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





14 responses

  1. A 30 cm. spider! I would have flown home without a plane! Still, after the giant spiders and the pervert ants, there’s probably not much left to be scared of 😀

  2. Back in the early days of my marraige, I was reading an autobiography by Mary Leaky, discussing her life in Africa. In one chapter she mentioned bird eating spiders. I about fainted! I can’t stand spiders so the idea that there would be a spider that was large enough to eat birds about sent me over the edge! For the next few weeks I would turn to my husband out and the blue and exclaim “BIRD EATING SPIDERS!” You are a braver woman than me going to live with all of those bugs!!!

  3. I’m nearly in the fetal position just reading this post. Yikes! Maureen – how did you last so long? You’re lucky that Huntsman Spider didn’t run off with your baby. Remind me not to go to Africa unless I have a very large fly swat.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s