Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bed Bugs? What Are They?

You've read about the new influx of bedbugs. In my day bedbugs were like lice in a kid's hair. Both came from unclean homes and bathless kids. Now scientists are telling us to be alert for these near-microscopic crawlers any place you sit or lie down: movie theatre seats, office areas, clothing, hotel/motel beds and sofas. They love to jump from one person to another, bite you on the neck, legs, arms.

I know from experience about bedbugs. I encountered them in the most likely place: Mexico.

A fellow teacher Fran and I planned to spend the summer in Mexico City attending Mexico City College. Six or maybe twelve weeks of study and travel. We found the perfect place to live in one of the better colonias in the city, a short distance to the bus stop, near Chapultepec Park and restaurants. This was the summer of 1959.

When the taxi that ferried us from the airport to the colonia (subdivision) we were amazed to find we were in one of the ritziest areas of the downtown area. The driver drove us to a two story white brick home with an equally tall brick fence surrounding the property. The woman who met us at the door was a maid, which raised our eyebrows--"A maid? Hmmm." Our hostess was an artist who spoke no English. I was able to  communicate ok, since I'd studied previously in Monterrey, Mexico.

We helped the maid carry our bags up a beautiful winding stairway off to the side of a gorgeously decorated living room. And there the gorgeous decorations ended. We may as well have been in a low income apartment. No color, a simple bed in each room furnished with one chifferobe and one lamp and table. windows looked out on the back of the roof of the home. Drab draperies and bedspreads. We each picked  a room and I immediately began to unpack, as I felt the drabness would disappear as we became accustomed to the living quarters. Outside properties were beautiful with landscaping up and down the streets.  We were lucky to have found this place.

We turned in early and it was once in bed that I realized my mattress had that musky odor of having never seen sunshine. OK, I thought, I'll lie on a towel. Sometime after turning off the light I began to have an itchy feeling up and down my body--legs, neck, arms. Thinking of ants, I jumped up and turned on the light, pulled back the covers and inspected. Nothing. I went through that routine most of the night, getting little sleep. I assumed, without knowing how, that I had bedbugs. Never had I experience them, nor had I lice, but I sensed about both.

The next morning I repacked my bags, told my friend we had to find another place to live, as I couldn't sleep on that mattress. She had had a delightful night's rest. I was envious. My main problem was How to Say in Spanish "There are bedbugs in the bed." This had to be done diplomatically.

We had breakfast but the artiste was no where to be found. I'd have to discuss this after school that day. We proceeded to walk to the bus stop, and take the particular bus that would carry us on a 25 minute ride up the mountain north of the city. During the break at school there was a small woman holding a placard and standing in the middle of the campus where we changed classes, stating, "Come live at my nice quarters," or something like that. We approached her and she said she had a very clean apartment  and the rent was more reasonable than in the Colonia. I told her my bedbug story and declared I didn't know how to solve my dilemma of a written agreement with the owner. She agreed to take care of the problem.

And she did. Oh, the fury of the artiste, the shrill voices of argument, the confusion. The artist would be losing a summer of rent. How could she find other renters at this late date? She did not have bedbugs, she declared. Our new landlady won the argument and we packed our bags into the small  car that Senora had and we went to her  place. We weren't too thrilled as we drove through a disaster-like area with people living in hovels. But Senora assured us her place was across the street from the American School whose students were the best in the City. She opened the front gate and we entered a paradise of beauty. Her "place" was a motel setting, with dual apartments dotted in a semi-circle, and her family's home at the middle in the back. Bright colors dotted each apartment roofed in sunbaked  tiles. 

Inside was a small living room/kitchen with stove and fridge, a sizeable bedroom furnished with typical Mexican crafted wood  furniture consisting of twin beds with handsome woven bedspreads, a table with lamps in the middle, and a sizeable bathroom. Unbelievable that we had  lucked up on the Senora.

Our new address was Avenida Observatorio. We later learned from Fran's local  friend that we were living in the absolute worst section of town, and that was brought home to us when we attended a few functions in town and had to find a taxi after midnight to take us home. No one would drive down Observatorio. Only a few brave souls did the whole six weeks. That move was the best we could have ever taken.

What began as a bedbug experience of one night turned into a wonderful six weeks of learning  that even today I maintain fond memories.

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