14 November 2010

Top 5 pests in Tonga

Caught on camera by Jenny, our volunteer neighbor in 'Eua
Six inches long and shiny black, the prehistoric-looking creature writhes across the floor on its spiny black legs, impervious to blows harsh enough to flatten a cockroach, its bite strong enough to paralyze a newborn....

But for some perspective, lets talk first about some pests that Tonga doesn't have.

Malaria inside you
In my opinion, for everything that matters, Tonga is a bug-free paradise. There is little problem with:
  1. Malaria: no children dying of fevers, no working parents unable to support their families because of sickness. We're the wrong latitude for it. 
  2. Aids: There have been only 14 documented cases in Tonga in the last 16 years, and although in the future it may become more of a problem, it doesn't seem to be growing fast.
  3. Typhoid, TB, or Pneumonia: Although they have all existed at some point in low numbers in Tonga, there are only about 10-20 annual cases of Typhoid recorded, 23 cases of TB in 2006 (but with a 100% cure rate), and only 1 serious childhood pneumonia case. Not enough for the average person to worry about.
  4. Killer snakes, killer spiders, killer anything creepycrawly on the ground: Amazing but true. People say here, "Nothing on land can kill you." (which is not that comforting when you're swimming, but does reduce the heart rate a bit when you're on a hike and you've brushed into your third 5-inch spider hanging across the path)
  5. Any other horrible parasite that blinds, cripples, crawls into your scalp, emerges from your ankle, or generally makes you into a sample picture for a medical text book. 
In my opinion, the general lack of the first two makes up for any amount of inconvenience caused by bugs that Tonga does have. 

So here's the big list: In Tonga, we have ...

  1. Molokau: That huge many-legged monster of the beginning of this blog and of your nightmares? It exists and its called a molokau. There's a relative of the molokau somewhere in South America that someone filmed catching and eating a mouse. If molokaus were human, they would ride Harleys, wear studded leather jackets, and be rude to your mom (no offense to Harley owners or studded leather jackets. I quite like them myself.). Their bite is incredibly painful, and they will chase you - yes chase you - across the floor if you're not quick enough. Every volunteer has a molokau story of some sort. We were just at a friend's house and he told us that last week, as he was going to get a can of bug spray to kill one, it chased after him down the hall. They're aggressive little buggers and appear in the strangest places without warning.

    We joke that the molokau is made up of all the nastiness that somehow never made it to the rest of Tonga's creatures, because after them, the list is embarrassingly tame:

  2. Dengue fever: There was an outbreak in 2003 that was quickly brought under control. Now, the occasional case pops up during the rainy season, prompting city-wide cover-your-standing-water campaigns, but it never gets to epic proportions.
  3. Mosquitos: Yes, their sole joy in life is to hover under the table to bite your legs, or whine in your ear at 2 in the morning. And occasionally give you Dengue.
  4. Cockroaches: We, like everyone else in Tonga, keep most of our food in a huge sealed rubbermaid container, because if left in the cupboard, any bag will quickly develop little ragged holes that let your flour and sugar pour out the moment you lift them up. Not to mention cockroach eggs and other little tasty morsels hiding in the flour.
  5. Woodbores and termites: In the Philippines, we called them bokbok - the microscopic little creatures that eat your house, tables, bookshelves, bed frame, and anything else wooden until its completely hollow. Except you don't know it until you rest your hand against a door frame, and find that its just a shell of paint hiding where the door frame used to be.

    And earning a special extra place on the list of pests:
  6. Dogs:  They aren't a problem really until it gets dark, and then, we purposely trace routes through the city based on how many dogs we'll have to avoid or kick at as we ride past their territory and they snap at our heels. Packs of roving dogs roam through in the middle of the night, and the two sweet dogs (named Bruno and Simba) who live at our house defend their territory, loudly, at 2 AM. 
little pellets the wood bores made
wood bore damage in our house

    But honestly? I'm happy dealing with the occasional molokau, frequent cockroaches, mosquitoes, and everything else on the list, just to be living in a place where we don't have to take malaria medication once a week, don't have to have colleagues dealing with the effects of AIDS, and can go walking through the woods without fear of a death attack from an angry snake. Tonga is pretty great that way. 

    Thanks to Mark Homer for the topic inspiration. 

    Sources for numbers, pictures, and confirmation of rumours:


    1. The two of you are great writers! Perhaps you should write a book!

    2. So funny!
      I was searching for a molokau picture to post on my blog after a run in with one and stumbled across your blog! Crazy! This is Stephanie, the swing dancing Baha'i you met at the poetry night here. Turns out the community celebrated Naw Ruz (our New Year on the 21st of March) by going to the beach instead - cool option! This meant there was no dancing... yet. Will keep you in the loop!

      Keep up the adventures,


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