Do You Want to Know How I Got Rid of Them?


“Do You Want to Know How I Got Rid of Them?”

At first, I tried chemicals. Raid was readily available at the corner convenience store, in several formulas aimed at various vermin. Cockroaches weren’t the only pests in the buildings. Other brands also competed at eye-level on the shelves. I realized the problem was widespread.

One morning I opened my kitchen cabinet and found a big cockroach sitting in the middle of my breakfast bowl, rotating its feelers, as if offering itself up in sacrifice for my breakfast. The Raid had worn off. I shrieked and dropped the bowl, giving the roach an escape route. 

I pulled everything from every cabinet in the kitchen, cleaned and wiped all the little spaces between boards and doors and wall.  On a whim, I picked up a roll of gray industrial tape that I’d left on the counter the day before.   Isilver tape stuck lengths of tape over the openings in which I expected roaches might hide. For the next week I kept vigil over the cabinets, opening them several times a day just to surprise any cockroach that thought he had privacy in there. The surprise was on me, however, because I did not see a single roach anywhere!

I phoned Asma to tell her about my new approach.

At first, I taped only the insides of cabinets and closets. When I realized how efficient the method was— far better than chemicals, which reek and then stop working— I taped other areas of the apartment. Over time I perfected the technique, learning how to choose the narrowest width needed, and how to apply it straight, without wrinkles.  I sent my husband out for three more rolls of industrial strength silver tape.

three roles tape

Once that tape stuck, there was no ripping it off. Even a thumb-sized cockroach could not emerge from behind it. I taped door frames, baseboards, stoop, and window frames. I did a neat job so it wouldn’t look  industrial.  An imaginative person could have looked at the strips and thought  they were a decorative statement.

My most significant accomplishment was taping the bathroom. This technique evolved over several years of vacations, because while we were abroad, all cockroaches knew it, and gave themselves carte blanche to move in and set up housekeeping. They liked the bathroom best, even better than the kitchen.

I simply taped every crack and orifice I could find. Each year, the roaches would find new ones, and each year, I’d tape up the new ones. The bathroom actually became a room of visual delight, what with strips and squares of silver tape lining seams and covering holes. I should have photographed it. 

more silver tapeThe day we’d leave for vacation, I’d save the bathroom taping for last. At the last minute, after the luggage had been taken out and the kids were whining, “Mom, come on,” I would tape the entire toilet lid and seat cover where they met the bowl.

When the entire bathroom looked ready to board the plane with us, we were ready to leave. Later, while listening to the drone of the jet engines, I would turn my attention to all the neat stories I’d tell the people back home.  I would stop worrying about cockroaches, secure in the hope that I’d foiled the yearly immigration. I wondered whether I’d be able to boast of my lovely taping to anyone in the States. No, probably not. I wondered if I might at least meet someone  with whom I could share my favorite movie, Joe’s Apartment.

I did! My mom loved it; we laughed like kids. My sister, however, didn’t last beyond Joe’s first infestation.

Joe's Apartment

Do You Want to Hear a Cockroach Story?

“Do you want to hear a cockroach story?”

This is the way my friends and I would sometimes begin phone conversations. We were all Western 558263906women, stay-at-home moms married to Arabs. We were happy with our families and our status as expatriates in Saudi Arabia, with the exception of a certain issue —the country had a cockroach problem.


When I first arrived as a single woman, I had lived in a lovely Western compound. The only roaches I ever saw wiggled respectfully out of the way as I walked along the sidewalk. I didn’t even know how to say “cockroachin Arabic.

Only after I “went native”, married an Arab and moved into the city, did I realize that cockroaches claimed carte blanche in Riyadh households. I carried a rolled up newspaper with me from room to room, ready to strike. My husband objected to this method because of its fallibility. Cockroach bodies are hard and elastic; they don’t squash easily.

“Here!” he said, “I’ll show you how to do it.” He grabbed a shoe which was parked next to the door, and brought it down with enough force to make pudding out of the roach and all its cousins.

“That’s disgusting!” I said. “How are you going to clean it?”

My new husband didn’t care. The roach was dead, and he was calm. He knew he wouldn’t have to clean it up; I would!

I continued to use my newspaper method, which didn’t always kill the wretched creatures, but at least didn’t leave roach pudding when it succeeded.

“See!” I said to my husband, “you can kill them without making a mess.” I slid the body on a torn piece of paper and dumped it in the garbage.

“It will come back to life,” he said, and sometimes it did.

We moved into a newer apartment, at my insistence. Our new home was clean, and I kept it even cleaner, yet roaches appeared as if by spontaneous generation. I wondered if some of them hadn’t crawled into the boxes we’d brought from the old apartment. Someone once told me cockroaches like cardboard boxes. I would not have seen so many had I not looked, and I blamed myself for psychically attracting them, so diligent was I in my campaign to eradicate them. Then one day, a new friend phoned me and said, “Would you like to hear a cockroach story?”


My goodness! I was not alone. Suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to hear a cockroach story. I had been so ashamed and so reluctant to talk about the problem because I thought it was my fault. Even though I saw many different brands of roach killer in the stores, which should have tipped me off, I felt somehow inferior because I did not have a maid to help me with housework. Now, my new friend, who lived in a squeaky clean villa, with a maid, not only admitted to having cockroaches, but wanted to talk about it!

She then told me that the previous day her toddler had been spending more time in the bathroom than necessary. When Asma investigated, she found the child chasing a huge roach all over the bathroom, laughing and trying to catch it. “My kid is going to grow up with roaches! I don’t believe it. This is definitely something I can’t write home about.”

Yes, indeed, one did not write home about roaches, but with each other, we spoke about them all the time. It wasn’t long before I felt comfortable enough to phone one of my friends and say, “Would you like to hear a cockroach story?”

“Yeah, I’m listening!”

“Well, this morning I was mopping up the bathroom floor, and I was slopping the water down the drain. I felt a tickle on my leg, but I ignored it, thinking it was a drop of sweat, but the tickle traveled upward instead of downward…”

“Eeeuuuuu!!! Grrrosssss! DisgusSSsting!” my friend replied indulgently, but I later learned that this particular story was not unique. Turns out that most women in the same circumstance experienced the same indignity when they first opened the circular drain covers on Riyadh bathroom floors. What seems at first like a wonderful way to mop up a floor turns out to be a wonderful way to let roaches into the house. From then on, I opened the drain cover with care, stiff broom at the ready. I learned how to slop them back down the drain as fast as they came up… Drain roaches were particularly large and active. In fact, bathroom roaches in general were the most aggressive.

Little roaches occasionally entered as passengers from the vegetable suq. The little, light brown ones had an affinity for green herbs. We, too, liked green herbs. Fat bundles of coriander, parsley, dill and mint made such a wonderful aroma in the kitchen, but I learned quickly to shake them out with care, in the sink, rolled newspaper at the ready.

3677697364The problem was unavoidable in that hot climate, and did not indicate particularly filthy conditions. Even my friends with drivers and maids had houses full of roaches.

“Do you want to hear a cockroach story?” It was a morning question, to be asked after the husbands had gone to work and the kids to school.

Asma: “I caught my daughter in the bathroom again, laughing and trying to catch a big roach. She cried when I pulled her out of there. My mother would roll over in her grave if she knew my kid was in the bathroom chasing cockroaches.”

Layla: “I’ve gotten used to them. They’re like relatives. You cannot escape from them, so you might as well embrace them.”

Sara: “I picked up a roll of toilet paper and felt something tickle the palm of my hand.”

Maryam: “Just as I turned out the lights, I caught a glimpse of a huge cockroach running across the floor. It escaped into my closet. I couldn’t catch it, so I tried to sleep with the light on but my husband got mad and turned it off.”

Sharon: “The cockroaches have already moved into our new villa. We met them last night at the construction site.”

Me: “My daughter and I were cleaning the bathroom when a huge cockroach flew directly at us. We backed up so fast we got stuck together in the door. We squeezed through just in time. I barely pulled the door shut, and it slammed into the other side.”

After several years of this, Asma and I decided to write a book entitled Cockroaches I Have Known —with chapters for The Albino Cockroach, The Hissing Cockroach, The Flying Cockroach, etc. Our favorite movie was Joe’s Apartment.

Those days are gone, and we never wrote the book, but I 3677697364still watch Joe’s Apartment from time to time. I still laugh like crazy, remembering our efforts at eradicating the disgusting insects. My method worked best; I developed it myself, and it will be the subject of another post.