Living with wild things

Here are several things I’ve learned over the years about living with animals and insects in rural areas:

Mosquitos:

  • Wear thick or loose-fitting clothing and tuck it into your shoes and belt if possible.
  • Mosquito nets, citronella oil, and catching and releasing (e.g., using a bowl and a piece of cardboard) the occasional mosquito that gets past your defenses are very effective, usually harmless to mosquitos, and more eco-friendly and possibly healthy than pesticidal sprays (e.g., DEET). Smoke might work, but also might harm your lungs and pollute the air.
  • Moving around, using fans, and swatting near mosquitos (but not killing them) are also effective ways to deter mosquitos.
  • Mosquitos that might carry dengue fever are usually small-to-medium sized and have lots of white spots, like this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aedes_aegypti.
  • Remaining motionless while a mosquito bites you might minimize the bite’s size and itchiness, but you still might get infected by any viruses it’s carrying (e.g., dengue, malaria, etc.). It’s better to avoid bites altogether.
  • To make a bite less itchy and possibly heal faster, puncture it with a sterilized pin or needle, and squeeze out the fluid inside, most of which comes from the mosquito’s stomach. Then dress it like a wound (soap and water, antibiotic ointment, petroleum jelly or bee’s wax, a bandage, etc.).
  • Mosquitos are diurnal animals (like rabbits and deer), meaning they are most awake around dawn and dusk, probably because that is when it’s hardest for humans and other animals to see them. So maximize your protection during those times.
  • Mosquitos breed in stagnant water, so put any cans, cups, or buckets stored outside upside down, and avoid stagnant ponds, wells, gutters, etc. Flush toilets daily.
  • Stay current on any relevant vaccines you’re comfortable taking (e.g., dengue, malaria, Japanese encephalitis, yellow fever, etc.). Their effectiveness, side effects, and prices vary.
  • Most insects die if put in the refrigerator (their metabolism slows, they become paralyzed, and they starve or freeze to death), but of course, I don’t recommend killing things. If you follow the first precept, be careful not to let bugs get into a refrigerator.

Flies, bees, wasps, etc.:

  • Mosquito nets work just as well for stopping most types of flying insects, not only mosquitos.
  • If you ever accidentally step on a wasp nest/hive, run like hell. Whereas bees can sting you only once per insect, wasps can sting repeatedly and can be deadly. Never intentionally hit a bee or wasp nest.

Spiders:

  • If bitten by a spider — especially if the bite is very red, has a dark center that looks like dead skin, or has streaks — get to a hospital quickly and bring either the spider or a picture of it with you if you can (so they know what type of anti-venom to give you).
  • In North America, I believe the black widow, brown recluse, and Chilean recluse spiders are the most dangerous.

Leeches:

  • They usually jump on one’s foot or ankle when walking through/near tall grass or water.
  • It can be better to let them jump on your bare feet or ankles than to wear a lot of clothes, because they can climb up clothes until they reach more sensitive skin (e.g., between the legs).
  • If bitten, remove it with your hands, throw it a good distance away, and sanitize the area with soap and water, antibiotic ointment, a bandage, etc. If it doesn’t heal quickly, see a doctor.

Cats, dogs, rats, mice, cockroaches, geckos, & ants:

  • usually just go wherever food and fresh water is. If you keep food covered with pots, in sealed containers that these animals can’t chew through, or in the refrigerator, keep countertops clean, and fix leaky water pipes, they usually stay away.
  • Ants swarm for awhile in the area where they are laying eggs, but they usually go elsewhere in a day or two after the eggs have hatched.

Snakes:

  • Snakes don’t have ears, but they can feel you coming, if you stomp on the ground. When walking through high grasses, always stomp.
  • Snakes often blend in well with their surroundings, so walk slowly and scan the ground 5-10 feet ahead. Cold-blooded animals like to lie in the sun to warm up, so be careful of sunny areas and exposed rocks.
  • If you encounter a snake that isn’t moving, keep your eyes on it and slowly back away. If it moves toward you, run.
  • Snakes sometimes come through plumbing pipes, especially in rural areas. If using a toilet (Asian or Western) in a rural area, either make sure it has a screen for preventing things from coming up out of the drain pipe, or don’t sit/squat very low over it and keep your eye on the drain while using it.
  • If you are ever held by a large constrictor-type snake, don’t exhale all the way, because it will tighten its grip. You have to get free (e.g., by hitting its head, breaking its back, biting it, etc.) before you pass out.
  • If you are ever bitten by a snake, get to a hospital as quickly as possible, and bring the snake or take a picture of it if you can (so they know what type of anti-venom to use).

Rabid animals (bats, dogs, raccoons, etc.):

  • I believe there does exist a vaccine for rabies (taken before getting bitten), but if bitten, one still must rush to a hospital for an immunoglobulin shot.

Primates and other large animals:

  • As a primate yourself, and because you can’t reason with them, meeting a monkey or ape in the woods basically becomes a battle of who is the bigger, stronger primate. Running away often isn’t an option, because they can often chase you and climb trees much better than humans.
  • If you’re bigger than them, try stomping, shouting, growling, waving a stick around, or throwing large rocks.
  • If you can tell that they want a certain possession of yours (e.g., a bag with food in it), either give them what they want or, after escaping, hide it in another bag.
  • If you’re the smaller one (e.g., great apes can be 300+ pounds), I’ve heard ape researchers say that it’s safest to be very submissive and let the ape do whatever it wants to you, because it could easily kill you if you offend it. There should be minimal risk of rape from apes, because they have much smaller genitals than humans, they can’t get human women pregnant (because they’re a different species than we are), and they usually quickly lose interest in humans (because we don’t look much like them).
  • The same approach of being calm and submissive, fighting only if/as necessary, and carefully escaping as soon as you have an opportunity, is usually best for interacting with large animals.
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Buddhism is not nirvana

The pop-cultural, public “sugary coating” of Buddhism is so flashy (elaborate statues, chants, jewelry, bright orange robes, etc.) that it’s easy to forget that one of the fetters people must abandon in order to be stream-enterers is attachment to rites and rituals.

Though such things can serve to get people in a religious/spiritual mood, or to draw people to Buddhism, people can become overly attached to them, and such things come with negative costs. For example, one usually must kill flowers and fruit to put them on an altar, the herbs and spices in incense come from plants that must be killed, burning incense and candles pollutes the air and can hurt people’s lungs, burning candles can start larger fires, and monks chanting over loudspeakers for hours can intrude upon the peaceful silence of a space.

Buddhism is a worldly phenomenon that points to nirvana; it itself isn’t nirvana. Though doing meritorious rites and rituals might give one good karma for a better rebirth, or help one communicate with devas, if people actually want nirvana, as I understand, they shouldn’t neglect the practices that make a person more like the Buddha (e.g., renouncing worldly things, being virtuous, mindful, calm, aware, kind, compassionate, etc.).

Negating negativity: thinking critically about critical thinking

In the name of “critical thinking,” I have noticed a tendency in the West for intellectuals to become not only reflective and deconstructive, but to frequently live in mentally aggressive/hostile, cynical, pessimistic, etc. states of mind. Although I would agree that being overly positive can bias one in various ways (e.g., to see only what you want to see and miss/ignore challenges, obstacles, etc.), being overly negative can bias one in opposite ways (e.g., to see only obstacles or challenges and miss/ignore what might be possible). So I think it is important to turn critical thinking against itself, and to be critical of becoming too negative of a person. To me, the main value of critical thinking is to acknowledge and let go of biases and assumptions, to become mentally detached and aware, to try to see and think clearly. Mental detachment is perhaps the primary activity/aspect of mindfulness meditation, as is awareness of vipassana meditation.

Don’t brood: have difficult conversations

Many times in my life, in myself and others, I have seen how inaccurate, incomplete, often negative views can be reinforced by brooding or brainwashing — by a person going into some kind of echo chamber (in their head, on the Internet, only spending time with similar people in the real world, etc.) for a long time and repeating certain thoughts or feelings over and over until they become more and more extreme. The same was apparently true in the Buddha’s time, about 2,600 years ago: “‘He insulted me, he hit me, he beat me, he robbed me’ — anger will never cease in those who dwell on such thoughts” (Dhammapada, 3).

But real people are small and complicated. Everyone finds themselves born into a certain body, family, country, etc., which can be hard to escape. Everyone has had many unique past experiences that informed them. No one can see or learn everything. The only way to understand the complexity of life or people is to get out of your comfort zone (either mentally or physically) and have strange, new, different experiences. Brooding or brainwashing in isolation usually only makes one’s views more xenophobic, unrealistic, inaccurate, and incomplete; having difficult, new conversations and experiences usually makes one’s views more connected, realistic, accurate, and complete.

Here is a nice Ted talk, which says pretty much the same thing:
https://www.ted.com/talks/theo_e_j_wilson_a_black_man_goes_undercover_in_the_alt_right

Negligent karma

If karma is intention, how is it karmically pure to intentionally allow others to do your dirty work for you (e.g., to kill or be selfish to obtain your food or money, to kill people or steal things to defend your home or country, to kill germs or bugs in your home or office, to raise children so you don’t have to, etc.)? Aren’t you intentionally neglecting what is karmically best for the person who is serving you?

Similarly, even if someone didn’t intend to do a particular act of violence (e.g., to hit someone with their car), mustn’t there have been a intentional decision/willingness to create the circumstances that might give rise to that particular act of violence (e.g., to drive a car instead of taking another mode of transportation, to drive too fast, not to pay very close attention to the road, etc.)?

Some might argue that the act of generosity in serving another person cancels-out the impurity of the bad action, but the early Buddhist seed-and-fruit metaphor seems to say that each karmic seed bears one karmic fruit, meaning that both the bad deed and the good deed will bear separate fruits.

Mature animals

What is so “adult” or “mature” about intoxication and violence (in all their many forms)? Why doesn’t growing up involve stopping behaving like an animal?

Reconciliation and reparation

Here are three things, related to reconciliation and reparations, I wish the US would do:

  1. Give Native American nations some percentage of the land, of their choosing and under their administration, in every county of the US where they have historically lived, so that they are no longer confined to marginalized/poor reservations and can regain all of their ancestral lands to some degree.
  2. Create a federal Department of Slavery Reparations, which would have these five mandates:
    1. Work with the IRS and historians to tax white people whose ancestors held slaves, and either give the money directly to poor black people whose ancestors were slaves or make public colleges in the US free for such black people.
    2. Offer free historical family investigations, done by PhD historians and geneticists, to black people whose ancestors were slaves, going back to the tribe/village in Africa from which they were taken.
    3. Fund numerous community development and job-placement programs in majority black neighborhoods across the US, organized and led by African Americans.
    4. Create minimum quotas for African American inclusion/hiring in every American company and at every American mass media network/studio (every movie, TV show, etc.).
    5. Work in similar ways to repair the effects of other types of historical and modern slavery/trafficking in the US (e.g., indentured servitude, sex slavery, etc.).
  3. Coordinate with African governments and companies to allow African Americans to take free flights to/from Africa and to find housing, insurance, and decently paid public-service work in Africa, both to re-connect with the homeland from which they were stolen and to help all Africans lift themselves up from the colonialistic legacies that have weighed them down for so long.

Disclosure: In the 1700-1800s, some of my ancestors had a few (maybe 10) African slaves, and my ancestors settled on lands that were taken from Native Americans. Of these things, I am not proud.