February 19, 2019
Stung in Chiapas

The pain was reaching my elbow. What would happen when it reached my brain?

Scorpions in Chiapas are the color of leftover coffee grinds. I gathered that much one early afternoon when I was hungry. In the dirt-floor kitchen, there were few utensils and many flies. After scooping up black beans from a large pot standing over a dying fire, I looked for something to cover it up. The kitchen cloth that we?d used to filter the best coffee in the world would do. Soon after I grabbed it, I heard myself screaming.

?A bee. I think it?s a bee,? offered Lucia.

?No. Not a bee!? I responded.

I showed her the finger because it came with a red sting and a dramatic drop of blood. The pain was so severe, I felt I was getting stung again and again. In the smoky hut, Lucia roamed around like a chicken to uncover ?what had done that.? She used a stick to inspect the kitchen rag and we soon distinguished a moving coffee-grind stain that was shaped like a scorpion.

?Ahh,? Lucia said.

?See. It wasn?t a bee.?

?I?m calling the emergency.?

By this, Lucia meant that she?d go looking for the promodor de salud (the health promoter) who was working on the milpa, the cornfield.

Where I was, in the Zona de Resistencia Zapatista, a 60-family community six hours away from the small town of Ocosingo on a good dirt-road day, my prospects for? making it to a town clinic were thin. In the phrase of Lorenzo, a community leader who came to check on Lucia and me at night, a car headed to the city came by every day, a veces. Sometimes. Luckily, I did not have to worry about such things. A scorpion bite –when the scorpion is the color of leftover coffee grinds– is a lot like getting partial lobotomy.

Thinking was out of the question. I had become the effort I made to breathe in and out and the motion of the poison, slowly but surely traveling up my arm. I no longer wondered why the big rooster just would not give up chasing after the slim hen that sat at the end of a branch. He?d fall and try again. I, myself, walked in circle for no particular reason. But unlike the rooster and the hen, I was moaning.

Scorpion bites can be lethal. For every person killed by a poisonous snake, 10 are killed by scorpion bites. It mostly happens in poor places like this, miles from any kind of clinic.

An old man whom I think I had not met before walked up to me.

?Scorpio?? I showed him my finger.

He had lines in his face that were kind. Those read that he didn?t understand what I?d said, or that I didn?t understand what he?d replied.

Before I had come to stay in the autonomous community as a human-rights observer, I had been briefed by activists in San Cristobal. They?d talked about the danger of the military, as well of the ticks. But they?d said nothing about scorpions.

?Me mordi un escorpio? scorpia? escorpi…? I tried again.

The old man answered in a low and monotonous voice particular to indigenous peasants south of Mexico City. I could tell that he spoke to me in Spanish, and not in the Mayan dialect Tzeltal. But still I couldn?t make sense of it. I led him to the kitchen and showed him the dark scorpion I had killed earlier with the stick.
?Alacran,? he said.

?Alacran. Alacran.? I repeated.

The pain was reaching my elbow. What would happen when it reached my brain? I don?t remember thinking this, but the words came out instead.

?Am I gonna die?? I blurted out.

The old man looked like any grandpa sitting under the shade on a bench. He did not answer right away.
I explained what I could in my bad Spanish, all high on pain that I was. I had cooked beans on the fire, and had been looking for a cover.? The cover was on the stained rag, but I couldn?t tell because the scorpion was the color of the wet coffee grinds.

?No vas a morir,? he said. ?Tienes un cigarillo??

I handed the old man a Gratos cigarette, made in Chiapas. He opened up the non-filter menthol cigarette and chewed the tobacco. Then he spit it out in his hand. I let him apply that mixture on my finger and hold it in place. He could have sliced off my hand for all I cared.

The pain traveled back to my middle finger. Once there, the pain receded and I became hungry for the black beans and tortillas we ate daily. When Lucia and the health worker arrived, I was eating my third plate of beans. The can of? La Morena jalape?o peppers ? the sole green vegetable available at the wood shack tienda –was nearly empty.
?You ate all of those peppers,? Lucia said.
The health worker wanted to give me a shot. He couldn?t understand how I was not in more pain. When he concluded that it must have been a small scorpion that stung me, I protested.

?No. It wasn?t small!? I showed him the dead scorpion, and explained the visit of the old man.

He?d left without my noticing. I didn?t know his name. The promodor seemed to be taking mental notes about the tobacco ointment. Maybe that?s something that he would try next time.

Later that night, in my green hammock by the candle light of ?Nuestra Virgen de Guadalupe,? I watched the oversize shadows of bugs and moths playing on the tin ceiling. The night was rich with voices and sounds. I remembered a story about the spirits I?d been told weeks earlier. A man had shot a lynx in the forest. When he arrived home, his brother was dying, because his nagua, his animal spirit, had been the lynx.

I thought about the old man?s strange words.

?What did you do to the scorpion?? he had asked. How I regretted then having killed the scorpion.

New York-based Melanie Griot writes about indigenous culture and ecotourism.

4 comments about “Stung in Chiapas”

  1. Rachit Vats says:

    This is such an amazingly gripping piece. Made such an interesting read.

  2. JaneRadriges says:

    Hi, gr8 post thanks for posting. Information is useful!

  3. seano says:

    That was fantastic, with a wonderful ending. Thank you.

  4. daniel says:

    hey there, i left palenque today for agua azul. when i got there i was stungon the finger by a similar big black scorpion hiding in my backpack. It HURT!!they gave me an injection in my butt n said id be fine..what a relief:)

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