talk here this past week has been all about the lira’s roller
coaster ride against the dollar. Turkey’s trade war with the U.S.
Trump versus Erdoğan.
And meanwhile, what’s been on our minds, my wife and I? Scorpions.
We bought a new apartment a couple of months ago. It was perfect, located on a hill overlooking the Bosphorus, right in the heart of the great city. For our price range, you couldn’t have asked for anything better. Most people with our income can only afford to buy a flat somewhere in the vast, faceless outskirts. And we owned it outright – no mortgage payments. Come what may, we would always have a roof over our heads. This was a very pleasing prospect.
So we were happy. Sure, it was a bit small, and there was a humidity problem because we were on the ground floor. But we had a terrace looking out onto a garden, where we could enjoy our meals, and our cat Ginger could at least have something to look at. As for the humidity, we purchased a humidfier, and a fan to help circulate the air: problem solved.
But then there was a leak. A big leak. My wife noticed it coming from a storeroom in the corridor outside our apartment. The leakage was steady, and was starting to stain the wall in our bedroom. The whole building stank of shit. Not good.
One of the downsides of being homeowners is that you can’t just call the landlord anymore. You are the landlord.
After repeated calls to the company who constructed the building, some guys were finally sent out to have a look. They tore up the street and discovered a broken sewage pipe. Since the street is technically a municipal issue, we had to call the belediye. Calls to the belidiye of course were met with “we’ll send somebody out to have a look soon.” (Soon!) Meanwhile, the building company guys managed a band-aid solution to at least funnel the leak so that it wouldn’t continue to damage our walls. (To his credit, the owner of the construction company paid for the repair out of his pocket, not ours)
However, at this point, my wife was beginning to question our decision.
“I think we made a huge mistake buying this place,” she said, falling to the sofa and staring at the ceiling.
I tried to be reassuring.
“Oh, come on,” I said. “These things happen when you buy a new home. A few quirks. We’re just not used to having to deal with them. We’ll be OK once we get them ironed out.”
She seemed mollified for a few days.
But then there was the night of the scorpion.
“Baby, what is that?” Özge cried one evening. “What is that?”
We were sitting on the terrace, having a drink. She jumped up and pointed at the ceiling. I looked up. A scorpion was squatting motionless, hanging upside down over our heads.
Of course, my wife knows what a scorpion is. She was just expressing her shock and horror.
“I’ve got it,” I said.
I went to the kitchen and fetched a Tupperware container.
“Baby, be careful!”
“Don’t worry,” I said.
Bear in mind, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to discover this poisonous creature hanging out on our terrace. But having grown up in Texas, scorpions were nothing new to me. As kids in Austin, my brother and I used to see them all the time, squash them beneath our tennis shoes.
The scorpion still hadn’t moved. I placed the Tupperware container over the scorpion, then used a fork to flip it in. At the bottom of the container, the bewildered scorpion twitched its legs, pondered its predicament, while I sealed the top with the lid. Result!
“All those Steve Irwin videos came in handy!” I said, feeling capable and heroic. My chest puffed up. Give me a stick and a burlap sack and I’ll be ready for an Ottoman viper next time, I thought.
For my wife’s benefit, I even did my best Steve Irwin impression.
“What we’ve got here is a scorpion, mate!” I cried in an Aussie accent. “Look here at his stinger! If I’m not careful, he’s gonna tag me, mate! Woooooo!”
My wife was decidedly uninterested in my Irwin-esque display.
“How the hell did it get into our apartment?” my wife exclaimed, as I held up the container to the light. She went to the kitchen and returned with some kind of chemical liquid, which she then poured into the container. Within a minute or two, the scorpion stopped moving, was clearly dead.
“I don’t mind spiders, I don’t mind insects,” Özge said. “But I draw the line at scorpions. Scorpions are not welcome in my house!”
We both checked the terrace for ways the scorpion could have entered. We do keep the terrace open in the evenings, but we have mosquito netting. We checked some pipes, but the only pipes on the terrace lead to the boiler. Finally, we noticed a small plastic vent that covered a small gap that led outside to the garden. We tested it, and the vent moved very easily. We deduced it was possible the scorpion could have squeezed through the vent, since it was not battened down. We got some tape and sealed it on all sides.
We wondered how long the scorpion had been on the terrace. Was it possible it had been there for days, even weeks? Longer?
My wife couldn’t sleep at all that night, nor for several nights afterward. She would scour the terrace with the flashlight on her mobile phone, flash it under the sofa, under the bed, in all the dark places. She even shook out the sheets and pillows before we got into the bed. And when she finally did manage to drop off to sleep, sometime deep in the night, the slightest touch or rustle would have her wake in a blind panic, thrash around in terror.
All this despite my assurances that it was probably an anomaly, a freak thing. “Maybe it was washed into the building by the leak,” I posited.
“Baby, I can’t stand this!” she moaned. “How am I going to forget about the scorpion? Huh? How am I going to forget about it?”
“I know.” What could you say?
We became scorpion experts, Googling the creature, learning its habits and ways. Turns out that scorpions are quite common in Turkey, even in a megacity like Istanbul. We found out they can be prevalent especially near the Bosphorus.
I even tried “humanizing” the scorpion.
“By the way,” I said to Özge one night, as we relaxed in the living room watching TV. “Did you know that scorpions are considered a delicacy in China?” This was true, a Google search had uncovered. In China, scorpions are fried, sauteed, soaked in rice wine, even consumed raw. Apparently they taste like shrimp, just so you know.
Özge loves Chinese food, so I guess I thought sharing this with her would in some way downsize the horror of scorpions in her mind.
This Fun Fact, however, did not produce the desired effect. Instead, my wife gave me this exasperated look.
“Baby, I had finally forgotten the scorpion! For like ten minutes! Really, did you have to bring up scorpions!”
“Sorry,” I said.
So you see, while all the rest of the country has had their eyes glued to the financial pages, to the dollar-lira exchange rate, to the real prospect of a trade war between Turkey and the United States, my wife and I have been preoccupied with things – much smaller things – closer to home. The lira may have plunged, the nation may have been looking at an economic collapse, a financial crisis, or worse – the kinds of things that can and should keep responsible citizens (and foreigners like me) awake at night.
But sometimes none of these things are quite as immediate and threatening as the idea that a scorpion could be lying in your bed, under your pillow, crawling over you while you sleep.
Throughout our crisis, you will be glad to know that the cat Ginger remained calm, steadfast. She sat on the terrace, regarding us with wide feline eyes.
“Come on, cat!” I said. “Isn’t this supposed to be your job, hunting things down?”
The cat just looked at me, said “Meow,” and then turned away and curiously sniffed one of the plants. Well, perhaps her curiosity has certain limits.
Ah, to be a cat. To not worry about dollars or liras, or trade wars, or presidents (since as a cat you technically are the president) or humidity or leaks or even scorpions. To not worry about uncertainty, or anything really, except when your human gets around to feeding you.
I know where my wife is coming from, and I’m with her on this one. I shall be vigilant in the fight, and help with scorpion patrol. Because after all, currencies will rise and fall, trade wars fought, presidents will come and go. We’ll find a way to get by these crises.
But let the scorpions of the world be warned! Our home is where we live and sleep. We’re invested, and we’re in it for the long haul. Any invaders – large or small – will not be tolerated. We stand vigilant and ready.
James Tressler, a former Lost Coast resident, is a writer and teacher living in Istanbul.