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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - My horror life as a katsaridaphobiac

My horror life as a katsaridaphobiac

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The humble cockroach has been bugging people since the birth of humankind. Photograph: Peter Olszewski

Generally speaking, I love my job on The Insider. The work is stimulating, the commute is less than five minutes and I get to meet interesting people each day.

There is one thing though that makes me reluctant to come to work. Something that sends a cold stab of dread to the pit of my stomach, makes me check the office bathroom obsessively before I enter it (banging the door and making as much noise as I can), and can send me leaping out of my chair screeching like, well, like a girl. That thing is a cockroach.

“This is Southeast Asia, cockroaches are inevitable,” says my boss (an Australian. He has an unfair advantage). And he is right. But somehow, even after a year and a half living in Temple Town, this London girl can’t get used to them.

I don’t know why I hate them or where the fear came from. It’s the antennae I hate so much – the wiggling, probingness of them – even thinking about it makes me feel uneasy. I know the argument – they can’t hurt me, they’re more scared of me than I am of them (this I doubt), they would never actually come near you. I used to believe this last bit until a friend of mine told me recently about a motel he stayed in in Bangalore where he awoke to find them running all over him.

Many fellow Reapers share my disgust. Mother of two Nicole, who has been in Siem Reap for nearly two years, says she cannot stand cockroaches. “I should be used to them by now but I still find them revolting!” she admits.

While guest-house owner Rachel who has lived here for seven years says, “I hate them as they are really light footed, and despite being really big, can scuttle over you and you just feel a tickle at first before you notice the huge disgusting germ-carrying thing on you.”

She adds, “Also, I once had one fall on my face while in bed before which really creeped me out!”

ONE FELL ON HER FACE? I think I would actually pass out if that happened to me. I would rather be bitten by a mosquito than even see a cockroach.

I am a katsaridaphobe, the internet reliably tells me. This phobia can “severely disrupt normal life, interfering with school, work, or social relationships.”

Tell me about it. The first time I ever went properly travelling, to Central America, I spent the entire five weeks compulsively covering drains in hotel bathrooms and shoving towels against the door, my long-suffering partner looking on with tired bemusement.

I have run away from roaches all over the world. In Lamu, Kenya one flew at my neck and I’m fairly sure my screams could be heard on the other side of the island. In Belize I stayed in a beach hut that was so infested I had to get drunk in order to even set foot in my room at night. And, most recently, a friend and I fled, shrieking, from a horde of roaches on Phu Quoc island in Vietnam, the locals falling about laughing and shouting helpfully, “don’t look, just run.”

It is my husband, of course, who bears the brunt of this madness. He has become reluctant roach-killer, hiding them out of sight when he can to avoid the inevitable hysteria that ensues. In the bathroom of a certain Siem Reap establishment that shall remain nameless he once dispatched a cockroach and hid it behind the toilet, only for me to immediately find it when I came in later (did he really think I wasn’t going to carry out my routine check?)

Some, such as photographer and naturalist Stéphane de Greef, point out that our six-legged friends have been around for many millions of years before us and deserve as much respect as any other life form. While he may not like them, he appreciates that, “every species has its role and place,” and understands that “they are as much part of our environment as butterflies and ladybugs.” Resident bee-keeper Dani Jump goes one step further, describing some roaches as “actually beautiful” and indeed, “lovely.”  Erm, pardon? Clearly, beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder.

I often wonder what life would be like as a ‘normal’ person; no longer would I have to obsessively check TripAdvisor for any mere mention of roach-spottings before booking accommodation anywhere in the world. I could use the office bathroom without my insane banging-the-door-and-stamping-my-feet ritual. My husband would certainly enjoy our holidays more.

But for now I plough on, with my trusty can of Raid by my side and alert to the slightest, small, scuttling shape or shadow.

As for the “lovely, black and yellow species here in Siem Reap” Jump refers to, all I can say is I hope our paths never cross. And if they do, I’ll be the one shrieking and running away, like a girl…

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