Have you ever utterly wept over a small insect you held in your fingers? Have you ever stood over a huge pot of boiling water on an open fire that is filled with your unmentionables? Have you ever done laundry like a pioneer woman stirring, dipping and hanging items with a huge stick while your throat and sinuses ached from inhaling poison? I have. I have done all of these things and more until only the word ‘weary’ seems to describe my existance.
My husband, Dave, left for MAF’s Leadership Conference on Monday April 17th and was to be gone for exactly two weeks before arriving back here in Nyankunde. It always seems that when he leaves, regardless for the amount of time, that bad things happen; discouraging things happen. Usually it has involved our animals, specifically our chickens, and I now expect many deaths when he leaves. Usually for no specific reason; they go unexplained or are so random you can hardly fathom how it happened or why.
This time was no exception but there was more, our home was infested. I didnt know to what extent that first Monday but that first night I spent in my kitchen with the fly swatter (hardly used for flys here) and a can of bug spray attempting to erradicate an infestation of large cockroaches. They had invaded the non-food prepping side of my kitchen in all of the cupboards. They had gotten out of control as I dont open those cabinets in the evening hardly at all, which is their active time. I stopped counting at 50 medium to large cockroaches about the size of my thumb from knuckle down and just kept killing. The kitchen was washed and poison put down the next day after that night, and I figured things were under control.
For the rest of that week Daniel and I experienced Spiritual Warfare in an intense, very real way; first on our own for a few nights and then alongside other friends who came to stay with us because of what was going on. This too, is a pattern for when Dave leaves our home for periods of time. Now before you just write me off, know that I used to be one of those Christians that would shake my head at these types of things and Spiritual Warfare was just something that was “out there” and didnt affect daily life. I’ve experienced it more and in such a real way these past few weeks that it is no longer “not real” to me. It was real, it was physical and spiritual and it was heavy. It had me sleep-deprived and weary. Perhaps a different post on this later.
The following Monday Dave had been gone for exactly one week. That day I discovered we were infested with ticks in our home. I had placed a laundry basket full of cloth diapers in my son’s room that had been sitting in our room for almost a month, with the intention of putting them away at last. That basket, along with many others, had been sitting in our room for so long because of an almost month-long span of malaria we had dealt with just previous to this (yeah – it’s not been the best season in our time here so far). Dave and I got malaria on the same day the first week, then we had a week of staycation while recovering, then Dave had a relapse the next week and the week after that I had a terrible relapse with a dangerously high parasite count that required in-home nursing care and an IV. So yeah, I was behind on things. It had sat in his room a few days when I finally got to putting the diapers away and discovered a tick infestation all over them. Hundreds and hundreds crawling all over them, Adults and so many small baby ones.
By the time I had realized there was a problem I had put some diapers away with the clean ones infecting them all. The basket had sat in his room for days, allowing time for wanderers. It had come from our room. When checking our room I discovered thousands of ticks all over our bedroom. All over the floor, under the bed, in the laundry baskets, on the walls, on our bedspread, on the window seals and in the cracks of the woodwork. Are you itching yet? They were burrowed into the dog bed, squeezed in cracks in the cement or even just boldly crawling on the floor. The dog had brought them in and because of sickness and general life I had not been diligent in picking her clean every night like I used to. Topical treatments, like Frontline, dont work on the ticks here – they are different species and the formula is for North American ticks. They are also very small and the babies are almost impossible to see if you are not looking close with a flashlight; easy to miss and live everyday life without even seeing them.
I talked with a friend from here who has had to deal with this a few times and who has researched ticks here like a professor. I was going to have to boil everything fabric, wash the entire house with permethrin and bleach before spreading a toxic poison that had to sit a minimum of 3 days before being swept up and the house re-cleaned. We had to move out; our son could not touch or be around the powder and even us adults working with it should have worn a mask the whole time. Just breathing the poison when putting it down gave you a terrible sinus ache and sore throat. They were worn for the clean up.
So we moved in with another MAF family here on the base. They would watch Daniel for me during the day so I could come back to our house and work. Clothes, diapers, linens, towels, sheets, rugs, curtains, shoes, pillows, couch cushions – everything cloth or mostly cloth had to be boiled to kill the ticks; just washing things wouldnt work because water doesnt kill them. Massive pot after pot of boiling water was made and things put in and boiled to kill anything on them. I would stir the pots with a huge stick and take the laundry out of the pots with the stick before it sat in baskets to then be washed, hung up to dry on our laundry line and others’ lines, folded and then stored in another empty MAF house. We also used the machine and line of this empty house to help speed things up.
The animals had to all be either moved or put outside. We moved our two kitties with their litter box and food down to the empty house we were using for clean storage and laundry facilities. The parrot was moved outside and the dog was also moved outside permenately. She is now an outside dog and is not allowed back in. I feel bad but I cannot do this again, so outside she will remain. It was a hard adjustment for them all. It was also a very confusing and difficult time for our son. He loves our MAF friends that we stayed with and it is only becuase of this that he didnt completely fall apart but his behavior was much worse than normal, he was more sensitive, had trouble sleeping and after a couple days of me slipping away to work,would freak out if I stepped out of his sight. It was hard on us all.
I had help with all of this and would not have been able to get things even to where they are today if I had been working alone. The other family we stayed with watched Daniel, hosted us even to preparring all our meals, and even hung clean laundry on their line so it could dry. Other families offered meals.
I also had our house workers there to help. They worked tirelessly alongside me to strip the house, wash things, hang laundry, spread powder, move and wash furniture, and boil things. Their help was needed but unfortunately their help caused some damage too; some of our clothes were ruined after being boiled together. It was after that that I explained how you have to boil like colors with like colors and I supervised the boiling more closely. Most of my shoes were also ruined in the boiling process from coming unglued and the rubber melting, including a nice pair of expensive teva sandals we bought and a wonderful pair of nike tennis shoes that I had been gifted years ago by some friends. Flip flops only here folks. Dave’s shoes may also have shrunk too much for him to use, that remains to be seen fully.
Each night after our workers and I were done working and we needed to leave, we would have to take all of the clean or boiled items down to the other house in baskets. It couldnt sit in the infested house for fear of it getting compromised and reinfested but it also couldn’t sit out on the back porch in case the dog decided to curl up on it. Then the next morning we would have to bring it back up here to continue the process. You were never idle; always stirring, wrining, starting a load of laundry in the machine or filling the machine using a bucket, cleaning, spreading powder, running to the empty house to check on the laundry there, etc.
Fast forward a week and we were finally “moved” back into the house for sleeping and living. By “moved-in” I mean there were sheets on the beds and the bedroom curtains were up – that was it. I hadnt cooked for a week and I barely had the privacy of curtains up in our living room but it was good to be back in our home. We had “moved” back in the night before we expected Dave back home. He was supposed to be back the next day, a Monday, but there was a delay with the airlines causing a missed flight and a 24 hour lay-over. He didnt get back to Nyankunde until Wednesday afternoon. He showed up to a weary and easily-irritable wife from my very very long two-week stretch without him while dealing with this. Poor man.
That same day, I discovered that our chicken house was infested with red mites and my poor chickens were covered with them. When it rains, it pours. Along with trying to put the house back together piece by piece, we now had another infestation to deal with. Take everything out, spray and wash it all with permethrin, dust with powders to kill, apply oil to all the wood to suffocate the bugs, treat the chickens, redo the dust bathing box to help them self-erradicate them and then do it again. This problem has only just begun and will take months of follow-up and continual preventative care.
Fast forward a few more days and it is now Saturday, today in fact. Today I woke up with the reassurance that the ticks were dead and our house was on it’s way to being put back together. I got up, put my contacts in and started to get dressed. I bent over to pick up some diaper liners that had fallen on the floor from a laundry basket of now fully clean clothes when I saw it. A tick, sitting on the diaper. I looked closer and it wasnt moving. Perhaps it was a dead one left over? I touched it. It moved. And then I melted down emotionally.
There I stood in our bedroom, somewhat dressed, holding a squirming tick between my fingers bawling like the broken woman I felt like. All my efforts had been for nothing, all that work had to be redone, and now where would we live? These thoughts began running through my head as the sobs escaped my mouth and the tears fell. I threw it in the toilet and began to look around our room. I found another, then a third and my sobbing turned to histerically weeping. I had failed. All of my work, the times holding it together and pushing through had gotten me no-where. We still have an infestation on our hands.
My husband was finally able to bring me around after a few inconsolable hours (yes, literally hours) that my efforts were not pointless and that these were probably just in our room and that we just need to keep at it. They were along the one wall under the window seal and seemed to be coming from there. We applied more bug spray and I sprayed the wall and all cracks with Diamataceous Earth, a natural bug killer. The poison didn’t erradicate them last time so now I’m turning to this. Using this takes about the same amount of time to kill them but we dont have to move out, worry about Daniel touching it and it works on all kinds of bugs. People use it in their homes to get rid of fleas, ticks, mites and even bed bugs. It works and it’s safe. I’ll be using it from now on as a preventative as well. It will even help with the cockroaches in the kitchen.
So today was probably the lowest moment I have had since moving here to Congo. I have one other moment that comes to mind after I had had to wipe out all of my chickens after the third time of restarting because of disease that came close to this one. I had been so undone at that moment and it had been right in the middle of a time when Dave was away also. At least Dave was here for this moment and was able to be there with me and be my rock.
I can honestly say I’m almost too weary for reflection at this moment, lacking any revelations or amazing thoughts to end this post with. All I have are the bare-bone admissions of a worn down and weary woman. The confesions of the “other side of missions” from a broken missionary. The truth of how hard these past few weeks have been for me and how at so many different times I had the desire to ‘light a match and walk away from it all.’ How I feel trapped staying in this house right now; a place that is normally my sanctuary feels like an infested cage. How I’m behind on everything from the house, to the garden to the animals to cooking. How the chaos around me of my house in shambles and the disorganization adds to my stress every moment but I’m almost too tired to take care of fixing it. The truth that I’m not parenting well right now because of how empty I am; I have no patience to deal with even the little things. How I’m not being the best wife to my husband. How things have fallen apart or fallen to the side and on days it seems like my son and my animals are lucky to get fed. The truth that I’m deeply soul-weary at this moment and cry at everything, even a bug in my home or the thought of my husband going back to work.
This is that other side of missions, the ugly side that not everyone sees. It isnt all fun and games here. It doesnt all go great with happy smiling missionaries all the time. We can be broken, we can be weary. It doesnt mean we are leaving. It doesnt mean we are giving up or have somehow lost faith in God. It does mean that we are human. This is that other side that people dont see, that missionaries are afraid to lay bare for fear that supporters will fade away or some other reason.
We are still infested, on multiple fronts and are attempting to deal with it. The house is not back together and likely wont be for some time until we are sure all the ticks are gone. I have to try to purchase preventative measures like some special tick collars I just was told about that actually work here and more DE to spray all over our house. The attic is still infested with rats that keep us up at night but now we have traps to deal with them (Dave brought them back). Daniel is still having nightmares and waking from all the upset. I’m still weary.