- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 January 16, 2004 

Outside Eye: A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home

It is the dead of winter.

Daggers of ice hang from drainage pipes above sidewalks buried under a half-foot of snow. The thermometer on the Opera House begins its display with a minus sign and citizens of Yerevan carry the seasonal slump of cold air's unseen burden.

And inside my apartment in the middle of the capital of Armenia is . . . a scorpion.

Living here is frequently pleasantly dull, but rarely boring. Events like this make it dang lively for the easily amused.

As if this were the Sahara and not Siberia, he perched (or whatever these arachnids do) above my bed like a wall ornament in a cheap desert-themed beer joint. A scorpion, October's astrological sign and a sign in January's Winter Wonderland that something ain't right here.

You should know that I grew up with some pretty unnatural nature. In Mobile, Alabama I lived with cockroaches so big my roommate and I made a pact to never try to kill one unless we had backup. We figured, what with the size of the things, that if we only wounded one and it turned angry on us, the odds might be against a man fighting alone. At night you could actually hear their footsteps.

And in South Florida, I shared a canal-side flat with mosquitoes the size of hairpins and with lizards that changed colors and whose tails popped off when I'd shoot them with a stopper gun.

But this was my first encounter of the stingable kind. He was about this _______________________________________ long and had his tail curled up like one of those breed of dogs with characteristically immodest carriage.

Like much of my life here, the thing was foreign to me. So, being American, I decided to kill it.

Near my bed was the remains of the liquid remedy I'd used for the holiday hangover of a night before. It's called Solpadeine and contains caffeine, codeine and a few other "eines" that I figured ought to be sufficiently exterminatorial for the shrimp of a scorpion.

I raked him off the wall and into the drug remnants and went to sleep, quite purposefully on the floor. I can't remember what I dreamed, but I'll bet it wasn't good.

Next morning Mr. Scorpion was more awake than me, apparently refreshed by the medication. I put him in a jewelry box. He's dry now, and I'm thinking of making a brooch.

You gotta look for a sign in something like this: A what does the madness mean? kind of moment. So I did. And I asked around about general scorpion sightings in the neighborhood.

"It's too warm in your apartment," one neighbor told me. There it was: the sign.

After two seasons of long underwear and earmuffs in bed, I bought a new heater this year, sneaking it in after dark so that my neighbors wouldn't think the American is not only spoiled, but a winter wimp.

Finding a lethal crawly thing ("Normally, a person doesn't die from the sting," a friend told me. As if any of this were "normal"?) a foot from where my head was to go was God's way of reminding that, when in Armenia, do as the Armenians do: suffer.

Sure, you can make your flat so snuggly warm that you only need one layer of clothing instead of three. But if you do, things will crawl from the walls and inject you with poison. Do not fiddle with fate and the history of many millennia of hardship.

So I've turned down the heat at Hotel California and am rethinking plans to buy an air conditioner for the summer. Who knows what form of plague might come out when the weather's actually nice . . .

According to Agnes
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