Monday, April 11, 2011

The curse of dust and mosquitoes

 Sunday, 4-10-11

I say these things are curses by they’re really two everyday nuisances that people here have to put up with. You don’t exactly get use to them but you have to learn to live with them. I got to spend another Sunday with the group of students from the UCA visiting the cooperative in the canton of El Tablón Cerna. Last week almost no one from the group had been to a canton before. This week they all knew what was in store. Since dust and mosquitoes are two problems in El Salvador that are worse in the cantons I decided to dedicate a blog to them.

I have changed some of the lyrics to the song “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” One of the verses goes like this:

They said someday you’ll find
All who live here are blind
Oh, when it’s the dry season
You must realize
Dust gets in your eyes

It also gets in your hair, mouth, ears, nose, toes, and all over your clothes. Inevitably, after a ride out to the cantons in one of the pickup trucks you will need to wash your clothes. For the pre-rinse, it usually takes a couple times of letting my clothes sit in the water and rinso (detergent) to get them ready to be washed. Then it’s a lot of scrubbing and creating suds to get the clothes completely clean. Remember, we hand wash everything. You will also have to wash yourself thoroughly upon returning home from a dusty ride. It takes a lot of scoops of water from the pila (cement basin) to get yourself clean and you go through a lot of soap.

I spend a lot of time wondering how people in the cantons are able to get things clean. Clothes especially seem like they would be tricky to keep dust free. Even after you wash them there’s still the matter of drying them outside (outside where all the dust is). Of course, many things are never completely clean. It’s pretty much impossible. Oftentimes people in the cantons walk around barefoot. They are also more likely to wear sandals instead of shoes that completely cover your feet. I’ve got two good foot pictures below of people who live in the cantons. The other three are of someone from the UCA and myself. I am very discreet when I take pictures of people’s feet when they live in the cantons because I don’t want to offend people.

It’s much easier to avoid dust here in Berlín than in the cantons but dust still collects on everything you own. I keep the windows in my room closed and the door as well when I’m not at home. This serves to help keep out dust as well as mosquitoes though it’s not perfect. It also doesn’t allow a whole lot of airflow but you have to compromise somewhere. I cover my computer with a towel when not in use to prevent it from getting too dusty and often wipe down the shelves in my room because they are always dusty. But that’s life.

Below are some photos of my trip today to the canton. I’ve thrown in a few of my favorite dust pictures for your viewing pleasure:

You can kind of see what color my skin used to be

Walking down a dusty path

Imagine carrying that load up a dusty hill

Trying to protect herself

It's not foggy, it's dusty

Completely covered

I can see the car!

Dust queen

Formerly white shoes

My feet after a walk in the cantons

They've been dustier before

Canton life in the dry season

Dust covered

The side of the road in the dry season

This is a green plant

Dust like this is awful for people in the back of a pickup truck.
Now imagine yourself walking along the road when a pickup passes.
Even worse!!

If the pickup stops because there's a cow or another car
in the road, the dust catches up with you

A field of dust

You kick up a lot of dust just by walking

Cows make the road even dustier

It's not so great when the cows are walking in front of you


In my book mosquitoes are far worse than dust and I’d much rather deal with dust than deal with mosquitoes. For 95% of the trip I’ve been covered from head to toe in mosquito bites. I haven’t found any product particularly helpful with preventing mosquito bites. I’ve tried lemon eucalyptus oil, citronella oil, cedar oil, geranium oil, Picardin, and DEET. The DEET does help but it’s not something I want to be covering myself in every day. I suppose I could bathe in DEET every day, but there are some flaws in that logic. I don’t have that much DEET with me and even if I did I would probably die from being covered it. If I didn’t die I would have to wash my clothes after every use and take showers every day to get off the bug spray.

Plus the mosquitoes and other bugs find ways to get into places underneath my clothing. I get them on my legs when I wear long pants and I’ve found tons of bites on my stomach and back which are never exposed. I have no idea how I got some of these bites. I’m never out in the early morning or dusk when mosquitoes are most active. I also don’t wear perfume or wash with scented soaps. I’m becoming suspicious that someone is drugging me and putting me into a tank full of mosquitoes at night.

So right now I’m working mostly on symptom control. Unfortunately, my symptoms do not disappear after a day or two so I am constantly feeling itchy. I’ve had poison oak several times and once was on my face so I’ve dealt with itchiness before but this seems to be different. I think the mosquitoes here are using some kind of steroids to make their bite even stronger. For the most part all of the “medicated” products I’ve brought to relieve the itching don’t seem to work. I’ve gotten very creative and have tried in addition to diphenhydramine (pills and 2% cream), calamine, pramoxine, and ammonia.

Most of what I’ve been using is essential oil that Denise from Trinity left here for me in February. I’d also brought some Tea Tree oil from home and that helps as well. I recently read that aloe vera is supposed to help so I’m trying that out too. If I need instant itch relief I often go for an ice pack.

Here is an interesting snippet from an email I sent to someone last year when I was here:

“I am covered head to toe with mosquito bites. I’ve been scrambling to figure out what I can put on them that I have with me. Hydrocortisone isn’t working. Tea tree oil? Lime juice? Then I remembered hearing that you can urinate on jellyfish stings to take the sting away and for a brief moment considered that option. But I quickly abandoned the idea deciding it probably wouldn’t work. I’d just be itchy and covered in urine.”

You should now have plenty of information on how to repel mosquitoes and what to use if you get bitten. What’s better, you know what not to use.

Cecilia and Blanca have been talking about how much worse the mosquitoes have been lately than usual. They are also getting bitten which isn’t normal. We’ve all been sharing stories of invading mosquitoes and showing where we’re been bitten. It’s like telling combat stories only we’re talking about mosquitoes. They must have taken pity on me because when I got home today from the canton today I found a mosquito net in my room hanging above my bed. And here’s the really cool part: it’s pink! Apparently they’d been talking for a while about getting mosquito nets and bought one for me when they purchased some for themselves.

There are some risks beyond the itchiness of the bites. If you scratch them they can become infected which could require medication to treat. I have been lucky thus far in that none of my bites that I’ve scratched have become infected. We’re not terribly worried about malaria because it’s not very common here. But dengue is a risk. Symptoms usually include fever and a rash with possible headaches, fatigue, sore muscles, nausea, and vomiting. However, I am much less concerned about myself and more concerned for people who live in the cantons when it comes to complications of mosquito bites. Just because people aren’t itchy doesn’t mean they aren’t getting bit. And I have much better access to medical care plus the money I would need if I were to become sick.

Here’s a bit of info about dengue provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

“With more than one-third of the world’s population living in areas at risk for transmission, dengue infection is a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics and subtropics. As many as 100 million people are infected yearly. Dengue is caused by any one of four related viruses transmitted by mosquitoes. There are not yet any vaccines to prevent infection with dengue virus (DENV) and the most effective protective measures are those that avoid mosquito bites. When infected, early recognition and prompt supportive treatment can substantially lower the risk of developing severe disease. Dengue has emerged as a worldwide problem only since the 1950s. Although dengue rarely occurs in the continental United States, it is endemic in Puerto Rico, and in many popular tourist destinations in Latin America and Southeast Asia.”

Report on El Salvador (from 2 months ago)
“El Salvador. 11 Feb 2011. To date, the Ministry of Health registers 136 confirmed dengue cases, 25 more than in 2009 and 998 less than in 2010, which was an epidemic year. The Ministry has identified 3 types of dengue viruses circulating.”


This is a picture of fumigation of mosquitos in El Salvador
I got this photo via the CDC website which led me to a Salvadoran website
The article is entitled "The Ministry of Health fears an outbreak of dengue"
The place with the highest level of mosquito larva is the department of Usulutan where I live

The mosquito net hanging above my bed

1 comment:

Matt said...

If life there was not tough enough for the people in the cantons, they have to deal with this as well. Amazing how they do it.