As a mother in Africa one is faced with myriad challenges. Some universal (nits, for example, kids the world over scratch their heads whilst their mothers bow their own in shame), some – like that described by Maggot Man – are unique to our geography. Read it if you want to be entertained. It comes highly recommended. Read it – especially – if you are a mother in this part of the world. Look away now, however, if you are neither equator bound nor able to stand the thought of creepie crawlies.
The mango fly to which Maggot Man refers and battles against so valiantly is one of the curved balls Africa chucks at mums.
Concisely, and less gracefully, than MM’s description, this is what a mango fly does: first it sleeps with its other half (or at least that’s what one must assume it does in order for this whole wretched cycle to begin, but perhaps anybody’s other half will do?), then – she, the wanton whatsit whose been sleeping around – lays her eggs and abandons them (which is how you know she’s wanton, abandoning her babies already and off to find another mangoflybloke, I don’t know: women today hey?). The eggs, which she lays on the lawn, on your bed (upon which she’s had a post-coital nap and because you left window open) or on the laundry which festoons your washing line (she’s not fussy the mango fly mother, she’s just in a hurry) lie dormant until they come into contact with some nice warm skin. Dog skin, guinea pig skin, hamster skin, they’re not especially fussy though they are particularly partial to human skin. Especially nice, soft, pliable baby human skin. Once in contact, they burrow beneath the skin and do what most incubating babes do: eat, shit, sleep.
This would be fine. Nobody would deny any living organism the right to a sustaining part of its lifecycle. Until one remembers that the eating, sleeping and everything else is quite possibly going on beneath the skin of your child. And even if you’re the sort of person who isn’t good at remembering things (like me, for example, who can’t remember where keys, car, sometimes even children are), you will remember about the incubating mango flies because their energetic bowel habits and frequent purges will make your baby’s skin itchy and inflamed and he or she will cry a lot. Loudly. And for several nights until finally you spot the spot and do some extensive and admirable research as MM did and evacuate the little monster. The mango fly. Obviously. Not the baby.
My first experience of mango fly, or putzi (why putzi I don’t know, onomatopoeic? pssstzi is rather what you imagine you hear as maggot pops through the skin?) occurred almost 17 years ago. I was a virgin mother. Not as in Virgin Mary of course, but virgin as in not having done the mothering thing for very long so fairly clueless and lacking in self confidence.
Ben – who at 8 or 9 or 10 months had finally realized nighttime was for sleeping and was revelling in newfound activity – suddenly began to wake regularly and howl. I did all the things it told me to do in the books if your baby woke and cried at night: checked his nappy; gave him a hug; made him a drink; promised there was no bogey men under the cot. No to avail. He hollered. Three evenings later as I attempted to bathe him without falling into bath and drowning myself on account of 72 hour sleep deprivation, I noticed a temptingly yellow spot on his forearm. Like a zit that is begging to be squeezed. So I did. Squeeze it. And out popped a worm – a fat little maggot – which wriggled along the edge of the bath as quickly as it could, whilst Ben watched in delighted fascination whilst I retched into the loo.
Furtive questioning of better mothers and some research later and I realized what I was dealing with. And I got better at dealing with it for inevitably the problem continued: ironing ones clothes is all very well (the heat kills the blighters off) until the power goes off as it used to often in those days. And for a lot of days at a time. Whether to ‘fess up and admit my children had mango fly or whether to tweak the truth and say they had a boil instead presented a tough choice, Hobsons’ choicest. Come clean and people would suspect you weren’t really – clean – and they’d be left in little doubt as to the slovenly nature of your domestic skills; ie you didn’t supervise the ironing or at least make a pretence at coordinating laundry days with power days. (And in my case they wouldn’t be far off the mark: domestic goddess I am not). Fib in a bid to elicit sympathy, telling everybody it was a boil and your child risked being banished from everybody else’s sandpits (which is apparently, according to better mothers than I, where putzi fly and boil-bearing bugs and God only knows what else hang out). Claiming either though – puzti or one masquerading as a boil – were certain to eliminate your poor baby from birthday parties. And you from coffee mornings so that proper mothers could discuss your failings at leisurely length.
Our geography now means that I am no longer exposed to the daily intimidations of the school car park (which – like most school car parks, and a lot of coffee mornings come to think of it? – resembled arenas of old where the Christians were tossed to hungry lions to snack on to the roaring approval of a thousand spectators), it means that if Hat’s older siblings – at boarding school – did, get mango fly, I could sneeringly and smugly enquire of the administration, “but whose organizing the laundry?” As if Hat does, nobody but her dad and I would need to know about it.
Except that here, in the Outpost, with its desiccating heat and kiln dry air, mango fly offspring would be dehydrated to lifeless crisps long before they had a chance to do any subcutaneous burrowing. We don’t get them here – much like we don’t get pedicures, cappuccinos or fresh butter.
I shall remind myself of that next time I am frustrated by the lack of a deli.
I was brought up to Count My Blessings. This is presumably one of them?