In which I battle the Lord of the Flies, and lose.

It’s summertime in New Zealand, and apparently this means that it is the beginning of war. War of the flies, that is. For some unknown reason, New Zealand does not believe in having screens on windows, which means that you must choose between getting baked alive in your house or dealing with swarms of flies in it.

We  have tried swatting at them individually, both with towels and with rolled up newspapers. This has the effect of being immediately gratifying as well as giving the kids something to do over summer break. Eventually, though, the flies land on me and the kids would attack me with the towels and newspapers, making this method significantly less attractive.

Then came the boy who insisted that burning kawakawa leaves is an effective deterrent for the flies. Kawakawa is a plant that grows in New Zealand and has been used as a traditional medicinal by the Maori people for years. It can be used as a balm, a tonic and a tea for pain relief. We burned a few of the leaves on a plate, and the toxic smoke seemed to clear out the flies for a bit, but the leaves burned quickly and the relief short-lasting.

Then came a series of experiments where we tried to create homemade oil lamps from a kawakawa infusion to keep the flies at bay. Putting a wick of cotton in a shallow bowl to mimic the Indian oil lamps I grew up with seemed to be the most effective, but the boy underwent elaborate experiments with glass jars, drilling through the lids, creating a wick with cotton twine pretreated with wax, then lighting them on fire. None of them worked. The flies continued to descend.

I looked up more non-toxic ways to get rid of flies. I tried making a flytrap out of a glass of wine and a paper funnel. Other than wasting half a glass of perfectly decent pinot, this was a failure. We hung up flypaper and waited for them to fill up with flies, but they’re too smart for flypaper in this country, and the gross sticky strips remained largely untouched except for some unlucky moths. I made a homemade flyspray with dishsoap and water in a spray bottle, and we chased the flies around. Some we did get with this, but the larger effect was to enrage Eric when the kids sprayed the flies sitting on windows, as he had just finished cleaning them and they were now coated in a soapy film.

We tried keeping all the doors and windows open to let the flies roam in and out freely. They roam in but do not roam out.

Sitting on the couch one day I looked over to the arm where I heard a frantic buzzing and saw two flies mating not a foot away from me. For shame flies, for shame. I should have realized the futility at that point, but alas, my foolhardiness continued.

At the grocery store last week I came upon the household goods aisle and saw person after person walking away with a canister of aerosol fly spray. Enough of this non-toxic nonsense, I decided, and grabbed a can.

At home, I attacked the flies with the spray. “90% natural” advertises the can. “Citronella scent” it touts. Our house was soon filled with a cloud of unbreathably thick vaguely citrus scent. We ate dinner outside that night, in the cooling evening air. When we returned, the flies lined up and stared at us, with one especially large one in front. He raised a front leg and curled it in a “come and get me” maneuver. 

We admitted defeat. I for one welcome our new fly overlords. And the first cold snap of winter that will hopefully kill them all.


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