El Escarabajo Dorado (a guest post)

Image source: José Luis Celada Euba

Image source: José Luis Celada Euba

Today’s guest post about a humorous turned enlightening moment had while living in Peru, comes to us from Fabianne, a high school Spanish teacher, world traveler, and the blogger behind “Blogging Is Narcissistic But…

Last year I shared an apartment in the noisy city of Trujillo, Peru with two Spanish roommates. One night, I found myself in the kitchen when a big, scary something started frantically buzzing around the room, smacking its chunky body against the walls, seemingly desperate to escape. Meanwhile, the window was, as always, wide open to cleanse the space of my roommates’ tobacco habit. I let out a little yelp and waved my hands in the air, which only seemed to offer the opposite of my intended message as it zoomed toward me in a state of panic.

I heard one of my roommates say, “She’s shouting in English again,” and the two of them came rushing to my rescue.

Cucaracha?” (Yes, that is actually how you say cockroach) asked one.

“No! I don’t know what this is!” I gasped as it propelled its seemingly light-brown body toward us. All three of us screamed simultaneously and ran for the kitchen door. Mar shut it behind us and we laughed at ourselves.

“What is that?” she shouted. “It’s enormous!”

At the time, I didn’t know the word for moth in Spanish. (Now I do. Polilla. I’ll never forget it. High stakes situations make for great learning experiences.) So I opted for the word for butterfly because once I read that most insects that appear to be butterflies are actually moths. I figured it was my best bet.

Una mariposa?” They asked, skeptical.

Algo como una mariposa pero con un cuerpo gordo,” (“Something like a butterfly but with a fat body,”) I explained. They both stared at me.

“Well we can’t just stand out here,” my other roommate Vanessa said, entering the kitchen and heroically grabbing the broom. She struck at the fat-bodied butterfly, which was still making circles around the kitchen, using two hands to wield her domestic weapon. Mar and I screamed and laughed from a safe distance, when suddenly, after one swift sweep of the broom, we watched it come spiraling down. She got it. It wasn’t dead, but injured beyond flight, rattling on the kitchen floor. Vanessa leaned over her kill to get a closer look, and let out a little gasp.

“It’s not a butterfly!” she shouted, almost angry. Yes, that much I knew, I just lacked the necessary vocabulary. “It’s an escarabajo!” A beetle, she said.

Escarabajo!” I shouted, not particularly out of concern but mostly because I love that word. So onomatopoeic. When I hear it, I picture a little black beetle scraping and digging through the dirt, making a whispery noise that sounds like, “escarabajo.” I actually only know the word because a little black one crawled into my backpack one time, and a Spaniard pointed and shouted, “Escarabajo!” I remember she told me not to kill it because “los escarabajos no son malos.” They’re not bad. Fair enough.

It turns out the escarabajo in our kitchen was a bit different than the one in my backpack. “It’s a golden beetle,” Vanessa explained. Escarabajo dorado.

I had never heard of a golden beetle and didn’t care too much until she said, “It’s a symbol of immortality.”

For some reason those words resonated with me. To be fair, this is a girl who lit the end of a small branch and waved it around our apartment to expel bad energy, and who charges her crystals by moonlight (though I know of no better way), and while I love her and admire her earthy spirit, I usually remain unaffected by her beliefs. This is not because I claim to possess superior spiritual ideology, just that I’m kind of lazy when it comes to these things. Afterlife? Can’t be bothered…But this time I felt bad. Was I an accomplice to the murder of a bug that only wanted to offer us immortality?

“It’s suffering,” Vanessa said looking at me seriously, “and you have to kill it. I did my part.”

“I don’t like to kill things!” I protested. She shot me a look of death. I get it. OK.

Both of my roommates returned to their respective rooms. The golden beetle squirmed on the floor, its gem-like shell glistening under the fluorescent kitchen lights. Not knowing what to do, I swept it into a dustpan and tipped it out our seven-story kitchen window, hoping maybe it would catch flight.

“It committed suicide,” I announced loud enough for Vanessa to hear, though she didn’t respond.

Later that night, I Google searched “golden beetle.” I found various articles about the insect, my favorite from a gardener saying she is both frustrated and delighted when she finds these beautiful pests among her plants. Another funny bug-nerd article said something like, “Everyone keeps talking about golden beetles.” Oh yeah. People just won’t shut up about them! Nowhere did I find anything about immortality, though the words that affected me most came from an article about insect collections. It recommends that you not add the golden beetle to your collection as it loses its golden color once it dries out, saying, “these bugs are most beautiful kept alive.” Ouch.

5 thoughts on “El Escarabajo Dorado (a guest post)

  1. I love this story! Mostly because I, too, love the word escarabajo. (But also because it’s so pretty!!) We had a scare once at our house…there was a great noise in the kitchen and I thought it must be a mouse….but my husband said it was just “un escarabajo” rattling around under some paper. I didn’t know what it meant, but the sound it was making had me hiding and yelling, “just get it!’. I always think how funny it is that we’re so big and insects are so small, but they can still fill us with terror. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Ja, so true. There must be some sort of primal reason they can cause that kind of fear in us…I’ll have to research now. I have this sort of reaction to all kinds of bugs – there are very few that I’m not afraid of. The way she described the buzzing and thunking around of the beetle reminds me of the “chinches” (stink bugs) we’ve dealt with in recent years. It’s absolutely terrifying when they get in the house and the way they crash into everything jajaja. You should hear the blood-curdling screams if one thwacks me in the face even though I know they don’t bite or sting.

      • If something hit me in the face, you know I’d be screaming, too! We’ve gone out in the summer to catch lightning bugs, and I’m almost scared to do that. I must be getting old!

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