A Black Girl's Guide to Dealing with Bugs in Africa
Is a fear of bugs making you think twice about visiting the African continent?
Despite the fact that I desperately wanted to move to an African nation, one of my biggest worries was how I would handle the insects. Spiders to be specific. For as long as I can remember I’ve had arachnophobia. Nevertheless, I decided to say good bye to New York City and move to Namibia, a hot dry nation in sub-Saharan Africa, with a climate that made it a haven for all sorts of arachnids. From what I’d read, Namibia’s spiders were like American ones on steroids. The horror.
As fate would have it, Namibia gave me zero time to adjust to her plethora of eight-legged inhabitants.
My very first night in Namibia I came face to face with a large flat wall spider while I was in the shower. I was petrified but pulled every ounce of courage I had to finish my shower and get out of there. I was in Africa now so there was no turning back. I had to face my spider fear head on if I wanted to enjoy this experience.
Five years into Namibian life, I’ve learned a couple things that are key to keeping my interactions with insects at a minimum.
Bug spray is bae.
My first home in Namibia was a house on a school campus in the northern part of the country. The house had been vacant for a few months and had a broken window and so it was teeming with spiders. Big ones, little ones, brown ones, yellow ones, spider carcasses on the ceiling, on the curtains, on the bed frames… just everywhere!
A few teachers who came over to help me tidy up were giving me serious side-eyes each time I screeched when yet another giant sized spider appeared. Since they’d grown up seeing them, spiders didn’t freak them out at all. I didn’t get much sleep those first few days in my new home.
When I went shopping for bug spray I saw some Raid and decided to purchase it. Given my familiarity with it, I just knew it would be a good purchase. I quickly learned that Raid takes way too long to kill Namibian insects. I needed immediate destruction.
I went bug spray shopping again and noticed Doom seemed to be the primary insect killing product sold in Namibia so I decided to give that a shot. It was a godsend. Doom works fast and gets the job done. My advice is to always go with the most popular local product.
Also, don’t be ashamed to carry bug spray around with you - as in, to work or with you when you stay at other people’s homes. I know an African American who used to carry bug spray with her to get rid of the tens of Namibian flies that for whatever reason love to sit on your back during morning walks. Every time I visit my in-laws in the village I have to take Doom with me. While they don’t bother my Namibian relatives, I simply cannot handle huge spiders just hanging around in my room.
Even though I suffer from certain insect phobias, I’ve learned the best thing for me to do is to kill a bug immediately. Running into another room will only give me more time to drown in my fears worsening the situation. Or worse, I might return to find the critter has disappeared! Quickly spray it, run in the opposite direction and hopefully you’ll find it dead when you come back.
I also amp myself with affirmations. The most effective one is reminding myself of how much bigger I am to the bug, so I can definitely take care of this!
Improvisation is key!
Sometimes you may have to get really creative to take care of a bug problem.
Last year I moved into an apartment with lots of great windows but no screens to keep the (potentially malarial) mosquitos out at night. Sleeping with the windows closed would mean sleepless stifling hot nights and the idea of sleeping under a mosquito net always made me feel claustrophobic. I didn’t see any screens being sold in the town we live in so I had to quickly take matters into my own hands.
Somehow I came up with the idea of using mosquito nets and tape to make my own version of screen windows - and they work! I bought some super cheap mosquito nets from a local China shop (A Namibian version of American dollar stores) and went to taping nets over all our windows. Now we sleep in peace!
Don’t slack off!
Keeping a home a bug free space in Africa requires continual work. The moment you slack off something will inevitably be making it’s way into your place.
• Ants in Africa are really bold and aggressive and will extend their colony right through your home in a heartbeat. Even if you see one seemingly random ant get rid of it or soon enough you’ll find an entire train of them trailing in!
• Don’t let things pile up, keep space clear, move furniture and clean behind stuff. Be wary of storing things in bags or boxes for extended periods of time as I’ve noticed the most random organisms will materialize from nothing. Insects in Africa are just really resourceful and you could have an entire bug universe thriving in some corner of your home and not even know it. The other day I discovered a bunch of weird beetles just hanging out on the back of my living room curtain. Creepy.
• Stuff any holes in the wall or open space underneath and on the sides of doorways with something (e.g. cotton balls, mosquito net, fabric) to keep critters from sneaking in.
• Don’t ever leave anything sweet or salty out. I store a lot of stuff, and especially sugar, in the fridge. I also try to not to keep garbage in the house.
• Keep grass around the home low so that nothing too big (e.g. snakes) can hide in it!
I am still deathly afraid of spiders and I don’t think that’s something that will ever change. But if I really wanted to take on the awesome opportunity I had to live in Africa, I couldn’t let that fear hold me back. Hopefully you’ve garnered some courage knowing that if I, a lifelong arachnophobic, could take on Namibia’s huge spiders alone, you can learn to handle whatever African critters you come face to face with on the continent.
And if all else fails, as I’ve done many times in the past, yell out for one of the locals to come rescue you!
Are you worried about insects and your African travels? Or how have you handled bugs in an insect heavy environment? Share your thoughts in the comments below!