A Story about Bedbugs in Havana

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By Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES – The mattress was thrown away right there at the entrance to the building. A neighbor yelled to another to tell her that she wanted to take it: No, leave it, it has bugs! They tossed it in the flower beds on a pile of dry leaves, plastic bags, and cardboard.

It wasn’t easy to get it down from the fourth floor, let alone out of bed; Throwing it was the only option and the bugs likely spread all over the garden and on the stairs. God knows where they ended up.

But the bed already had a purpose, it was given to “an old man who has nothing”. The poor man’s life becomes more difficult to bless him. It is better for him to continue sleeping on the sofa, on the floor, or wherever the man spends his nights.

People saw the mattress a mile away. Not only did it stand out for its blue lining, but also because it feels strange when someone throws away a mattress in good condition. Until recently, you had to pay way more than $ 100 to buy one. and they cost a lot more now with the reforms.

Of all the pests that are currently ravaging Havana – with all their might – bedbugs are the quietest. In general, people talk about scabies or lice fairly easily, especially now that mites are so prevalent and the lack of medication forces people to seek help. However, bedbugs are usually synonymous with shame and filth here in Cuba.

Myths and hiding places

It’s not just in beds. Here I spray our wicker couch.

That’s not true though, bed bugs don’t particularly care if a place is clean or dirty. They just need a place to hide and, of course, someone with blood to feed on.

My body’s first reaction was itching on the back of my thighs. It’s scabies, I was told. I thought it was more like atypical scabies because the spots are usually different. Mine were small, all in a straight line, and they didn’t fester. The unbearable itching soon moved to other corners of my upper body and arms. Since my neighbor and other friends who went to her home had similar symptoms, we all quickly figured it was indeed scabies.

The news would come days later. I hadn’t gone to her home in a while and had taken permethrin and my itchiness miraculously disappeared. Then she told me that they had found small black bugs in her mother’s bed, “and they are not mites”. They fumigated the home a few times but were unable to completely stop the invasion.

How did they get into the building?

Who knows … Most likely it would have been via a mattress repair person. These people who go to people’s homes to fix their mattresses, set up sheds in gardens or backyards, and charge a lot for that service. A service that the state does not offer. So you have no choice but to try your luck with these private ones. My neighbor did that.

Everything would be fine if the state sold cotton wool or some other suitable filling for mattresses so that self-employed repair workers could buy them in bulk and get their job done. However, this does not happen; The only way for private workers to get this raw material is to buy it directly from people who no longer want their old mattresses, or to get it from garbage cans. The transfer of insects is therefore very dynamic and effective.

Bedbugs are avid travelers, they can travel with clothes, bags or shoes; then they hide in the most unsuspecting places. When they get to a safe place, they colonize quickly. They can lay 1-7 eggs every day after feeding on blood. Legend has it that they only live in beds, but in my apartment they managed to set up camp in a wicker chair and it cost me a lot to get them out of there: time, energy, money for fumigation (with a strong one) smelling liquid that no one can tell me what it contains) and lots of detergent to wash all the clothes in the house several times just in case.

As I went down the stairs and noticed the blue lining, I remembered the spots and itchy skin on my skin. I immediately thought I had to put a sign on the mattress to warn people. I ran up the stairs and wrote on a piece of paper: Be careful, there are bugs!

When I came back down … the mattress was already gone …

Read more from Irina Echarry here in the Havana Times.