Once again I have returned to Iran, and once again, I have had to face one of my fears. As an adult male, I am very much ashamed to admit that I have a fear of roaches. There, I've said it… but somehow I feel that I have to justify it. It is not every roach that scares me.
I have traveled to several tropical countries, spent time in the rainforests, and have seen many an insect. In fact, I am fascinated by the whole insect family, and especially like the amazing varieties of beetles.
A few of my prized photos are of beetles, and among the ones I have handled is the biggest insect of all, the Goliath Beetle. Funny that I quite enjoy them when I invade their environment, but when they are in mine… I act differently.
Gone is the intellectual, amateur naturalist, admiring the harmony of nature. A subconscious, instinctive apprehension takes over, and well, I freeze.
It is not every house roach that scares me either. It is the fearsome roach of my childhood, you know… the ubiquitous, large Iranian cockroach, with a shiny light brown exoskeleton, creeping about at night in the bathrooms of Grandma's ancient home. (Is it a separate species? The Persian Roach, Roachus Superiorty Complexus… a descendent of the Aryan roach?)
Now that I am in Iran, I have had nightly encounters with a particularly large roach, which I have named, very unimaginatively, Soosk Khan. It was a shock that first night, upon entering the bathroom to find Soosk Khan, quite visible on a background of white tiles, traversing the floor.
For a split second, we both froze, hoping that the other was magically going to disappear. But then we both retreated a step back. While I found it reassuring that he was as shaken as I was, I did not appreciate his choice of shelter, the crevice under the toilet bowl.
The demon of my childhood had returned, and with it, my fears and feelings of inadequacy. I am now a man, for god's sake, and yet not only had I hesitated when there was a clear opportunity to destroy a much inferior enemy, I had stepped back in shock.
I had read much about handling encounters with wild animals such as jungle jaguars, bandit bears, poisonous snakes, and even moose in mating season, but nowhere had I read anything about cockroaches.
What did I know about the enemy? Its keen sense of smell would likely draw it to this battleground again and again. Its compound eyes would probably not portray my mock ferocity, no matter how much I contorted my face. I could not scream at it, for the fear of exposing my phobia to the rest of mankind.
But its sensitive feel for vibration… yes that is exactly how I should convey my superiority. A few heavy steps towards the toilet-bowl was enough to flush the reluctant Soosk Khan, and in a few seconds, he lay hidden a couple of meters away, under the sink. This place was unreachable, so he had denied me an opportunity to pursue him. I was thankful.
Over the week, Soosk khan and I have come to an understanding, the first encounter helping to establish a protocol: I turn on the light before entering, giving it some warning, he responds by getting in his starting blocks, ready for a dash.
I enter with heavy footsteps, walking towards the toilet-bowl… he runs off under the sink. If he demonstrates a reluctance to become fully hidden, a step or two towards him reestablishes protocol.
Soosk Khan has demonstrated a remarkable similarity to Gregor, the man turned into a cockroach in Kafka's Metamorphosis: To spare me the disgust of his appearance, he does not does not appear during the day, and at night he tries to minimize the trauma.
I have rationalized my inability to destroy him by deciding that he must pray on smaller roaches to survive, keeping the overall population down. I do not want to even consider his alternative diet.
The other day, the housemaid screamed and ran out of the kitchen, with that familiar cry “Sooooooosk!”
I was in a clear earshot, playing with my cousin, and so had to respond. Sure enough, a bold and brazen cockroach, with the size to match, was walking towards the kitchen door in broad daylight. It resembled Soosk Khan, perhaps a cousin.
I gave it a couple of seconds to make an escape, but it stood there, face a face. It was waving at me wildly with its large antennae, just as a bullfighter taunts a bull. I felt as if it was giving me an opportunity to escape!
That was it.
Bolstered by the expectations of the damsel in distress, the shoe came off, and…. well I'll spare you the very gory details. Phobia or no phobia, I will NOT be mocked…. at least not in front of witnesses.