A mango fly sounds like an innocent fruit fly that enjoys feeding on mangos. However, in Uganda it is something that should be of much more concern. Upon my arrival to Kanyawara, I was warned about Mango Flies by many Ugandans. Mango flies are much like Bot flies in South America. They lay their eggs on wet cloth and then upon hatching will burrow into your skin using your body for incubation of the growing larve. After 21 days, the adult morph will then dig its way out of your skin, hatching into the world. Sounds pleasant, right? To avoid this close relationship with the mango fly, it is critical that all cloth is ironed after it is washed and dried on the line. The heat of the iron will kill any eggs that may have been laid on the cloth destroying the parasite inside. The scariest part of all of this is that your mango fly future rest in the hands of your cook/housekeeper. If a Muzungu gets a mango fly, it is generally because their cook did not properly iron their clothing. So there is a lot of trust involved. The past four months I had been lucky and had avoided any mango flies. Is that because none had ever laid eggs on my clothing or because Gorretti had always ironed the clothes well enough to kill all eggs? Either way I do not know, but I had been mango fly free….that is until about 5 days ago!
It first started as a several itching red bumps on Matt’s back, 13 to be exact, and then a few more on his arms. Welcome to Uganda Matt! We had previously gotten into some ants when climbing a tree in the forest, so I assumed they were simply ant bites that would soon go away. Wrong. With each passing day, the bumps got more brilliantly red and larger. I questioned whether they might be mango flies but then decided they probably weren’t. Then a few days later, I started having similar bumps on my sides. Not as many as Matt but still enough to be concerned. Matt kept complaining aobut his bumps itching, which is not how people commonly describe the feeling of Mango flies. Then yesterday as I was in the forest watching the chimps, I started thinking more and more about the possibility that we had a bunch of mango flies. I kept feeling sharp pains in the areas where the bumps were and my bumps were starting to get larger and more red like Matt’s. I described this feeling to the FAs and they told me that the bumps were probably mango flies. After inspecting one on my, an FA confirmed that I had a mango fly. I was completely discusted. I was now certain that all those bumps on Matt were also mango flies. How could we have both gotten so many? I started racking my brain trying to figure out the source of our parasite and immediately thought of our bed sheets. I had Gorretti wash all of our sheets and our blankets while I was gone to Kampala to pick up Matt. The blankets Gorretti washed are really thick and she must not have ironed them well enough. That had to be the location. I immediately was grossed out! We had been sleeping in a mango infested bed for a week now! This problem must be taken care of immediately. I was in the southern part of the forest where there was no cell phone reception. I made an executive decision to leave the chimps early so that I could go home and tell Gorretti the problem and instruct her that we must re-iron all of the sheets and blankets.
When I arrived back at camp, I immediately told Matt that we had mango flies and that we needed to resolve this disgusting issue now! The easiest way to “treat” a mango fly is to put finger nail polish over the bump thereby covering the larvae’s air hole and suffocating it. Once dead, the larvae can then be popped out of the skin. When we got to our house, we found Gorretti there and told her the problem. She was surprised that we had mango flies and so many, but then she told us that we can’t really iron the blankets because the heat will melt the synthetic material! What?! So why did we wash them in the first place and leave the out to dry? Why risk the mango flies? I was pretty peaved when she told us this bit of information. We promptly stripped the blankets off of our bed and decided that we would not be using them ever again and would purchase a new blanket in town. The sheets however could still be ironed. Unfortunately, the power was currently out at camp which of course meant no ironing! Where were we going to sleep? I decided not to worry about that for now, in hopes power would return later, and to concentrate on suffocating our new parasitic friends! We both painted each other in nail polish and hoped it would work quickly.
Later in the evening the power returned and I ironed our sheets, destroying any eggs that were still hanging on. Then later that night, I started checking Matt’s bumps and discovered that most bumps now had a little yellow dot in the center. We decided to try and pop one. It wasn’t easy and took a lot of pressure (not to mention cursing in pain and wriggling around), but each bump popped and we broke the larvae free. They were tiny little worms and appeared to be dead from the nail polish. I felt so sorry for Matt who had 18 total, but he was a trooper and let me squeeze each one out. I had about half as many as Matt and was able to pop out several of mine as well, but mine were not as advanced as his, so I was forced to allow some to continue incubating in my skin! The entire time we were doing this, I just kept thinking about mom’s story about having to pop a bot fly out of a guy’s back in Brazil. It is a totally discusting process, but I am happy that the larvae’s were still small and that they are no longer living inside of us. I definitely am going to have to have another stearn talk with Gorretti about this! This can never, and I mean never, happen again!