Houseguests, of the microscopic kind.

Let’s talk about tinier critters today.

The Philippines is smack-dab between the Tropic of Cancer and the equator. It is everything you think of, climate-wise, when you think of the tropics. Wet, rainy, humid, hot. But there are some places where it gets cold(ish) during the winter due to high elevations, and the whole country experiences a dry season from about December through April. The fact that it is generally a wet place and that almost none of it approaches the freezing point means that there are all kinds of molds and fungi that may lie dormant for part of the year, but never really get killed off from the cold.

When I grew up in the northern US, one of the simple joys of childhood was running around barefoot in the summers. While I ran the risk of cuts and bruises, the risk of infections was low, because we had months of winter weather to kill off hookworm and the like. Not so here. You really need to get into the habit of always wearing shoes outside, especially when you will be walking on dirt or grass (rather than a sun-baked sidewalk). And, you need to get into the habit of taking your shoes off as you enter your home, so that you don’t track hookworm and larva and threadworm throughout your house.

Our family has a shoe area right where we enter the house. There is a rug where we keep our most frequently used shoes for easy access, and racks for the shoes we use less often. (We just have boring ole metal racks, but you can find wooden cabinets for shoes if you don’t want your entryway to look quite so functional.) Everyone has a pair of flip-flops by the door, too, to slip on when you’re just running out for a moment, so you’re not tempted to just run out barefoot because it’s not worth the hassle of dealing with laces. If you are entertaining and want people to be able to keep their shoes on, then be sure to clean your floors after everyone is gone. Honestly, the risk of infection is that high.

On the other hand, some families just have a shoe-always policy for their house. They will keep house shoes by the door to change into and wear when they are inside, or just always wear their outside shoes. That way, when they have visitors, their visitors can keep their shoes on without risk to the family or the need to clean every time someone swings by.

It is seen as a deferential kindness to not require people to take off their shoes when they come to your house. Especially when the guest is a boss or official or what-have-you. I always play this by ear. If I am at the door of someone’s house and they are insisting that it’s ok that I wear my shoes and they are wearing shoes, then I will keep mine on. If, on the other hand, they are not wearing shoes and there are shoes already left by their door, then I will insist that it is not a big deal and remove my own shoes. I don’t want to make anyone have to clean their floors just because I swung by to say hi.

If you have kids, you’ve just got to keep them in shoes. I mean, you can risk it if you want, but the infections that could result are just not worth it. I have seen expat families who let their kids run barefoot at the park, where, when there aren’t kids playing, stray cats are wandering through, sometimes pausing to “do their business.” I don’t think the risk even enters their mind, because a gardener will come through and sweep up the poop before the kids arrive in the afternoon, but just because you aren’t there to see it happen, doesn’t mean the poop hasn’t been there. And where there is carnivore poop, there will be microscopic worms looking to burrow their way through the skin. Some of these critters can result in permanent infections. Really. It’s just not worth it.

Keep your own pets dewormed, but remember that just because you do doesn’t mean your neighbors are, and the strays definitely aren’t getting their treatments. I really do feel badly for those of you who love to go barefoot through the grass, but it really just isn’t a good idea in the tropics.

The other thing you need to keep on top of is mold in your house. Usually, this is not an issue at all during the dry months. But, when the rainy season starts, keep an eye on your walls and especially in closets, for mold growth. If you see any creeping along, you can point it out to your helper to be dealt with. Or, if you’re going to do it yourself, washing it with soap and water, and following it with a weak bleach solution should keep it at bay for a while. Once it’s been there, there is a good chance that it will return, though, so check the area weekly or so. If it’s in a closet, it could be exacerbated by lack of air-flow, so keeping the closet door open may help.

Most people here hang their clothes to dry, which can be tricky during the rainy season. Do your best to get your clothes as dry as possible. Sometimes, aiming a fan at the hanging laundry can help. Or, you can switch to hanging everything with a bit of space between them and the closet doors left open so they can continue to dry inside. If your clothes are iron-able, you can get them from just slightly damp to dry by ironing them with a dry iron. Just remember that a slightly still damp shirt, folded up and put away, can turn into a stinky mess you’re not going to want to wear.

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