Attacked by Fleas

“Fire is the test of gold; adversity is the test of strong men.” Anon

To write about fleas may be strange but when they visited us so often I must tell you about them. I recall occasionally finding something biting me from inside my pajamas; I knew instantly it was a flea so in desperation and haste I would head for the bathroom. No, the flea didn’t need a bathroom break but I did. I would step into the bathtub and then take off the part of my pajamas where the flea seemed to be having its meal. Then I would shake it so the nasty fellow would fall into the tub.

Yes, this is a flea but the real one would be as large as the tip of a lead pencil.

The reason I stepped into the tub is that fleas can jump so very high, but the best of the high jumpers could not reach to top of the tub. So I had it cornered. Just turning on the water might drown the flea but not likely for fleas are tough. They can’t be killed the way a person might swat a fly. Here is the way to kill a flea no matter where a person finds one. Just turn you hand so the thumbnail can be placed on the flea crushing it. Do it quickly for fleas are quick to jump.  We had DDT spray bombs that helped to control an infestation of fleas but it was too slow to kill one that was taking away an hour or more of sleep.

T hey say there is a difference between those who catch fleas and those who have fleas. I recall how often we made unwanted friendship with fleas in Brazil. Now I wonder if we had fleas part of the time and during the rest of our time, we caught them. You might ask me, “Why all this chat about fleas? I’ve never seen a flea in all of my days.” My answer: it might be that one day you would become a short-term missionary and no matter where you might live, fleas could find you. They certainly found us and they would find you too.

I recall the sign of a flea bite–that is if the biting itself did not warn you it was chewing on your hide. In any case it really wasn’t chewing for they were siphoning off blood—the host’s blood. A flea seemed not to bite in a straight line but bit in a circle leaving a series of red itchy spots. There was seldom the mark of one bite but a series of bites and those bites came where the flea was most comfortable—under a belt, a sock or for the ladies under some undergarments. You have gathered already that the battle with fleas was an uncomfortable one. And every time we won, the win lasted only a few days.


These are not flea bites but the bites would be similar.

So where does a person catch a flea or in some cases catch a whole family of fleas with their nephews and nieces? One place I recall picking up fleas was in our home. Do I really mean we had an infestation of fleas? Yes! If our house was closed up for a number of days the fleas welcomed us home. Our daughter Monica remembers walking in the front door of our place, crossing the front room on the parquet floor and at the other side finding her legs speckled with fleas. The fleas loved the cracks in that parquet floor. The cure was to mix the floor wax with kerosene and use it liberally enough so that the fleas had to flee. Excuse the pun but I couldn’t help it.


A person could pick up fleas even at a barbecue at our seminary where missionaries and pastors gathered.

Another place to catch a flea was on public transit—in fact a person could often bet on bringing home a visitor or two. It seemed the abundance of fleas was in direct proportion to the size of the city. When we lived in the city of São Paulo we often took the city buses–they came with the threat of fleas. They even went to church—perhaps because they enjoyed the fellowship and some fresh blood. Having a dog might make the problem of fleas worse but I don’t recall a dog making much difference. My understanding is those fleas liked people.

Oh, yes a person caught fleas on the public transit, even at the São Paulo airport.



If you’ve read any of my blogs you’ll know I like to relate my writing somehow to the Christian faith. This time I’m finding it hard to link fleas to God’s creation—but there must be a message for each of us. Perhaps that quote at the beginning could be applied here—perhaps fleas are here as an adversity to try our patience. In any case we can look past the fleas and any other inconvenience in life and give thanks to God for his many, many blessings. Bishop N.T. Wright states that we ought to look beyond the pain (or fleas) to focus on the immense good we experience every day of our lives. That good speaks volumes about the God we serve and the good He built into creation.


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