So far, there’s been three distinct moments when I thought, “OH MY GOODNESS, WHAT AM I DOING HERE?!” Each deserves its own post, so first I’ll describe the most terrifying.
Preparing for Cambodia kept bugs as an abstract theory: “SHOULD you be bitten by a malaria-infected mosquito…” or “A bite from a fire ant won’t harm you…” But when you finally arrive here, the implications of these warnings are fully realized. For every bug you swat away, there are 100 more crawling all over you. Fire ants, bed bugs, sand flies, mosquitoes, lice, you name it, and it’s definitely on you.
Eventually, you come to terms with it. The cockroaches are a momentary scare and the spiders are comedic fodder when some stupid Westerner screams at it (i.e. when I scream at it). You find some obscure bug bite salve, lather over a 6-inch radius around the affected area, and move on.
It wasn’t until I spent our 4-day holiday (celebrating the King’s birthday) at Mom’s house in Takeo province that I about lost my sh*t. I’ve stayed countless nights at Mom’s. So much so that leaving for the holiday was like going home from college for fall break. Mom did my laundry, cooked my meals, and she and her friends talked about me in a language I don’t understand.
On the third night, I was privileged enough to witness a few-times-a-year phenomenon that I’ve managed to avoid every other time I’ve been there. The best frame of reference for Americans is the cicada. Planet Earth brought them to fame when they showed the brief life-cycle of these over-sized insects after 17 years of incubating underground.
The bugs on my third night weren’t as hardcore as the cicada. They aren’t dormant for 17 years, but, according to Mom, they have a 7-day life-cycle. Their 7th day just happened to align with my third night.
I was getting ready for bed and turned the bathroom light on. I saw a brown, cockroach-sized flying insect, clumsily fluttering around. I thought it was a dying nondescript bug and ignored it, leaving for Mom’s room to find toothpaste. When I came back, there were about two dozen of them. I don’t care who you are, or what you’re scared of. If your mom is in the other room, we all react exactly the same: “MOM! MOOOOOMMMMM!” She came running over, thinking something attacked me and said, “Oh, darling. They won’t hurt you.”
“But….But…There’s so many.” The number was exponentially growing and there were now over a hundred.
To coax them out of the bathroom, we turned that light off and turned it on the living room. In about 5 seconds, there were hundreds of these bugs flying around. Mom said, “Oh yeah, the geckos will love this.” Really mom?! The geckos?! CAN’T YOU SEE I’M HAVING A CRISIS?! That’s what you’re thinking about right now? These bugs weren’t great flyers, so the only reason for existence must have been to feed other animals for just one day.
I’m not proud of this, but to get to my bed, I yelped and jumped, careful not to step on one, fearing to hear it crunch under my foot. Mom: “Do you want me to tuck you in?” Me: “Yes.” My face still wasn’t washed, so when mom turned off the living room and the bugs started gravitating toward me again…..”MOOOOMMMMMM!!!”
The living room light switched on and I crawled under the mosquito net into my bed. Mom came in, tucked the net under the mattress (“Goodnight, my darling). and I was left to fend for myself.
I’m not sure when I fell asleep, but when I woke up, I saw the aftermath of a massacre. Mom explained how the bugs “just died.” Their wings were left layering the floors because their bodies were eaten by geckos. The real gore was by the fan. A number of them flew straight into it, spattering across the blades.
I went for breakfast, and the scene was the same on the porch. At the very edge, there was a huge, moving pile of wings. It was a mass grave for the dead and dying insects. Birds swooped in from time to time picking one up, shaking off it’s wings, then flying a way.
Mom said earlier that morning people stopped by to sweep up the driveway. I said, “For free? That’s pretty awesome.” Right, they fried and ate them like popcorn.