As an expat, small things can have a disproportionately big impact on your happiness. In this case, the “small things” all had wings.
One of the first things I noticed about our rental house in Las Tablas, Panama, was the absence of screens on the windows.
At first this wasn’t a problem. Even with windows and doors open all the time — necessary to allow the cooling breezes through — bugs weren’t a problem. Smugly I thought, “this is great.”
Then the rainy season started.
Suddenly the house was swarming with flying insects — mosquitoes, flies, enormous beetles, crickets, even a mammoth grasshopper or two.
Meal preparation and eating became races to see who could get there first — the flies, or the people. We were slapping at ourselves — and each other — constantly as one droning mosquito after another wanted to sample us for lunch, dinner or, worse, a midnight snack.
Not fun at all.
There Aren’t Any Window Screens Here
Window screens, like central air conditioning, are a rarity here. If you want screens, you pretty much need to make them because you can’t just go to the store and buy them.
We knew we could find the screening material. But the material to make a frame for the screen was a problem. So was securing the screen to the windows — remember, this is a rental house, so we can’t make any permanent alterations.
Then one day, while shopping with friends at the DoIt Center (Panama’s answer to Home Depot), the solution presented itself.
Fired with enthusiasm, we returned to our respective houses with screening, thin strips of wood and a stapler.
It’s called improvising from locally available materials.
The wood is thin and soft enough that a regular office stapler can penetrate. My husband cut the wood to the appropriate lengths. He cleaned and cut up an aluminum can and used it to reinforce the corners.
Then the stapler got a workout, and, voila! A window screen.
The next problem was how to secure the new screen without making any holes.
The solution here was to use silicon caulk.
The end result isn’t pretty, but it’s a serviceable screen that keeps the bugs out. Our friends went one better and painted the wood before they installed the screens.
The morning that I was able to cook and eat breakfast without spotting a single fly was a red-letter day. Call me an uptight gringa, but I just don’t like sharing my eggs with Panama’s local moscas (flies).
We’re still not completely screened. The DoIt Center didn’t have enough wood, and we had to special order some. The other day they called to say it had arrived, so that should give us enough to add screens to the remaining windows.
In the meantime, we’re really enjoying our almost-fly-free living here in Las Tablas.
Jodi Henderson says
What an interesting story. Are bugs in the house *not* annoying to the locals? If so, how is that possible?!? Even if they don’t bother you, isn’t it unsanitary to have them around, landing in your food and stuff? Seems like windows screens would be a normal and welcome thing to have.
Yes, the bugs are annoying to the locals and, yes, it’s unsanitary. In defense of local standards, I’ll only point out that it’s historically been a poor country and items like screens would be a luxury. Also, if you check I think you’ll find that the only place where such things are considered standard is in the US and Canada. . . and that only in the last few generations. My husband can remember his grandmother’s kitchen with those long flypaper strips hanging down, and I remember them being used in a few places too when I was growing up.
Good old American ingenuity and know-how, Susanna; congratulations to you and your husband!
Thanks, Tay. There are lots of ways I’m happy to “go native,” but this wasn’t one of them. 🙂
Funny to read this post, Susanna. I commented to our driver just last week that there were no bugs here in Panama City, and he didn’t say anything. Obviously, he didn’t want to spoil my good impressions of his home. Glad you found a solution. Mosquitoes are one of my worst nightmares!
Hi Kathryn, bugs weren’t a problem here either when I first arrived. This is one of the reasons it’s important to try out a new country for as long as possible before deciding to make it permanent by buying a home!
Aisha from Expatlogue says
Aaahhhh! The ingenuity of the expat under pressure! I read the name of that store as “Dolt” at first! Don’t they say “Necessity is the mother of invention?”
LOL, Aisha, I’ve read it that way many times! Maybe I should have typed it in all caps — DOIT — but that doesn’t really do it either. Or I could be boring and separate the words — Do It — but their logo has them run together. Tough decisions. . .
Interesting I saw a few buildings with screens on the windows in Spain, and they even sold screen supplies in hardware stores and windows with screens there. If you do a google maps street view (where they do have it) I notice there are screens on the windows in Canada, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and some in Taiwan and newer buildings in the Gulf Countries like the Emirates and yes even a few in Mexico, and kinda one like in this post in Gibraltar.