By Mr. Blue
If there was ever a symbol of the arrogance of European colonialism, it was the existence of the Jam Boy. Anecdotally, the Jam Boy existed in places such as Kenya and India, both part of the British Empire. The colonial big shots living in these exotic locales loved their outdoor activities but they hated the insects. To ensure that no flying pests disturbed their games of golf or croquet, the Brits would hire a local and cover him with jam or jelly. The bugs would be attracted to the jam, leaving the aristocracy in relative comfort. I’ve long wondered whether it actually worked.
To call this practice demeaning to the unfortunate local would be a serious understatement. As societies progressed and became more egalitarian, the Jam Boy disappeared. Or did he?
A few days ago in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi Valley, the Jam Boy re-emerged from the annals of history. We were stalking buffalo in some incredibly thick jess, trying to sneak into a sizable herd. The carpet of dry leaves on the ground made walking quietly nearly impossible so our movement was painfully slow. We would creep close, then someone (usually me) would step on a stick or rustle the leaves and the herd would thunder off in panic. Rinse and repeat, all afternoon.
Though it was winter it was hot—Africa hot. The mopane flies and tsetses were unbearable. As anyone who has hunted wild Africa knows, the tsetse looks about like a house fly but it carries with it a prison shank that it sticks into you at the most inopportune times. Mopane flies are like gnats, they don’t bite but they can drive you to the very edge of insanity. They were attracted to me as if I was a fresh stack of elephant dung.
As I stood, my face engulfed in flying insects, I saw that no one else in our party was being similarly affected. At first, I just assumed that they were used to it, and surely they are, but eventually I realized that all of the bugs were preoccupied with me. It took me a minute to figure out that my sunblock was the culprit. Just like dermatologists, nine out of ten mopane flies prefer this brand over the competition.
There’s a saying in poker: if you look around the table and you can’t spot the sucker, it’s you. Then it hit me: I was the Jam Boy.