A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
When coming to live in the Netherlands for the first time, it is usually the beautiful canals, windmills, red-brick houses, Gothic churches, and sprawling fields of tulips that occupy the imagination. On eventually arriving here, little does one think of having to face up to that tropical vampire: the mosquito. This was indeed the last thing I thought I would encounter when I left India during the monsoons, and one of the first to occupy my mind for the first few days in the Netherlands.
Exiting the Central Station as I walked around the town of Leiden on a beautiful ‘sunny’ day, I immediately fell in love with the crisscrossing canals, the weeping willows, and chestnut tree-lined streets. The bicycles, the windmills, red-brick houses and gothic church….they were all there and I was happy to put my camera to use. But little did I realise that the evening would bring with it something more dreadful.
Well to be true, the previous tenant had left me enough warning: signs of his battle decorated the walls in the room I had rented. However, the magnitude of troubles to come did not fully register until well into my first night. Of course I put on my full-sleeve shirt and pyjamas while walking around the house and trying to chase the mosquitoes away. There was undoubtedly something cathartic in grabbing at the mosquitoes, trying to squish them, squash them, and clap them down with my bare hands. Feeling fairly satisfied with my hour-and-a-half long effort, I shut my door tightly, double checked all the windows, and after packing myself off in my quilt decided to go to sleep. It seemed like I was in bed for barely five minutes before I heard a mosquito buzzing around my head. Thinking that my patience would frustrate its will, I decided to duck back under the quilt. But it persevered, and was duly rewarded the moment I put my head out to get some fresh air. I was on the verge of giving up and just trying to get some sleep after my long and tiring day. But soon some more mosquitoes joined the party. I jumped out of bed and got into battle mode.
I will not bore you further nor put myself through the pain of narrating the full-blooded details of that night, and the nights to come, even if that is what the gravity of the situation may demand. Instead I will simply take you through my painstakingly time tested battle strategy. And be not misguided, for dealing with mosquitoes is no mean task. There is no singular solution, no grand narrative of victory that may help you overcome your enemy. Fighting this enemy requires not a simple stab of the sword, but a varied strategy and diversified approach. Having grown wiser since then, I can, in hindsight vouch for what the ancient Chinese military general and tactician Sun Tzu says in his treatise, The Art of War:
“If yo u know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
So before one tries to fight the mosquito, one needs to know the mosquito. The mosquito, in our case, is the female mosquito who bites because she needs protein for egg-development; her normal diet in fact is nectar. Her tactic is to strike with a serrated needle-like proboscis into the skin, drawing blood with reduced nerve stimulation so that the victim remains unaware of the strike until he/she hears the buzzing or feels his/her skin is itchy.
Likewise one must know oneself. We are often sitting, standing or lying still when the mosquito swoops down for the attack, sensing us by our body heat, the carbon dioxide we exhale and the sweat substances we secrete. Moreover, experts say, that people who are male, overweight and blood type ‘O’ attract more mosquitoes than others.
The first step of course is to keep oneself well covered and reduce the exposed skin area. But this is not always possible during the summer and it becomes necessary to take other measures. Such as not allowing water to stagnate in any part of the house and keeping the house clean. But since you obviously will not be able to (and would not want to) avoid the beautiful canals–which is where the mosquitoes actually thrive–installing screens on open windows is a good idea to keep the mosquitoes from entering the house in the first place. HEMA and Blokker sell a variety of such screens. Do not procrastinate on this, and be not deceived by the idea that mosquitoes are only around for summer and autumn, for they – as I am now discovering – do not fail to stop by even as the days of October wane.
Inside the house, scented candles, incense sticks and sprays are known to be helpful, but not entirely fool proof. There are a variety of gadgets I discovered on my journey as well, such as electronic mosquito repellents (EMRs), which emit high-frequency sounds to repel female mosquitoes. You can buy one here: http://www.blokker.nl/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDetails?storeId=10001&langId=-104&catalogId=10002&categoryId=&productId=127834. Or alternatively, turn your computer into a frequency emitter: http://uncle-bugs.blogspot.nl/2011/09/turn-your-pc-into-mosquito-repellent.html. It did seem to work for me, although some experts have questioned its efficiency: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20669080.
A mosquito repellent cream is what I use to use for the monsoon mosquitoes in India, and found to be fairly effective. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Odomos-Mosquito-Insect-Repellent-Cream-Aloe-vera-12-HOUR-PROTECTION-Cream-Gel-/170875075736. Liquid repellents such as these are also a good investment: http://www.blokker.nl/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDetails?storeId=10001&langId=-104&catalogId=10002&categoryId=&productId=101804.
Still, stray mosquitoes might bother you and trying to get them with your hands, a rolled up newspaper or a shoe maybe cumbersome. If (like me) you are looking for catharsis, minus the dirty hands – buy an electric swatter. It provides more surface area and makes your attack more efficient, zapping the mosquito with the least effort.
But if you’ve really got a strong conscience, there are a range of biorepellents, such as citronella pants that you can grow outside your window to keep the mozzies away; citronella also comes in creams and candles. Garlic is one of the things I have personally tried – the mosquitoes hate that stuff!
However, if you are of an experimental bent of mind, then you can even make your own mosquito trap. The idea is to attract mosquitoes away by producing carbon dioxide from an alternative source. You ferment brown sugar with yeast and let the solution sit in another part of the house. Here is a detailed explanation: http://www.thriftyfun.com/tf99273276.tip.html.
All that said and done, a mosquito net is an absolute must if you are looking for a good night’s sleep. The Dutch term is ‘klamboe’ and it can be found in Leiden in various colours and shapes at Blokker and at Xenos.
And if there still is a stray mosquito hovering around, well does it stop you from having some fun?! I’ll leave you with this song…
There’s a skeeter on my peter flick it off
There’s a skeeter on my peter flick it off
There’s another on my brother and a dozen on my cousin
There’s a skeeter on my peter flick it off!!
[For other variants, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There’s_a_Skeeter_on_My_Peter#Variations_of_version]