African Adventure – Part 9

Warning: BUGS – Spiders, Cockroaches, Scorpions, Flying Ants, and Putzi Flies.


Before we went to live and work in Africa in the mid 1960s, I had a real phobia about bugs.

Putzi Flies also known as Tumbu Flies or skin maggots. These minute flies lay their eggs in wet clothes which were left outside to dry. The eggs hatch and the larvae burrow under a person’s skin. This would result in large “boils” which had to be cleaned out during a doctor’s visit. But there was a simple solution. ALL laundry had to be ironed, ON BOTH SIDES, in order to kill the larvae. Underwear posed a real problem because it was so close to the skin.


When we had our baby in Zambia, all of her diapers, which were washed by hand in a tub outside, had to ironed on both sides. Fortunately our diligence meant that none of us ever had to visit the doctor for Putzi Fly Removal!

The Cockroaches were huge and impossible to get rid of. When I turned on the light in the kitchen, I got the shivers at the sound of the scurrying roaches. When I pulled a cookbook off the shelf, cockroaches would fall out onto the table. More shivers. It got to the point where I would hit the cookbook before I took it down so the roaches would have a chance to hide.

The spiders were large and always there, but one evening we were introduced, by surprise, to a spider called a Hunter Spider. I was sitting in the living room reading by lamplight, when John opened the door and a HUGE spider ran into the room. At first we didn’t know what it was. It measured about twelve inches (30 cm) across and could run like the dickens. I screamed and jumped up onto the chair while this creature ran around and around the edge of the room, with John chasing it with the broom. The spider was finally dispatched so we examined it and with the help of a book we had been given by CUSO, identified it as a Hunter Spider, or Huntsman Spider. Once again I had the shivers.

The Hunter Spider has very hairy legs!

The Hunter Spider has very hairy legs!


One evening we had friends over for dinner and during the meal I happened to look down and noticed a Scorpion stationed beside my foot, poised to sting. I didn’t move a muscle, but quietly said, “Scorpion!” to John. He quickly ended its life and saved me from what could have been a very painful incident. Shivers times two!

A sting from this guy would really hurt!

A sting from this guy would really hurt!


We were staying with friends who lived in Mongu when John rescued me the next time. I had just walked into the bathroom and spotted a Black Widow Spider on the wall. I recognized it by the bright orange dot on its black body. One bite from one of them and it would be curtains, but John came through once again.

One of the most surprising incidents came without warning as we were returning from an evening drive. Suddenly, just as the sun set, it was as if the earth opened up and a million, billion, kajillion flying insects filled the air. They were so thick that we had to put on the wipers to clear the windscreen. It was the Nuptial Flight of the Flying Ants!

When we got home we ran for the house, batting the insects away as we went. Shivers were running up and down my spine as we closed the door. None of them got in the house. The porch light was on and we looked out the window as the ants clustered together (doing who knows what on our front step). The air was thick with them and the next morning as I was getting ready to go to my teaching job, I saw that the concrete was thick with dead ants. I would have had to walk on them to get to the road, so I grabbed the broom and started sweeping them up.

I could hear shouting coming from the street and looked up to see several African women and children running toward me. “Can we have them?” they asked.

Of course I said yes, and they started to pick them up. I didn’t know what they were going to do with them until I saw a few of the children pick some up and pop them into their mouths.  Apparently this  phenomenon happens only once a year when the queen ants are ready for mating and they all fly around (doing you know what). The dead ants are a good source of protein and the Africans eat them. One of our friends tried them after they were cooked in oil, and said they tasted a lot like peanuts.

They died happy.

They died happy.

We had a family of lizards living in the bathroom but, after some initial terror,  I came to think of them as cute, rather like our squirrels in North America. We saw Zebras, Baboons, Lions, Giraffes, Impalas, Kudus, Hippos, and Rhinos, but none of them scared me as much as all those BUGS!

Thanks for reading. I hope you weren’t grossed out! – Maureen





African Adventure – Part 8

On the Great East Road

About a year and a half into our sojourn in Zambia, we decided to take a trip on the Great East Road, to what was then called Ft. Jameson, (now Chipata), and from there on to Malawi.

Have I told you that the roads in Zambia were terrible? Our poor rusty twelve year old car was shaken to pieces whenever we left the city. Every few miles we would see another muffler or other car part lying at the side of the road. I always joked that with all the parts along the road, we could have built ourselves a brand new car. Many, many friends would describe how their relatively new car was ruined during a trip but our Peugeot was built well and survived whatever we threw at it.

Sometimes when we returned to Lusaka we had to visit the junk yard where we found all sorts of car parts. It took us a while to come across a starter (or some such thing that helped us start the car). It’s a good thing we found it because we were drawing all kinds of attention when we were in downtown Lusaka and John had to get out of the car and crank the engine like you saw Charlie Chaplin do in the old movies.

On our way to Chipata, accompanied by our friend, Ross, we had a mechanical problem. The area was very hilly and the car was struggling to make it to the top. All of a sudden, the car wouldn’t go into first gear. (Forgive my lack of “car” understanding, and try to make sense of what I’m trying to say.)

On one particular hill, the car stopped dead. John and Ross figured out what had happened and knew we would need a part, but first we had to get to Chipata. Now we knew that when we drove into the town, there was a gas station on a corner where we had to turn in order to reach the house where we would be staying, which was at the top of a steep hill.

I got into the back seat and John and Ross got out to push the car UPHILL. John would hop in after a few minutes but Ross had to keep pushing and running until the car got into second or third gear. Then he had to jump in and close the door, which opened BACKWARDS. They had to do this repeatedly and I’m pretty sure they were both exhausted by the time we got to the rise where we could see the village of Chipata below us.

They guys had a plan. We would speed up and WITHOUT SLOWING DOWN turn at the gas station at the corner and go uphill as far as we could. In hindsight, I shudder to think of it.

We took that corner at speed and drove through the gas station with people waving at us and screaming. But we didn’t stop! And we made it most of the way up the hill. We carried our bags the last few metres and had a well deserved rest. Next day they were back at the gas station where somehow they got a part and had it installed. On to Malawi!

I’ve already told you that highways were paved only in the middle. We were cruising down the middle of the road at top speed, about 50 miles per hour for our old car, when we spotted a policeman who was also in the middle of the road and was vigorously waving us down. We couldn’t figure out what we could have done and were a little nervous as we stopped the car. We had crossed the border into Malawi only a few miles before.

He leaned in the window and asked where we were going. When John said we were going to Salima, he said, “Good. Me too. I need a ride.”  And hopped in!

He was very friendly and told us he was going to Salima to see his wife who lived there. He asked how old our car was and told us it would be an offense to have a car that old in Malawi. When we told him that we had hit a wild boar on the road the day before he told us that in Malawi that would be an offense. I half expected that when we told him that we had a baby girl, he would tell us it was an offense in Malawi. Instead he just told us it was really too bad. In Africa, boys were more important.

Around this time we came upon the scene of an accident. Nobody had been hurt but a truck carrying goods for Zambia was on a collision course with an empty petrol truck. They were heading downhill, in the middle of the road and at the bottom was a small single-lane bridge. The petrol truck went left and the other truck went right and they both ended up at the edge of the river.

Quite a crowd had gathered and the policeman wanted to get out, perhaps to investigate. In the 15 minutes since the accident, stalls were set up and people were selling things! I couldn’t believe my eyes.

After about half an hour, the policeman came back with a LIVE CHICKEN. He had bought it as a surprise for his wife. I wasn’t going to spend the rest of the journey sharing the back seat with Ross AND a chicken, but I needn’t have worried. He had John open the trunk and threw the chicken in!

For the rest of the trip as we wended our dusty way to Salima, I thought of that chicken being bounced around in the trunk of a 1954 Peugeot. It wouldn’t have surprised me if it had been dead when we got to Salima, but it came out into daylight squawking. I wonder if that was an offense in Malawi!

The hotel at Salima was wonderful and we had a great time. The meals and accommodation were tops and each day we went sailing on the lake.


Sunrise on Lake Malawi at Salima.

Sunrise on Lake Malawi at Salima.

Each day, we sailed around this island in Lake Malawi. It was full of exotic birds.

Each day, we sailed around this island in Lake Malawi. It was full of exotic birds.


A very memorable trip.

Thanks for reading my memories of Africa. – Maureen