Susan C. Anthony

The JungleMosquito Repellent

December 29 - 30, 1987

The air is thick and heavy, and seems to press on me from all sides, squeezing moisture from my skin and energy from my limbs. After the dry air of the Sahara, this is oppressive. Around me, the vegetation is lush. The jungle is full of gentle sounds and draped with a misty blanket.

We were finally through the desert and into the jungle. Mosquito repellent. Why we hadn't brought a large enough supply for the entire trip neither of us could remember, but here we were in Cameroon, in a jungle reputed to be thick with anopheles mosquitoes. Despite our daily Paludrin and weekly chloroquine, we were entering a high risk area. In Zaire, Kenya and Tanzania, some strains of malaria are resistant to chloroquine, as well as the stronger and more risky Fansidar.

We'd nearly emptied one small spray can of repellent and had in reserve two little bottles with 90% Deet. We weren't overly concerned because we'd been told we could find anything we wanted to buy in Douala.

We visited a shop in Douala. There was plenty of Raid and various insect bombs, but looks of incomprehension followed our requests for repellent. We were finally directed to the "American store", a large warehouse packed with American products from marshmallows to Kraft French dressing. There, finally, we found some Off in a dainty spray can containing only 15% Deet. Our elation was short-lived. For each tiny can, the price was 1800 CFA, the equivalent of $9.00! Despite fear of malaria, we just couldn't pay it. I thought ruefully of the oversupply of repellent at Dennis' homestead cabin. If we just had one or two of those big spray cans.... After all, a mosquito bite in Alaska is unlikely to kill anyone!

Dennis hit upon the idea of diluting our 90% Deet with oil to make it stretch. We dribbled some of the precious repellent into our half-full jar of oil. It seemed to mix OK, although it would need shaking before application. The mixture smelled almost as bad as the original repellent. We were encouraged. I stashed the concoction in my daypack.

Next morning, I noticed that my hairbrush was oily as I drew it from the pack. Oh no! I desperately pulled out the jar of baby oil turned repellent. The mixture splashed all over my skirt through a gaping hole in the jar. In Nigeria, repellent on my hands had turned my Bic pen into a sticky mess. I should have known. Deet eets plasteek. My depression as I pulled the oil-soaked items from my pack deepened to despair. I was "wiping up" most of the scarce repellent we had left. Malaria loomed in my mind as inevitable.

The next day in Limbi, a small village on the coast where mosquitoes are a minor concern compared with Douala, we visited a pharmacy to get Flagyl for our persistent diarrhea. As we turned to leave, we thought we'd give it one last try.

"Do you have mosquito repellent?" Dennis asked.

"Of course," he said. He pulled out a tube as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

Go on to New Years
Source:, ┬ęSusan C. Anthony