the worst experience of all was when I began to itch. There we were, in a
remote village north of Wamena, Irian Jaya. We had chosen to spend the night in a
teacher's house as opposed to setting up a camp in this sometimes hostile and
volatile region populated by the indigenous Dani and Yali people. Since we
weren't camping, we could pack less, leaving much of our camping gear and
other miscellaneous items in storage at our hotel in Wamena.
The smoke from the warming fire hung chokingly thick in the air. Each
time the fire died, the porters got cold and one of them went out to chop
wood. This, in turn, set off the entire population of dogs in the village.
The insistent barking vibrated our primitive shack. As soon as things
settled down again, inevitably, one of the 10 inhabitants of our tiny dwelling
would have to go out to pee. This pattern of asphyxiation, wood chopping and
dog barking, with intermittent sounds of urination, continued throughout the
With the taste of bug repellent still lingering in my mouth and my mosquito
net snugly tucked in, I could not imagine what could be feasting so happily on my
body. It was munching on my husband, too, and with our flashlights we
carefully checked each other out from head to toe. Nothing. We found no
evidence of life -- only small bumps on our trunks and extremities. This we
found extremely frustrating.
Reluctantly, I pulled out the stronger repellent. As we itched and scratched and choked, we applied the heavy-duty stuff and tried again
to get some sleep. The mysterious bugs were slowed but not stopped. It was
a long, miserable night.
The next morning, after some strong tea and boiled eggs, we smiled and got out our Polaroid camera. Our host family put on their nicest clothes and groomed
each other. Villagers stopped and asked if they, too, could be in the
photos. Shy faces looked into the flash, half hiding and half wanting to
know just how it did that. They crowded around the finished photo giggling
and pointing. Thinking that it might shame the family if we mentioned the
bugs, we paid the teacher, thanked him and his family for letting us stay
there, and went on our way.
After a few miles, we found a nice private place on the Baliem River to
mandi (bathe) and assess our bites. Under the morning sun, we looked over each
other again, this time counting the bites and applying an anti-itch cream.
After checking in at the next police station, we were informed of tribal
wars farther ahead on our route and were advised to go back to Wamena.
At our hotel we retrieved our belongings from storage and headed to the room for some much-needed sleep. I fumbled through
my toiletries bag, which was among those I'd stored, and there it
was, what I would have paid big money for the night before, an item I had
so carefully shopped for in the States, yet carelessly left behind: my can
of "bed bug spray."
-- Lori Makabe