What Is a Flea?

flea and dog)November 1967

We are standing, sweating and frustrated, in the midst of a laughing crowd of Brazilians watching our funny antics.  How did we ever get  into such a situation?  It was like this.


The house we are renting is on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte, a city of about 1 and a half million.
The area is fairly new, so we live on a rutted dirt street, with many empty lots, some with bits of garbage scattered, all full of tall dry grass.

We like the house and our neighbors, but we now have a serious problem.  We’ve been invaded with fleas – MANY FLEAS.

Since there are no markets close to us, and the occasional drug store doesn’t carry flea powder, we are going to have to go downtown; about a 45 minute bus ride.


This morning we get up early to walk five blocks down the dusty dirt road to catch the bus.  We hope to beat the heat and it is still pleasant as we leave the house.  However, when we climb into the packed passenger bus, the heat is waiting for us.  We hang onto the overhead hand bar as more and more people get in.  The term “sardines in a can” – I am living it.

The ride seems interminable as the bus sways through the heavy traffic.  My husband and I speak very little, for when we open our mouths and the English language comes out, heads turn, looking for the strange sound.  It’s embarrassing and simpler to keep quiet, observing, listening, thinking.


We finally reach our destination in the center of town and clamber down the steep steps to the street.  The sidewalks are crowded, so we pedestrians  are constantly dodging each other, but at least we can move! I am feeling droplets of sweat on my arms, inside of where they bend at the elbow.  I look around to see if I can find a temperature sign somewhere. Nope.  But I know it’s getting hotter.


We arrive at Lojas Americanas, a large store with “popular prices.” It is always full of people, and today is not different.  The two large entrances gape open: the multiple steel pull-down doors at both entrances are rolled up and anchored, allowing the crowds of people to move in and out and, hopefully, for breaths of fresh air to enter.  The oversize ceiling fans turn rapidly, hopefully to help move the air.  But too many people with body heat, too expansive an area for the fans to work well, too small of aisles, and today’s heat turns the inside of the store into a sweat shop.

As we stand outside waiting for a break to go in I think: oh! Those poor clerks!


We step into a break and are carried by a jostling crowd down the small aisles, merchandise piled all around us.  We come to where it looks like we’re at the correct area, step ouof the flow of human bodies to stand close to the counters, searching for a clerk.  He comes up and asks us how he can help us.  My husband starts to ask for flea powder. He remembers the word for powder   but his mind then goes  blank.  What is the word for flea???

He looks at me, my mind isn’t working either. Both of us reach into where we carry our small pocket dictionaries, and neither one of us has one!  

 Panic hits.  We have to resolve this now.  How do we mimic a flea???flea 1


People stop and stare. Our area becomes impassible as a crowd gathers, laughing at these two Americanos, going through crazy gyrations.  More and more people come up, craning their necks to see what is happening.  I’m thinking if we could only charge admission for this. .  (Now, tell me, how would you mimic a flea hopping up your arm???  Does that make you chuckle?  Then you get my point.)


I want to cry, from embarrassment and frustration, but won’t let myself..

As we are going through more antics (with no success except laughter), behind me I hear ENGLISH!  I turn. A small, older, totally unruffled gentleman is standing there, saying; “Perhaps I can help you?”

I want to throw my arms around him and kiss him, but I restrain myself to a smile and a “Yes, please!”


We explain our problem. He smiles and asks:  “Do you mean “pulga?”   PULGA – THAT WAS IT!.


The crowd around us starts to dissipate as our free show came to an end.  We thanked the gentleman, turned to the clerk and my husband asks him:

Vocês têm pó para matar as pulgas?”  (Do you have powder to kill fleas).
The clerk smiled, “Sim!”  “Quantas?” (How many do you want?)

He was surprised at the definite answer. “Oito!!!  (Eight cans)

After all, there were a lot of fleas in the house, we needed to have a reserve stock of flea powder for the future, and neither one of us wanted to return to this store any time soon!


Until today, I sometimes wonder how long we would have been there if that gentleman had not come up.

The scripture held true:” When you call, I will answer.”  Thank You, Father!….. I wonder it that was an angel?  Either way, for me, it was a miracle!


Lessons learned:  We never again forgot the word pulga.  We always kept our pocket dictionaries with us (today, one would use their smart phone.)
We learned how, once again, to laugh at ourselves.  . . which is great for humility!

And yes! We got rid of those nasty fleas!flea 3
Things I’ve thought about since:
I’m afraid this happens too many times in our spiritual lives.
Do you see a possible comparison here of not knowing, not prepared, no back-up resources?Sweating and frustrated.

How would you describe it?

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6 thoughts on “What Is a Flea?”

    1. Thanks Debbie – as I wrote this, I had to laugh . What a day!
      I still marvel at that Brazilian gentleman who came up!

  1. This is hilarious, but only in retrospect. At the time, you surely must have been desperate. But in the midst of total frustration, God sent an English-speaking gentleman to help you. God is our helper…. even with fleas….

  2. Oito!!! (Oito latas)..kkkkkkkkkkkk….muitooooooooo engraçado!!! :))))
    Graças a Deus por aquele homem ( anjo enviado ) ter aparecido para ajudar vocês !!!!!

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