Arriving back into the campus in Kanpur, I had to cross a river to get to my apartment. Apparently the rains had arrived.
Even though the temperature had dropped (very slightly), humidity had crept in so that I was constantly covered in a layer of moisture. We were not allowed air conditioning in my building since the electrics weren’t set up to be able to deal with such a heavy drain on the power, so sleeping became a distant memory. To make matters worse, a plethora of creatures seemed to condense out of the moisture and fly across my room. I often found small ants crawling up my arms and legs, I found almost invisible white creatures wriggling across my book, brown fleas attached to my ankles, cockroaches running over my feet and lizards slithering across the walls (I liked theses guys because hopefully they were eating the rest). Meal times became a constant battle with heat flies.
After a few weeks I started to notice small red marks on my calves, which I first thought might be a reaction to the constant heat and sweat, but they soon multiplied in number, spread to my thighs and stomach and began to itch. I started to suspect bed bugs and would wake suddenly in the night itchy, jump up and turn on the lights to scrutinise my bed for the culprits.
Then one fatal evening as I was lying in bed reading I spotted a creature walking across me. It looked identical to the bed bugs I’d encountered briefly once in Tanzania 6 years ago. I jumped up convinced that it was bed bugs and started to panic. I stuffed the bedsheets in a bucket in the bathroom, moved the ‘infected’ bed away from the other bed (who was I kidding, if one bed was infected, the other would surely be), put the feet of my second bed in cups of water (I’d read this might prevent the bugs from clambering up – I was desperate OK) and lay down again with the lights on. No use, I kept imagining bugs everywhere making my whole body crawl. I did some googling, ranted to a few friends online, and tried to lie down again. I worried about how I was going to survive the next few days or even weeks, as surely there was going to be no quick fix to a problem like this and I envisaged endless sleepless nights. From my googling it seemed you needed to boil all your bedding and even clothes for hours and to get in an exterminator to treat the room. I had no idea how to go about achieving this kind of thing in Kanpur – an under-developed city lacking in infrastructure. Would an exterminator even exist in this town? Who could I get to help me with this? I lay there panicking about the future of my sanity until eventually I was so exhausted I finally managed to nod off for a few hours. It wasn’t long before I woke up scratching again.
After a relatively hysterical explanation to the hall warden he agreed to get an ‘exterminator’ to chemically treat my room next week and so I took myself off to the nearest air conditioned hotel to get some sleep and regain some clarity.
On arrival back to the campus I decided to stay at the visitor hostel. That night as I pulled back the sheets of the bed in the visitor hostel, I found the dead body of one of the same bugs I’d found prancing across my mattress the few nights before, along with more tiny white insects (looking suspiciously of larvae from freshly hatched eggs). I immediately went back to reception and asked to change room. This time I pulled back the sheets from both beds straightaway to check before getting in, but as I lay there reading, I watched as slowly one by one 4 of these same tiny black creatures started to crawl over the mattress of the other bed. I couldn’t believe it!!! Was the whole campus infected?
I eventually conceded defeat that I wasn’t going to find anywhere that was bug free, and tentatively lay down with the realisation beginning to dawn on me that perhaps they weren’t bed bugs and the words from friends that it was simply “bug season” ringing in my ears.
Back in my room the next day, I got a knock on the door. There was a guy standing there with a small spray can. This was the ‘exterminator.’