricken, but I just roared with laughter. We cleaned up the blood and went to our respective beds. The next evening the cleaning woman silently handed me a half dozen sanitary pads.
         By observomg the eating habits of those wonderful pest-eating roaches, I gained new appreciation of my former nemesis.
Remember: inure not like.


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