Fly-Day in The Gambia

There were always flies. We never got used to them, but in Africa flies are a fact of life. Over the two years we served with the Peace Corps, I spoke to many an African while a fly ran along the rim of an eye and the person barely flinched. We never acquired that acceptance.

When my husband Bruce and I drank anything out of a bottle, we automatically kept our hand over the opening to keep out flies. Woven straw fans were as much for batting away flies and mosquitoes as for stirring up a breeze.

But the day we forever after called “fly-day” was unbelievably awful. It happened on a Sunday and we were home all day. Conditions must have been just right, or just wrong, to create the “perfect storm” of flies. Our screened, thatched-roof hut remained relatively fly free, other than those that sneaked in when we entered, but we could control those few. On that day, the small mud-brick house where we cooked was another story. Flies and other flying critters could enter through the gap between the wall and corrugated tin roof. Flies were on every surface. There must have been three hundred flies on the overhead electrical wire that reached between the kitchen and the dining/living room, where we ate breakfast. We couldn’t bring a bite of food to our mouths without flies landing on it. In the old days we might have thrown out the food, but you’d starve if you did that every time a fly landed on your food in Africa. But this day that scenario was magnified a thousand times.

A video of us would have revealed people who appeared to have delusions with arm waving, hands suddenly going to our ears, nose and eyes. It was a nightmare.

“Whose idea was this?” Bruce asked, using Newsweek as a fly swatter, nailing three at one time.

I laughed. “Not mine! I think coming here was your idea.”

As soon as we could after eating breakfast we retreated to our hut, to spend the day hiding out, reading, and writing letters.

We had to brace ourselves to leave the hut to prepare meals. We worked like a well-oiled team, swatting and carrying on, then making a dash for the hut with our prepared food.
Fly-day lasted only the one day, to be followed by lots of flies, but not at that level.