Week 4 – Buggin’

by H D Thompson

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Thessaloniki was our last stop in Greece, and on our last night we were graced with the age-old travelling tradition of bed bugs. For me, it was just a simple matter of being covered in patterns of itchy bites, but for Rachel, who is apparently allergic, it means that the bites swell up considerably, most noticeably when they bite her fucking eye. It didn’t swell up fully until we hit Macedonia, at which point it looked as though she had been beaten up pretty badly. As her travelling companion, a large man, and she a small girl, this was a concern to our public image.

In Skopje, Macedonia, a man asked me, in English, if I wanted a taxi, to which I for no particular reason responded, “non grazie”, which led to him animatedly talking at me in Italian. I then had to tell him I didn’t actually speak Italian. He looked at me like I was a crazy person, and he was right to do so.

In the small town of Lagadin, on the shores of Lake Ohrid, there lay strips of what looked like holiday destination disrepair, not just from the summer that had ended a few weeks prior, but years. The strangest part was that there was a faded sign for free wifi, so this beach was in its peak quite recently, and bizarrely already fallen by the wayside. There is something about abandoned wifi stations that just feels so unwholesome.

The hosts where we were staying in Lagadin spent hours and hours stirring a giant cauldron of Ajvah, giving them the illusion of being witches. After tasting said ajvah, I am still not convinced they are not. They had a black dog named Bupa who was friendly and sacred. He came to say hello and lay himself down next to me in a puddle of clovers, because he is greater than all other creatures and his bed should only be clovers.

Our little cabin on the hills of Lagadin overlooked Lake Ohrid, and was a paradise unto itself. When we woke up after our first night, there was a mysterious pile of dead winged ants on the floor. There were a couple of millipedes around (which the locals adorably call “hundred-legs”) and at night slugs came to visit our bathroom. It was unnerving, but we thought nothing of it other than odd. When we returned from a hike that day, we discovered another pile of dead winged ants on the floor, and more eerily, in a pile in the middle of my bed. Why my bed? Why the centre of the bed? Why go to where I sleep to die en masse? These were pressing questions no one could answer. Except I guess the ants, but corpses can’t snitch.

Hiking this hills that overlooked Lake Ohrid we came across a little town whose streets were lined with falling fruit, of which I partook in a lunch of tiny delicious plumbs. The signs said that the spring water could not be trusted to drink so I washed the fallen fruits in the spring water, so if I fell ill I could blame it on the spring water and not the delicious adorable fruit. We hiked above the low lying clouds and were treated to a view of the lake that was pretty incredible, but one of my favourite sights was coming across a corridor of goats in an orchid. They were just so excellent in their huddle.

Within the silent ancient walls of the Church of Saint Sophia in Ohrid, you can see frescoes that will take your breath away and, if you are as lucky as I was, you can hear the faint clinking of the man at the ticket desk clipping his nails.

Ohrid, I found out, was originally known as Lychnidos, which means “city of light” in Ancient Greek. It’s easy to understand why, as the city if framed by the glistening shores of the massive lake. The name Ohrid, which is now has, came from the expression of a disciple when he arrived and exclaimed, “Oh! Rid!”, with the latter meaning hill and the former a gasp at the beauty of said hill. That it is so literal is incredibly endearing. The city also has 365 churches, one for each day of the year, which I consider overkill. I personally like to think it was an overcompensation for their sinful lifestyle, but I guess we will never know.

On this trip Rachel has been cat-called twice from the street. I have been cat-called zero times. I try not to be envious, but my shorts are as short as I can get them and I just don’t know what else I could do.

The streets of Ohrid are lined with lanterns that look like little doomsday clocks that reached 0, as if they counted down and decided against doom because they too had fallen under the spell of the city.

After returning to our cabin once again after a day out, the piles of dead winged ants were increasing in number, despite us spraying so much bug spray our cabin was now technically a fire hazard. The pile on my bed had doubled to about fifty. There was nothing to be done, we were told, as we were in a cabin in the hills, but there was something increasingly disconcerting about these creatures that came to specifically die in the very spot I was inhabiting.

In Ohrid I came upon a sign for the bathrooms, except instead of a standard man/woman image, there was a man peeping over the wall at the woman. I think it was meant to be funny, but it’s not.

On the second night in our cabin a scorpion crawled out of the wall and joined Rachel in bed. After a polite attempt at collecting and removing it from our space, it crawled under her bed and refused to get out. We gave up on niceties, grabbed the can of poison, sprayed every crack we could, googled “bed deaths by scorpions?”, and slept very little that night.

Talking online to the gay community in a country of sexual repression is very sad. People don’t share who they are for fear of retribution and exist only in a world of anonymity and dark encounters. I was “offered” to be raped more than once in my time in Macedonia, and I couldn’t tell if it was serious or simply the broken humour of the emotionally suffocated. It wasn’t funny either way.

Ruining the tranquillity of our hillside paradise, an overbearing American woman had checked in, tarnishing her country’s image by playing the part of the cliché no one could stand. At breakfast she hollered her love for coffee, repeatedly and in the middle of unrelated sentences. She talked louder than traffic and shared, to a poor group of people she had placed herself within, her travels so far. If there’s one thing everyone in the room wants to hear it’s one’s own travel stories, especially first thing in the morning. While observing from afar (not far enough to be out of earshot, but enough that she hopefully wouldn’t engage with me), she roped an older British couple into her audience who had just arrived, looked exhausted and were obviously too polite to refuse. They sat in silence bombarded with her onslaught of chatter, and the looks on their faces reminded me of those pictures of dads who had to take their daughters to One Direction concerts.

If you sit anywhere in Macedonia long enough a dog will approach you demanding pets and you must acquiesce. It is the law, punishable by eternal damnation.

You hear a lot of popular songs you wouldn’t expect over here, speckled among the local music. It’s odd to be hearing some Macedonian folk tune chased by Meghan Trainor. The best hands down was when the song Phil Collins wrote for Disney’s Tarzan came on the radio. You’ll be in my heart indeed.

On our last day in our cabin in the hills of Lagadin overlooking Lake Ohrid, I woke up not only surrounded by dead winged ants in my bed, but I was covered in them because in my slumber I had inadvertently been rolling in their mass grave, like an excitable dog on roadkill, except asleep, unknowing, unwilling and unconsenting. Sleeping light had left me weary and waking up to find a second skin of bug corpses on my body was not an ideal way to start the day. I was questioning my soul. Why had they chosen me? They weren’t dying in a pile on Rachel’s bed. Sure a scorpion visited her, but it probably just wanted a chat, these little bastards were on an odyssey to my bed to die on my sleeping body. Was this karma for that time in primary school when those kids burned ants alive with magnifying glasses? I didn’t participate, but I also did nothing to stop it and I was too young to know about bystander apathy. I scraped off the dozens of dead ant remains from by body in the bathroom, and after a Silkwood shower and a shaky cigarette on the front porch, I returned to my bed to get dressed and found in that short time since I had left, another convoy of ants had arrived to die in where I had only just wiped away the others. How were they even dying so quickly; did they have just enough energy to arrive, then cark it? Or were they simply flying by and the cloud of darkness that is my essence caused them to die mid-air? I will never know. This is my life now. I will spend eternity cleaning up puddles of dead bugs. I am the thing that bugs flock to to die. Not only die, but die in communities. Like the one spot all elephants travel across the country to rot in, I am the graveyard. Like the fetid beach whales choose to hurl themselves upon, I am the shore. Like the atrium in Celia Hodes’ house in Weeds that she despises because it is a spot where no wind or light hits it, I am the room where plants go to die.

#H