That Time I Had Bedbugs

Everyone blamed the reindeer. I don't think it was them.
Everyone blamed the reindeer. I don’t think it was them.

If you’ve never had bedbugs, I salute you. They are a vicious breed that clings tenaciously to life. My experience was long, quite long, and made my summer quite difficult.

I returned from the Reindeer Herders to my home in Erdenet to discover that I was waking up with small red bumps all over any part of my body that was exposed during sleep. I thought nothing of it, and left to spend my summer in Darkhan. Upon my return from Darkhan, however, the bites were still there. Perpetually itchy, I managed to get an exterminator to come to my apartment.

He was an elderly Kazakh gentleman, and he ushered me out as he sprayed the poison. Everyone referred to it as a disinfection: a nice way to talk about clearing out unwanted guests. He told me to come back the next day and to clean the rugs thoroughly. I did so, and the bugs appeared to be gone, their hollow corpses the only memento of their stay. A few nights later, however, the bites were back. I killed some crawling on my walls, their thin bodies exploding with what I can only assume was my blood. It was maddening.

The second exterminator was an older woman from the health center. She came in and began to spray before stopping to argue with my Mongolian friend about getting paid. She wanted to be paid immediately, but we tried to explain that we needed a receipt and we would pay the health center later, not the woman directly. She stopped mid spray and stormed out.

“Was she trying to get more money? Does she think I’m rich because I’m foreign?” I asked my friend, unsure of what just transpired.

“No,” she replied, “she is a stupid woman.”

I was left confused, my apartment still riddled with bedbugs.

The third exterminator came over a few days later, after the payment had been sorted out. She came in, but could barely pump her sprayer, given her age. She put on her mask and asked me to stand there and pump for her while she sprayed. I agreed, and began pumping while she covered the rug, walls, curtains, and furniture with poison. It was very warm, weather-wise, and my heat had turned on, so the apartment itself was very hot. With the addition of all the moisture, it became incredibly sticky. I was sweating quite a bit, unmasked, as poison filled the air. As I sat there pumping, I wondered if this would be considered absurd or strange anywhere else in the world: helping your exterminator do their job because they are physically unable to do so. I hope her weakness didn’t come from breathing in the poison.

She finished her spraying and escorted me out, giving me the same instructions the Kazakh gentleman did. I returned, cleaned, and the bugs had vanished. You never know how good life is until you’ve slept your first night in weeks without bed bugs. I did learn the word for bedbug: Pisa (писа), which I’m told is Russia, since there is no Mongolian word for them. The more you know!


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