Monday, April 26, 2010

Dealing with mosquitoes in the old days

BACK in the days when mosquitoes were less deadly and dengue or chikungunya were unheard of, there were many ways of dealing with the insect. One of my favourites was to use a medium-sized plate, coat it with a thin layer of coconut oil, and swipe it at a flying mosquito. Nine times out of 10, the flying terror would be caught on the plate.

Just after sunset, as we sat around the serambi (verandah) of the house, one of us would be armed with the sticky plate and get ready for the mosquitoes that had the habit of swarming above our heads.

A few well-timed swipes would yield teaspoonfuls of dead mosquitoes. And when the plate was full, or the oil no longer sticky, we just washed it and coat it with a new film of oil and get ready for the next round.

Of course, this was not the only way we dealt with mosquitoes.

Most houses in the kampung we lived in were built on stilts. Just before the sunset, we would drop embers into dried sabut (coconut husks) to smoke out the mosquitoes.

From afar, it would appear that someone had let off a smoke bomb, just like today's fogging operations, but less choking, I think.

During rainy seasons, when the mosquitoes were too many or when they were more stubborn than usual, we would drop dried chillies into the smouldering husks to add zing to the smoke. And it never failed to drive the mosquitoes from underneath the house.

Some of our neighbours would also burn garden refuse in the evenings.

Today's environmental activists may frown on this practice but in those days, the open burning was a well-accepted prelude to a good night's sleep as the refuse smouldered through the night and kept the mosquitoes away, or so many of us thought.

Those who could afford mosquito nets would string them up over their beds. Additionally, mosquito coils would also be lit.

On some windy months, we often hear tales of houses being razed in fires that were believed to have started from mosquito nets that got caught on a burning mosquito coil.

We also had ways to deal with the mosquito bites; we would spread a glob of kapur (edible lime) that you use in the batter for making crunchy pisang goreng (fried banana fritters) over the swelling.

Before Mopiko and Tiger Balm became vogue, every household that knew how to deal with the bites had kapur stored in recycled Brylcreem or Hazeline Snow bottles tucked away behind the doors or under the bed.

The lime not only soothed the skin but also reduced the swelling.

The only discomfort lime balm users had to endure was the embarrassing white spots all over their limbs.

Today, such "home remedies" are considered primitive.

I am sure your neighbours would report you for open burning even if it is garden refuse that you are trying to get rid of.

I doubt you'd know where to buy edible lime these days since chewing sireh (betel leaves) is no longer in vogue.

You would probably laugh if you see me use kapur on my skin for mosquito bites.

And you would also not hesitate to use the latest aerosol spray you see on television or switch on the electric mosquito repellent with little thought to whether they are any safer than what we used in the old days.

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