In July, the weather at the onset of the rainy season in The Gambia is usually hot and humid .. mosquitoes are breeding in the damp conditions and
becoming more of a nuisance. Having lived there permanently and travelled throughout the region in the past, I am used to being bitten by a variety of flying pests, despite using insect repellent sprays. But by making sure I
keep all my injections up to date and having always regularly taken anti-malarial drugs whilst in Africa .. for the past 16 years I have had a totally illness-free and superbly healthy time there.
This area was once known as "The White Man's Grave" due to the horrendous death toll amongst early colonial settlers .. there is a district in Banjul which is still known today as "Half Die" .. and despite some advances in
medical care and education, the whole of West Africa still harbours some potentially nasty diseases. Luckily, and I am typing this touching wood with crossed fingers for superstitious reasons that this good luck will continue,
I have had nothing more serious than a few "fresh colds", as the locals call them, which are caused by breathing in the far from clean dust that blows everywhere in windy conditions and/or being subjected to dramatic sudden 30+
degree C temperature differences when arriving from a cold UK.
One morning in The Gambia, two days before I was due to leave on my journey, I woke up to find I had been bitten, supposedly by one or more
mosquitos, in some very unusual areas. Two either side of my backbone below the waist, two on one cheek of my backside and two more on another part of my anatomy, which I won't go into detail about, but is rather personal and
precious to me !! Knowing that mosquitos can bite through clothing, but wondering at the time why anything should have bitten me specifically only through the underwear I was wearing in bed, I applied the usual anti-itch cream
and thought little more about it. With a good anti-itch cream, mosquito bites disappear in a few hours in the same way as stinging nettle stings or non-dangerous insect bites one can get in the UK do .. as long as you resist
the urge to scratch them. Two of the very few things I look forward to when returning to UK life are the excellent modern cyber facilities and the ability to scratch an itch without it becoming a problem !
They stopped itching, but even though having avoided scratching them, I was surprised to see them actually increase in size during the next two
days. Resisting the urge to display all of the bites to everyone I set off for Nouakchott with 6 small boil-like dark red lumps which where starting to ache ! By the time I reached Dakar, they were starting to throb and when I reached St. Louis in Northern Senegal the next day .. they were very very painful !!
In my hotel room in St. Louis I decided to try the 'pop a zit' method to see if that would relieve the pain.
Gently holding on to that part of my anatomy best left undescribed, I gritted my teeth and squeezed one of
the lumps. Not only did it hurt like hell but to my surprise and horror, out popped a small white wriggling maggot (insect larvae) !!
For those of you who have suddenly felt ill; Sorry, but I did tell you to stay on the last page some time ago !!
Summoning up my courage in both hands .. well the other one anyway .. I forced myself to remember that in the past,
before antibiotics were invented, doctors used maggots to eat infected flesh from wounds and if I used my favourite Savlon antibiotic cream and kept everything clean, perhaps I would live and nothing would drop off !!
The same painful method was applied to the other lumps but I only succeeded in releasing 3 more of the little critters, the
other two on my right rear cheek, despite doing a contortionist's act in front of the mirror, I just could not budge.
A visit to the local doctor next morning produced a few smiles and a partial explanation from him in French that they were known as ver de cailloux which directly translates into something like 'worm of the stones' !! Huh ??? I partially succeeded
in smothering my howls of pain whilst he made repeated attempts to dislodge the other two uninvited residents, but he eventually gave up, wrote me a prescription for some antibiotic Bristopen ( oxycillin ) gélules 500mg
( Useful to make a note of, if you are in need of a good general antibiotic whilst in Francophile countries ) which worked
well .. and blithely advised me to wait another 2 or 3 days for them to grow large enough to be able to be dislodged.
The far too bumpy journey from St. Louis to Nouakchott, trying to sit on the unaffected cheek with the equally
uncomfortable knowledge that two uninvited guests were engorging themselves within me, is one I prefer to forget.
But two days later I managed to extract them and although 4 of the scars still remain today as black dots, nothing else
untoward happened, the pain quickly went and within 4 days they had all healed up. I am particularly happy to report that the two most potentially embarrassing scars have disappeared entirely and everything is working well !!
Research on the Internet, only possible when I returned home to the UK, revealed that I had been bitten by the
Tumbu Fly ( Cordylobia anthropophaga ), usually only found in the very hot and humid conditions of East and Central Africa
and notorious for laying their eggs, which quickly hatch into larvae with a host's body heat, in damp freshly washed
clothing. They are easily killed by ironing the clothes with a hot iron. The light dawned .. our usual maid who washed our
clothes had been visiting her family at the time of me being bitten and a temporary, pretty useless and somewhat lazy one, had been doing the washing in her place.
Obviously she had not properly washed or ironed all the clothes, which would account for the incident. I had known that
washed clothes are always ironed in Africa .. if there is electricity with electric irons, or in the bush with Chinese-made
charcoal-fuelled irons, but although I knew it was for done for more than just aesthetic reasons, I had never really questioned exactly why. Now I do know .. to my cost .. that oversight will never happen again !
Of course it could be considered somewhat gross to have taken any photographs to do with this incident and naturally you
would not wish to see them if I had done so, especially if I had been callous enough to have published them.
But just in case there are any inquisitive, brave and stout-hearted readers still left not feeling ill ..
Here they are.
For a full description of the Tumbu Fly with scientific overtones .. but even more graphic in content .. Click Here