Confessions of an expat – The terminator

In times of austerity it makes sense to do things for ourselves, rather than call in an “expert”. That, of course, deprives the expert of the money, but, you know, people are doing the same to us, so it’s dog-eat-dog.

That was the line of thinking when my wife noticed a wasps’ nest under the eaves.

This is in one of those Surinamese houses where the living goes on upstairs, while the ground floor is all fresh air and cars. There is a balcony and the bit of roof that keeps the rain off it, the underside of which is called the eaves, apparently. And that is where these wasps have built their nest.

But how do we know it’s wasps and not bees, I wonder aloud. And I don’t know how long this nest has been there, but not even a solitary flying hazard has been seen in the house itself. Clearly they’re not interested in looking at the paintings, admiring the settee suite or even checking out the fridge. But such arguments fall on deaf ears. As the official jack-of-all trades, this is my responsibility.

This sort of thing, but stuck to the ceiling

The first resort in this day and age is to look it up online. All the advice I find is based on the hazards, not of having a nest under the eaves, but of getting rid of it. Cover up, long sleeves, a hat, gloves and goggles. If it’s in an inaccessible place that you can’t reach, don’t use a ladder because when they come after you, you’re going to panic and fall off. Better to call an expert. Yes, but that’s probably written by an expert, looking for business. And we’re on an economy drive.

More advice. Smoke the wasps out first. What with, a disposable barbecue? Held out on a shovel because it’s somewhere that doesn’t have a handy shelf underneath? It’s surprising what goes through your mind when you’re tackling a problem you’ve never considered before.

Do it in the evening when the wasps have settled down. At last a sensible suggestion.

So, the options: take a broom and knock it off, then make a run for it back into the house and slam the sliding door shut. Poke mothballs in through the entrance? A local chancer once tried to talk me into letting him put mothballs around the edges of the garden to keep out the snakes, charging me a lot of money per ball. But he also told me the woman across the road had just died of malaria and all in all I didn’t believe a word he said.

One online bright-ideas merchant suggests spraying glue in the nest, but there are problems with that. The entrance is on the outside, so even if it was closer, you’d be working on something you couldn’t see. And spray glue? I haven’t seen that for years.

Then the brainwave hits the shore. Downstairs there is a hose for watering the garden or washing the car. Upstairs at the back is the shower, where there is a tap similar to the one downstairs, which you can screw an attachment to. Measure the distance from shower to balcony; check hose. It should reach.

I feel like an RAF boffin during the Second World War, plotting an attack on a German munitions factory. By golly, George, a hose! That just might do it – and it’s the last thing they’ll be expecting.

Trial run. It is just about long enough. I leave it there – they’ll never notice – and will do it at sundown.

As the shadows fall across the patch of weeds and the odd flower at the front, I lure the dog into a room at the back so he doesn’t get in the way. Turn the tap on and tiptoe out onto the balcony. Shoes on but no protective gear because after all, it’s hot around here.

Pull the hose as much as I dare without dislodging it from the clip attached to the tap. The water pressure’s not too good, so I can spray the nest but can’t blast if off. How do they attach it there upside down, anyway? Must be wax. I give it a good soaking and there is a mass exit, but they fly away from the water and therefore from me. After a while the bottom of the nest breaks off, soaked and heavy. We turn the bomber around and head back to Blighty.

Next day there is great activity up there. They don’t know when they’re beaten. Trying to rebuild it. We’ll have to go back tonight, George, and do it all over again. Meanwhile, let’s chuck some buckets of soapy water at it.

As dusk falls once more, day two of the campaign follows the same routine. Get as close as you can but this time keep adjusting thumb position to get a good solid stream. Keep it up for longer than yesterday until parts of the nest are hanging down. The tenants have dispersed, so I slide the broom along and flick the thing off.

Hero? Heartless villain? Bully? In a foreign land you never know what you’re up against. Just doing my job.


Confessions of an expat – Buzz buzz you’re dead

The tropics are largely green and pleasant lands. Green because the soil is fertile and the climate is conducive to growing things. The region is also hot, and all in all it’s perfect for one of nature’s little demons: mosquitoes.


They’re not funny, mosquitoes; they transmit horrible diseases such as yellow fever, dengue, malaria and the newer ones like chikungunya and zika. But while instances of such infection may be relatively rare in many parts of the world, mosquitoes are notorious mainly for their love of biting humans to suck blood and creating itchy little bumps in the process. Actually, it’s the females that are nasty. In many species the mouthparts of the females are adapted for piercing the skin of animal hosts (you can tell I didn’t write that sentence, can’t you?).

Interesting mosquito fact: they were given that name because in Spanish a fly is a mosca and the diminutive ending ‘ito’ is added to denote that they are smaller than ordinary flies. Spanish speakers add ‘ito’ to the end of a word to make the person or thing sound cute. All I can say is that Hispanics must be very tolerant if it means little fly, rather than little b****ard.

Lie in bed with anything uncovered and sweating and you’re just waiting for the infuriating buzz, like a Second World War German Stuka or a Ferrari at Silverstone, as they swoop upon an ear with the unspoken news that they have already had your elbows and it’s only a matter of time before you feel it.

Oddly, mosquitoes don’t seem to operate on beaches – a major oversight on their part, given the acreage of exposed skin that lies there. But as soon as you set foot in your own home you are welcomed by these tiny guerillas, particularly the top-secret Feet and Calves Squadron, a low-flying outfit specializing in insteps, toes and the backs of legs.

There are many species of mosquito, some nastier than others, and the good news is that the bigger ones also seem to be slower. So they’re easier to spot and to splat. I once met some American tourists in the Caribbean and was comparing notes about the airborne pests. These people were from Missouri, where, they said, the mosquitoes were so big they were known as the state’s national bird.

Many years ago in Italy, on the outskirts of Florence, I was bitten by a mosquito in the most vulnerable of male areas and the injury escalated to the stage where I was compelled to sterlilise a needle in a flame and lance the swelling to release the pus. So is it surprising that I would support a global programme of eradication?

mosquito 2

It will probably never happen, though, because in this enlightened age, man feels bad about making anything extinct. And of course there are the inevitable scientific studies that claim if we got rid of mosquitoes it would have serious ecological consequences.

Oh for the dark ages before such things were thought through. I’d be out there with my placard, or in the laboratories, helping the boffins to engineer the destruction of mosquitoes along with other creatures which don’t seem to have any saving grace, such as wasps (vindictive , unproductive , bee-style villains which don’t seem to appear so much in the tropics, although those that you do see are big, menacing things) and cockroaches (name me one redeeming feature).

It would probably backfire, anyway, killing all the weaker ones but leaving a breed of supersquito that would threaten the very existence of man and other soft-skinned animals.

So on we plod with our own individual campaigns, which at least give us the satisfaction of doing a bit of good in our own small way. Personally, I’m waging psychological warfare as well as the physical kind. I hate the way they rise smugly like spotter planes every time I disturb a slightly damp place – laundry basket, towel on a rail etc. ‘Oh, it’s you again,’ they seem to say as they hover above me. ‘Have you not learned that we are the masters of your planet? You will never defeat us, human fool.’

And so I get into the shower and quietly remove the shower head from its bracket to launch a swift, surprise spray attack on a ledge above where the tiles finish and I know they have an encampment. Scientists have probably also discovered that they have early-warning systems and forms of communication we don’t know about, but I wonder if these pointless tiny beasts have been programmed to avoid a hulking great human with the power of flying water at his command and a heart full of hostility towards them. Apparently not, as up they fly and I spray the warm water after them and over them. And if I get one – just one – my campaign has not been in vain.