20 October 2010

Opinions. Trust, and Bedbugs

During the last part of the Great Bed Bug Battle, I was at a loss. Since I haven’t written about it yet, I should mention that bedbugs are tough not because their bites really bother me, or because they transmit diseases or something, but because they are so hard to kill. They hide, and they hide well. You think they’re gone, and then they come back.

So here I am, in a house full of couch cushions that don’t belong to me, and for two days, I hoped that the bedbugs had died, and that we would be out of the woods, so to speak. But no such luck. Just as everything I’d read online had predicted, they found a new place to live, and I was still providing them with a ready food source.

And so I was faced with a choice. Try to fight them, or move. I mean, if I were in the US, I would not have to make this choice. I would save my money, live frugally, and pay for a professional extermination company to come. But those companies don’t exist in Morocco.

One of my best friends in the world told me not to be afraid to ask for help. But I’m not sure that was the best thing, because I ran into a million people with a million different suggestions. Everyone has their opinion, and, in my experience in Morocco, everyone presents their opinion as fact. And because I was flustered and frustrated, I took their “factual knowledge” at face value, and based my opinions on them in the beginning.

The “fact” that some insecticide power around the baseboards of my house would kill them, didn’t work because the person who told me this thought the bedbugs act like cockroaches and run around. Not true, they just hide in the furniture, come out to eat, and go back to lay eggs. The “fact” that a week in the sun will kill any bugs in a cushion didn’t work because the sun in Rabat does not heat anything to 120, which is what you need to kill bedbugs at all life stages. The “fact” that a deadly liquid sprayed on everything in the house would work was false, because that liquid can’t get inside the couch, and inside the wood of the doors, window frames, or couch cushions. And so (God forgive me if I’m wrong) when my landlady and my real estate agent, both of whom say they’re on my side, tell me that the “traditional” remedy of burning hot pepper on charcoal and leaving the carbon-dioxide pepper smoke in the house for a week, will work like nothing else, I am no longer inclined to believe them.

It comes down to trust. In my experience here, people tell you what you want to hear, people tell you what they think they know, but unless you are super close to someone, they will not tell you something they think you won’t like. They won’t be honest. And, until I moved here, I never thought of myself as a particularly honest person. But now, after this, I am proud of my honesty, and at the same time, sadly, less trusting of Moroccans that I’ve just met.

I mean, my landlady insisted, swore up and down, that once I paid the first month’s rent, anything that broke in the house was my responsibility. She said that’s how they do it “outside” meaning abroad. What??? So because your crappy pipes exploded, I’m supposed to pay for it? Because you let the house fall into disrepair while you were in Italy, I’m supposed to live with your flaking paint just because I paid first month’s rent? No, I’m sorry.

And this is why I don’t feel guilty for deciding to leave. You say you believe me that I’m not the Rich Foreigner, but then you keep demanding this money from me, bringing in the real estate man, and starting a fight, so that I feel so pressured to pay you. All I’ve been eating is bread for days, and some eggs or soup or couscous once in a while thanks to the generosity of some good homestay families.

And, I’m deciding to change houses because the one Moroccan I would trust with my life – he who had the courage to break up with me because he knew he couldn’t be with a non-Muslim for the rest of his life – told me that I am here to work, and this mess, which has taken over my life since the beginning of October, is interfering with my work. And that, after a month of crazy, is the sanest thing I’ve heard.

(Maybe, serendipitously, my life will return to being sane just in time for the Rally for Sanity. I am with you all in spirit.)

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