By Irina Echarry
HAVANA TIMES – The mattress was thrown out right there, at the building’s entrance. A neighbor cried out to another to tell her that she wanted to take it: no, leave it, it has bedbugs! They threw it into the flowerbeds, on top of a pile of dry leaves, plastic bags and cardboard.
It wasn’t easy to bring it down from the fourth floor, much less the bed; throwing it was the only choice, and the bedbugs have probably spread all over the garden and staircase, God knows where they ended up.
But the bed already had a destination, it was given “to an old man who has nothing.” The poor man’s life is going to get harder bless him. It’s better for him to carry on sleeping on the sofa, floor, or wherever the man spends his nights.
People saw the mattress a mile away. It didn’t only stand out for its blue lining, but also because it’s strange for somebody to throw out a mattress in good condition. Up until recently, you had to pay a lot more than 100 dollars to buy one; and they cost a lot more now with the reforms.
Out of all of the pests that are ravaging Havana right now – with a vengeance – bedbugs are the most silent. Generally-speaking, people talk about scabies or lice quite easily, especially now that mites are so widespread and medicine shortages force people to ask for help. However, bedbugs are normally a synonym for shame and dirtiness here in Cuba.
Myths and hideouts
That’s not true though, bedbugs don’t particularly care whether a place is clean or dirty. They just need a place to hide and, of course, somebody with blood that they can feed off.
My body’s first reaction was itching on the back of my thighs. It’s scabies, I was told. I thought it was more atypical scabies because the spots are normally different. Mine were small, all together in a straight line and they weren’t festering. The unbearable itching soon moved to other corners of my torso and my arms. As my neighbor and other friends who had gone to her house had similar symptoms, we were all quick to think that it was in fact scabies.
The news would come days later. I hadn’t gone to her house in a while, and I’d been taking permethrin with my itching disappearing, as if by a miracle. Then she told me they found little black bugs in her mother’s bed, “and they aren’t mites”. They fumigated the apartment a few times, but they weren’t able to completely stop the invasion.
So how did they get into the building?
Who knows… The most likely would have been via a mattress repair person. These people who go to people’s homes to fix their mattresses, set up sheds in gardens or backyards, and charge quite a bit for this service. A service that the State doesn’t offer, so you have no other option but to try your luck with these private ones. That’s what my neighbor did.
Everything would be fine if the State sold wadding or another suitable filling for mattresses so that self-employed repair workers could buy it in bulk and do their job. This doesn’t happen though; the only way private workers can get a hold of this raw material is by buying it directly from people who no longer want their old mattresses, or by picking it out of garbage bins. So, the transfer of insects is very dynamic and effective.
Bedbugs are enthusiastic travelers, they can travel on clothes, bags or shoes; then they hide in the most unsuspecting places. When they reach a safe place, they colonize quickly. They are able to lay 1-7 eggs every day, after feeding on blood. Legend has it that they only live in beds, but in my apartment, they managed to set up camp in a wicker armchair and it’s cost me a lot to get them out of there: time, energy, money on fumigations (with a strong-smelling liquid that nobody can tell me what it has in it) and a lot of detergent to wash all the clothes in the house several times, just in case.
So, when I went down the stairs and the blue lining caught my eye, I remembered the spots and the itching of my skin. I immediately thought I must put up a sign on the mattress warning people. I ran back up the stairs, and wrote on a piece of paper: Careful, there are bedbugs!
By the time I came back down… the mattress was already gone…