Saturday, 13 June 2009

And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

It is a few hours after midnight. My eyes are hot and dry as I blink them open; I wonder fleetingly why I am awake, and then I hear it: EeerrrrzzZZm!

And now I feel it, too: that nasty, infuriating itch you get after a mosquito has dined on your blood.

Snapping the light on, my tired eyes do a quick circuit of the room as I try to find it. I spot a spider or two, the odd moth, and a few dead mosquitoes from previous late night mosquito safaris, but not the living culprit.

My husband sleeps on, blissfully unaware.

In Japan, mosquitoes weren't interested in my blood as long as I was with my husband. I could sleep straight through the night, waking up with only the odd bite. Mosquitoes were ravenous for my husband's blood; he would wake up scratching and swearing to find me unbitten and refreshed. At some point, however, they developed a taste for me. We bought mosquito nets and rigging them up every April became one of our family's rites of spring, just as taking them down towards the end of autumn got to be a preparing-for-winter ritual.

Before we left Japan, we gave those nets to neighbors. Wish we had them now.

I am forced to abandon my hunt; wherever she is, this mosquito isn't going to show herself. I flick the light off and settle back down, breathing deeply and hoping against hope that sleep may claim me again.

And then it starts: that horrible yeerRRRZZZZm buzzing near my ear. I flick the light back on and I see her, poised on the wall. I flail at her with my pillow. I miss.

After a three-minute mosquito safari and a good spray of Bug-off, I still haven't caught the nasty little creature, but I hope I've scared her off. I turn off the light and settle back into my pillows with a sigh.

And all of a sudden there is the most unearthly noise: a song that isn't a song, an eerie, heartfelt, drawn-out cry that chills my blood. It has just enough of a tune to make me think it must be a song, but then the singer lowers his voice and a whining, mournful, urgent chorus takes over.

It goes on for at least five minutes and I realize it must be the pre-dawn call to prayer from the nearby mosque. I'm usually fast asleep during the pre-dawn call to prayer. Wish I was now: it seems to go on forever, an atonal, anguished droning that sets my teeth on edge.

During the day, I love the call to prayer. My students all claim that the call to prayer in this area is nowhere near as beautiful as it is in their own hometowns. They swear that the muezzins in Istanbul -- or Konya -- or Antalya all sing out the call with a full-throated skill that is utterly dazzling. If this is true, it must be something: I find it hard to imagine anything more lilting or romantic than the one we have right here in our own town. It centers and steadies me and gives me a sense of inner peace and oneness with humanity.

It doesn't do that now.

Finally -- mercifully! -- it is over and I take a deep, steadying breath. I go through my usual sleep-inducing rituals, starting with countries that begin with A. Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina... I'm half the way to Azerbaijan when the rooster next door decides it's time to get to work, letting loose with a blood-curdling ooohAAAHuhlllOOOH.

I'm not the only one who has noticed that this rooster can't crow worth beans. You've never heard anything as pathetic. He'll start off, loud and brash and clumsy, then stop himself mid cockle-doodle-doo as though he's forgotten the lyrics. You can almost imagine him trying to remember how to do it in the quiet that follows that first abortive attempt. You lie there in the dark, wondering when he'll start up again. You don't want to get too relaxed and comfortable; you know you have to brace yourself for that sudden heart-stopping cry. And then, just as you've decided that he must have given it up as a bad job, he'll start again:aaahOOOaaaOOOuhOOOOOOH.

And, so help me God, he goes on and on and on.

I am not a cruel or violent person. I try not to quarrel with my husband and children; I put up with my colleagues' quirks and peccadilloes; I catch bees and moths and release them outside instead of swatting them; I eat a largely vegetarian diet and feel guilty for the small amount of meat I do consume. But I could happily force our local muezzin to listen to System of a Down and Rammstein, full volume. I would absolutely spread that mosquito all over the wall, and yes, at this moment I would wring that stupid rooster's neck.

Tomorrow I'm buying something stronger than citronella oil. And earplugs.

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18 comments:

Kim Ayres said...

Definitely recommend the ear plugs :)

And Maggie is tastier than I am, so if there are mosquitoes or midges about they all go for her.

Bish Denham said...

Aside from the call to prayer, I can so identify with this post. When I go the islands the mosquitoes buzz, the frogs and geckos sing, the dogs bark, the roosters crow. It's a wonder I get any sleep at all.

I'm lucky (I guess) that I still have an immunity against island mosquitoes. They may bite, but the itch and bump don't last. However the mosquitoes where I currently live cause a huge hive-like welt that lasts hours and hours. Chiggers like me too. My husband never gets bit. Grrrrrr.

Kit said...

I sympathise on the mozzy front. We sleep under nets, even now in the middle of winter, because one warm day is enough to awake the one lone mosquito that will wake you at 2am. And last summer they even got determined enough to find their way inside the nets ... but then at least they are easier to catch trampolining on the bed in the middle of the night!

Robert the Skeptic said...

Of course the rooster isn't crowing "cock-a-doodle-do", silly... he's crowing in Turkish!!!

Charles Gramlich said...

I've always been the one that the mosquitoes didn't like.

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- I need those special heavy-duty wax ones that the people who work in airports use.

And listen: for years I bragged about how I wasn't tasty to mosquitoes. That can change in a heartbeat, so be forewarned!

Bish -- I adore the frogs and geckos -- they don't bite me! -- but those mosquitoes have just got to go.

When I lived in Miami, the mosquitoes would bite me right through the denim of my jeans and I never got immune. In Japan, we had nasty striped mosquitoes that left huge raised weals, and I'll never forget the misery of chigger bites, acquired in Kentucky when we went berry-picking. I don't understand why all these biting insects have to be in the world at all...

Kit -- Isn't it amazing how one tiny little mosquito can bedevil creatures much larger and smarter? Mosquitoes used to get into our nets too -- or we would sometimes fall asleep right against the net and get bitten to bits. But you're right: it was a lot easier to catch them inside the net than it was to chase them all over the house.

Robert -- You're right: I've been expecting cock-o-doodle-doo in English, not Turkish! I'll have to get my English-Turkish phrase book out again...

Charles -- For years, that was me: un-delicious to mosquitoes. Then, almost overnight, they discovered my tastiness and now I am utterly at their mercy. Enjoy it while it lasts...

Charlie said...

Geckos are abundant here in the desert and we keep two in the house. The cute little buggers eat all the bugs at night: skeeters and crickets, the latter of which can drive you nuts too.

Vijaya said...

Mosquitos prefer me to anybody else in my family ... they will e blissfully enjoying themselves while a dozen or so of those evil creatures will be feasting on me. Ugh. It's hard to love all of God's creatures ...

kara said...

what, ambien?

seriously though, how do they always find your ear in the dark? i mean, it's just mean, they don't even want to bite you there, they just want to make sure you're pissed off when they finally do bite you.

Eryl Shields said...

I can't recommend earplugs highly enough, though I find the foam ones best as the hard wax ones hurt if you sleep on your side.

When I was in Turkey I had a mosquito repellent spray that worked wonders but made me feel really hot so I preferred the odd bite. I know some people who swear by Avon's skin so soft spray on body oil but it stinks! I don't envy you your choices!

Robin said...

Mosquito thoughts for the day: I've been noticing mosquitoes lately, because it seems like they've gotten uglier over the years. They've become huge, misshapen things, lurching around like something from a bad horror movie. Maybe they're mad at their mutating ugliness, and have become cranky and annoying.

Mary Witzl said...

Charlie -- In Japan, we kept crickets as pets. We had about four different kinds, and their singing was just out of this world -- all sorts of wild chirps and shrills; we miss them. In our laundry shed, we had several old toads. I happen to like toads, but I caught one devouring a cockroach once and my love morphed into respectful adoration. Wish I had a whole crew of geckos here...

Vijaya -- It's provoking, isn't it, to see your family running around, itch-free, when you're covered with nasty mosquito welts. For the life of me, I can't see where mosquitoes fit into God's plan. They have to be there some place, along with cockroaches, liver flukes, and the fungus that causes athlete's foot...

Kara -- I don't get that either! You'd think that they'd lose that noise through evolution; the very first thing any potential victim does after hearing that whine is to start slapping.

Eryl -- Here, the wax earplugs pretty much melt; in Scotland, I can imagine they're hard as bullets.

We were told to bring gallons of Skin So Soft, but we didn't find an outlet in time. I HATE the stuff! The smell is so awful -- like the nastiest men's cologne you could ever find -- that I'd almost rather be bitten.

Robin -- We used to get a few in Japan that were like jokes: they were big and wiry and it was as though they'd been put together by clumsy children. They were easy to kill, too -- unlike the hateful little striped numbers that were actually rather pretty. Nature is weird, isn't it?

Mia Dickinson said...

The foxes keep me up at night, they sound like a mixture between a crying baby and a women screaming.

Mozzies are just as bad!

Angela said...

Oh I hate nights like these. And we get some pretty thirsty mosquitoes here in Canada.

renolds said...

The highly popular sleep medication ambien is used for short term sleep treatment only, i.e. for 7 to 10 days and it is known that Ambien is a prescription-based drug and hence should be used only after getting hold of a doctor’s prescription. Use Ambien as per the instructions of the doctor to cure your sleep problems and bear in mind that this medicine is likely to become ineffective if used for a long term and hence the use of this drug should be strictly supervised by a physician.

Mary Witzl said...

Mia -- Being kept up by foxes sounds very exotic. The best part would be that the foxes would eat that damn rooster. That would cut out one big problem right there.

Angela -- I remember Canadian mosquitoes! I would never have believed how big or persistent they could be if I hadn't experienced them firsthand. It just doesn't seem fair to have tough winters AND voracious mosquitoes, but then it does keep out the riff-raff...

Reolds -- Will your preparation kill my mosquitoes? Will it quell my sand flies, turn down the volume on the pre-dawn call to prayer, or hush up the rooster next door? If it will do all those things, I'll consider getting my hands on a prescription. If not, chamomile tea and hot milk for me.

Chocolatesa said...

Lolll! Thank you for the laugh!! Yes I can attest to Canadian mosquitoes being big nasty things having lived in the country until the age of 18. Luckily I'm in the city now so we hardly get any.

ambien said...

If you start taking Ambien then stop taking it you have bigger sleep problems than you started with.