I’ve had a pretty serious fear of bugs since I was a kid. It started when I was 7, on the day I found a tick in my best friend’s ear. Sure, I was congratulated by the school nurse for “saving her life,” but honor doesn’t go all that far for a 7-year-old. Fear does.
Five years later, my 6th grade science teacher told us about a friend who died because a tapeworm ate her entire insides. I remember the exaggerated length of the parasite being something like 100 feet, although 2 feet is probably a little more realistic. From then on, I ordered my steak well-done. I hated the rain because it flooded out the earthworms. I had nightmares upon nightmares of slimy tapeworms eating me from the inside out.
They’re the ones afraid of you – think of how much bigger you are! Everyone’s words and encouragement rarely helped, and my fear of bugs persisted.
Travel has changed me in many ways. I’ve developed new characteristics and strengthened some existing ones. One of the most interesting ways travel changed me is how it cured my fear of bugs.
On the first night of a summer-long stay in Nicaragua, I saw a spider. At a width of 3 inches, it was enormous, and I made my two roommates stay up ’til the wee hours of the morning until we could find it and kill it. Bless you for dealing with my mania. Little did I know, that was just the beginning.
We traveled to our home on the island the next day, and gnats awaited us. Of course, gnats are annoying when they hover over your fruit while you’re trying to eat. But this was more than a few gnats — this was a constant swarm of gnats. It was a swarm so bad that we had to close our eyes and walk blindly wherever we went. If you didn’t cover your mouth with your shirt or a bandanna, you were sure to ingest a least 1,000 of the little guys in one breath (gulp). They got in your hair, in your eyes, and in your clothes. The native islanders said they had never seen anything like that before. Every wall and bed was black with layers of dead gnats. It was like the literal plague of gnats that God brought on the Egyptians.
That was just week 1. And I was freaking out.
Then came the ants in the juice. Extra protein, we called it. Extra protein for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Fortunately, those were regular ants, because next came the fire ants. After those boogers and the other mutant Nicaraguan bugs got a hold of me, I had over 200 bug bites. The doctor at the hospital I later stayed at called in the residents, nurses, and any other hospital occupants to come ooh and ahh at my battle wounds. Eventually, I got sick of bathing myself in a 100% deet mixture every morning and wore jeans for the last few weeks I was Nicaragua. I wore jeans in a Caribbean climate with 100% humidity level 100% of the time.
Then the bugs got a little more intimate. Really intimate. A few weeks after I arrived in Nicaragua, I contracted a parasite. An amoeba. (Is contracted even the right word?) Combined with dehydration, this amoeba destroyed my body, from my intestines up to my brain. This parasite was my breaking point — the fact that an actual bug, my worst nightmare, everything I had ever feared, was inside of me.
After the parasite inhabited my body for quite some time, I noticed a shift in my attitude towards bugs. Perhaps I was actually becoming mentally ill from these creatures, but I found myself approaching them with care rather than fear. One evening I saw the largest cockroach I have ever seen. A cockamouse, if you will. At 4-5 inches long, it usually would have sent me running to the nearest bridge to fling myself off of it. Due to either impending lunacy or actual care for bugs, I let it slide onto my hand, then freed it outside.
Then the scorpion. I apologize for the up-close-and-personal approach, but how else do you tell a story about finding a scorpion in your underpants? At one point towards the end of my time in Nicaragua, I went to the restroom. I pulled my pants down, looked down and there was a scorpion in my underpants. Now, this restroom in particular was famous for being a scorpion habitat, so, knowing this and having already experienced more intimacy with bugs than I ever desire to experience, I didn’t freak out. I don’t even think I told anyone. However, I do have a few unanswered questions. For example, how long was the scorpion in my underpants? Why didn’t he sting me? And how did a scorpion get in my underpants? Most people probably have some pretty intense questions to ask God when they get to Heaven, and I do too. But these are definitely in my top 10.
At this point in my trip to Nicaragua I was one with the bugs. Like those dog whisperers you see on TV. That was my relationship with the bugs. But my story doesn’t end with a scorpion — it wouldn’t be a good bug tale without some tarantulas. In the last week of my stay, I was working on a new building for the local school. While shoveling, I noticed a momma-tarantula and five of her babies crawling on my feet. Aware yet unafraid, I continued working, careful not to harm them, and they eventually scurried on their way.
If I said “Travel makes me unafraid,” that would be a lie. I’m human and have different fears every day. Sometimes I still jump when I see a bug. Travel makes me realize the deceitful power of fear and the defeat of fear through faith and trust; traveling gives me courage to overcome it.
The Wayfaring Woman