I woke up on the hard tile floor of my bathroom. It was 2am. I felt like total trash.

I must have passed out. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to sleep there.

This was Day 1 of a Giardia parasite infection. I was told that every foreigner eventually gets it when they come to this area in Guatemala. You get Giardia from consuming contaminated water or food.

My turn, I guess. I had only been here a month. I thought I would last a little longer than that before getting sick.

I was so nauseous and weak that night, I couldn’t even make it from the bathroom back to my bed. That’s a baaaaad scene.

The Great Cluster-schmuck of 2015

For some reason, a series of fairly annoying events had all been happening in the last 12 hours. I experienced more frustrating incidences in those short few hours than I had in the last few years.

Flashback to the night before:

I had just moved into the new house I’m currently renting in Guatemala. I was still getting familiar with the layout and setup of the house.

Something caught my eye on the kitchen counter.

It was black. Rippling with movement, like a wave.

I came closer.

There was a sea of black ants all over the counter. Must have been over a hundred of them. I guess I had left some food particles on the counter (even though I didn’t see anything, the ants clearly did).

I hastily grabbed a ton of paper towel, soaked it in soap and vinegar, mopped them all up and threw them in bowl of water.

Ugh. Gross, but problem solved.

Hours before I discovered the Counter Ants, I had been dealing with tiny, biting ants that were all over my bed, especially my pillow.

Why?! Why my pillow? I never had any food in my room. They must have liked my shampoo or hair gel.

They were small, but problematic. A couple times when I was sleeping, they’d wake me up with their bites. It hurt too.

These little trouble-makers would have to go, I determined. I tried a few things over the following days. Sprayed soap and vinegar on the floor. That seemed to help for a day but they came back. I pulled the bed away from the wall. They still came. I sprayed some natural-based insect repellent all over my bed. It didn’t help; I think they might have even been attracted to its repugnant lemon-y stench. Even I was repelled by it. How come it didn’t work on insects?

Then, I read online that creating an ant barrier using different kinds of material that repels ants. One article recommended the spice, turmeric.

Turmeric… Perfect. That’ll do the trick.

I was desperate. I sprinkled a fair amount of turmeric directly on my bed sheet, creating a nice bright orange moat around the end of my bed. Yep…turmeric. All over my sheets. My (most likely) expensive bed sheets. I mean, these were really nice sheets. The most comfortable sheets I’ve used. Silk, maybe?

Later, I discovered that turmeric is also used as a clothing dye. Everybody knows that, right? Well, not me!

Took me 5 days of soap, vinegar and sunlight treatments to get those turmeric stains out of the sheets. Had to do this while I was fighting off the Giardia sickness as I didn’t want to wait too many days because the stain would set.

You’re So Intoxicating

During this same Night of the Ants, I was cooking up some dinner. I swear I only left the kitchen for no more than 3 or 4 minutes. I was in my bedroom, which was open to the kitchen.  No worries, I don’t need to be in the kitchen. I can half-monitor things from my room.

Hmmm…what’s that smell? Kind of barbeque-y.

I hurried into the kitchen. The frying pan and chicken were completely black. Smoke filled the entire room.

How did this happen so quickly? I was only gone for…oh, nevermind.


Arggh! I was already annoyed from dealing with the damn ants and now this.

I quickly ran to stove to remove the frying pan and chicken that had become nothing more than encrusted Pompeii ruins. I then bounded over to the patio door and opened it to clear the smoke.

What the…?! My jaw dropped…There were wasps all over the patio floor and outdoor furniture. Some of them flew into the smoke-filled room in the brief time that I had the door open.

I quickly shut the door. I grabbed the can of nasty, toxic insect spray and gave a few wasps a good shower with it. Take that, you “cabrones” (rude Spanish for “jerks”)! Then, I sprayed it along the base of the patio door.

I checked my room and there were wasps in there too! Same deal…I sprayed the base of the door and just coated any errant wasps with insect spray.

Now, the entire house smelled like smoke and foul, toxic insect spray. A dozen half-dead wasps limped around the floor of the living room and my bedroom. Tiny ants marched around my useless turmeric barrier in their even more useless quest to look for the non-existent food on my pillow.

I had to leave the house because of the smoke and terrible smell of the insecticide (and I left for health reasons). I went to a cafe for a few hours to let the air clear in the house.

The next day, I woke up sick. Later that day, as things worsened, I realized it was probably Giardia.

I ended up losing 15 pounds in four days. I had no appetite. I was losing fluids because of being sick. Even before I got sick, I was somewhat thin. Now, my cheeks looked gaunt and I had lost all muscle tone.

To summarize all this good fun…in an evening and a morning, I:

  • battled the swarm of Counter Ants
  • had biting ants all over my pillow that wouldn’t go away
  • dealt with the (deadly, venomous?) wasp home invasion
  • foolishly stained expensive sheets with turmeric
  • turned a frying pan (and my dinner) into total charcoal
  • ruined the air quality of my house with smoke and insecticide, forcing me to leave the house for a few hours
  • got Giardia; so sick I could hardly eat for several days

Staying Solution-Oriented When Things Aren’t Going Your Way

After all these frustrating events and challenges, things normalized.

I slowly got healthy again. Started eating full meals. Drank a ton of water to replenish lost fluids.

For the next few days, I killed every single wasp I saw that was within reach on the patio. A friend sprayed the nest for me that was hanging from the patio roof. I was still sick and didn’t want to take the risk of getting stung while in such a weak state.

The tiny, biting ants stayed away from my pillow. Not sure what helped. My verbal threats? Shamanistic incantations? A shift in the earth’s polarity? I don’t know.

I figured out how to properly use the gas burners (low heat. Think low heat.). No more smokey nights and barbequed pans.

Problem, solution. Problem, solution. Problem, solution.

This is how it goes.

Sure, I was somewhat angry and frustrated while going through all of this, but I also stayed solution-oriented, as best as I could. I simply had to deal with what was in front of me. Which is what we all have to do as we face unpleasant circumstances and unwanted challenges.

The trick is to do that with as little negativity is possible. Now, I can look back at those 12 hours and laugh. I can pass my story on to you and maybe you’ll get a chuckle out of it. I’m sure you’ve got stories like this too.

What are your strategies for dealing with periods of challenges and frustrations? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.

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