In the spirit of Halloween, tonight I give you my horror story…
I may have grown up in the country but as anyone who knows me will attest, I am very much a city girl. I do not ‘do’ Nature. But over the years it would appear it has a habit of finding me anyway. Living in the desert, or a civilised version thereof, you wouldn’t think there was much to worry about. It’s not Australia where packs of spiders wait for you underneath the toilet seat and snakes steal children in the night. But I am discovering lately how wrong my assumptions were about Dubai being Nature-free.
When we moved to here, we lived on the 27th floor of a brand new apartment block in the middle of the building site that was Dubai Marina at the time. It did not occur to me that I would have to deal with any kind of flora or fauna whilst residing there, and I was right – aside from our two cats, nothing else bothered us. When we moved to a villa, little desert beasties suddenly appeared on my radar for the first time. Ants, ants everywhere, and not just annoying ants but carnivorous ones that can smell you a mile away and suddenly attack you while you sip on a beer in the garden, nipping your feet, ankles, and anywhere else they can get to you. Then the mosquitoes arrived. Dubai didn’t have mosquitoes five years ago, or not so we noticed on the 27th floor. I guess the addition of thousands of water sprinklers everywhere and those lovely ‘lakes’ you see all around the new developments have aided their reproduction, to a point where we have regular fogging treatment in our current development just to control the problem.
But neither ants nor mosquitoes are particularly bothersome if you have enough lotion on and ensure you light every citronella candle within a five-mile radius. Slightly more revolting are the little critters that can make it into the house through the cracks under doors and pipe outlets, or by hitching a ride in boxes or deliveries. There are the little jumping spiders that are harmless and easy to kill, but freak you out when they leap. There are the annoying beetle things that don’t seem to serve any function at all except to die everywhere and be used as amusing playthings by my cats.
And then there are the real pests, the ones you just do not want to see. I remember being home alone at 8 months pregnant and opening the cupboard under the sink in the kitchen, only to have dozens of cockroaches pour down the door, fall out onto my bare feet and scatter to the four corners of the room. I shut the door and tried not to give birth before all too quickly remembering that the spray required to exterminate the critters was in said cupboard. (Note: Do not keep insect killer in the place most likely to harbour the problem.) Having summoned up the courage to reopen the door it then occurred to me if I had to empty the cat litter tray with gloves on and avoid hair dye on my scalp, that I probably shouldn’t be spraying Pif Paf. At least not in the quantities I had planned. One panic call to my cleaner later and she came to my rescue, followed swiftly by pest control.
We’ve also had a nest in our garden parasol, which although it was admittedly some time since it had been opened, surprised us all by yielding sleeping baby bats that plopped onto the patio one by one, narrowly missing my husband in the process. Friends of ours have had both red back spiders in the garden and a scorpion who decided to wander into the house one night. Luckily for them they had an Australian guest for dinner who knew exactly how to get rid of the thing. Another useful note: In case of emergency, always make sure you know an Australian.
Our current house has been sprayed inside and out so that (allegedly) nothing can live. But it hasn’t stopped the super-bugs from mounting an attack. And I mean super. There seem to be a new breed of insect invading now that are really, really out of my comfort zone, because they are all enormous. As yet (touch wood) none of these creatures appears to have made it past the front door, and I intend for it to stay that way because they frighten the bejeezus out of me.
First up is the giant moth. Sitting outside having lunch one day, my husband said ‘is that moth bothering you?’ I replied I couldn’t see a moth. Then he pointed out the ten centimetre long BIRD that was resting on our parasol stand. It was so big you could hear its wings flapping as it took off. It made me feel quite ill and also explained the never-ending moth holes that we seem to acquire on our clothes. At that size they must get through a t-shirt a day.
Next up are the giant wasps. A small mound of sand appeared outside our front door one morning last month with a tiny hole in the top. I assumed that it contained an insect that we might want to get rid of, so got the Pif Paf out and did the decent thing. The next day the mound doubled in size. Nothing else happened for a few days but after about a week a wasp that looked like three English wasps joined together took up residence. Pest control were called again, and we learnt that destroying these wasp nests is not enough. These guys keep returning to the same nest site over and over until they die. So let me tell you, we were pretty ruthless about that one.
But finally, my biggest fear. You see, I don’t like spiders. I can cope with small jumping ones and I can cope with small crawling ones but anything larger than my big toenail starts to panic me, and the palm of the hand sort of size actually makes me physically sick. I haven’t put an image on this entry because I can’t look at them, and I’m even scared of dead ones in case they come back to life and get me. I am aware of the existence of Red Backs and lately, it appears, the Huntsman has also invaded Dubai. But honestly, I prefer not to think about it and make sure the garden and garage are sprayed regularly to discourage any unwanted visitors. So when my housekeeper came in a few weeks ago from the bin area with all the colour drained from her face, saying ‘big spider madam, come see’, I knew myself well enough not to do anything of the sort. The bin area. The one place I had forgotten to get treated and possibly the best hidey-hole of all. I called pest control but by the time they arrived the thing had disappeared. I asked my housekeeper to describe the spider to them and she held up two hands. They then sprayed the entire bin area and along the front of our house and the next two houses after that. That really was all the information I needed, but I did a little more research purely to reassure myself, because I seemed to remember reading somewhere that due to their exoskeletal structure, spiders actually can’t grow that big.
However, it would appear that they can. They are called Camel Spiders. According to the net, they are in the UAE and can grow up to EIGHT INCHES in size. That’s pretty much all I know. I actually haven’t googled them because I’m terrified of seeing what they look like and knowing one of them was quite possibly near my house. In fact my husband has banned me from looking them up even to write this blog entry, and I don’t blame him. It could put me in therapy for months or at the very least straight on a plane out of here. So if my facts are a little inaccurate please feel free to correct me.
What I did discover during my limited research was that there had apparently been one lurking by a pool in a nearby villa complex. Someone’s husband had gone for a swim and nearly stepped on it on the way out. The pool guy apparently tried to catch it with a net but it was too big to fit, so they had to sweep it into a box and wait for pest control to come. They really are that big. And they bite. I have no idea if they are poisonous and have no intention of ever getting near enough to one to find out, but here’s the catch with these bastards: apparently, they follow you. Well actually, they don’t follow you, they follow shade, and have a top speed of 10MPH, which is frankly a terrifying speed for something that’s already more scary than one animal has any right to be. So if you happen to see one and run away and you’re facing the wrong direction, it will feel like it’s chasing you because it’s trying to stay in your shadow. HOW FREAKY IS THAT?!
This post is sponsored by: Never. Going. Desert. Camping.