"The body is the harp of the soul. It is yours to bring forth from it sweet music or confused sounds" Kahlil Gibran

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The beginning and end...

In the course of two months, I have started and ended a beautiful relationship at my current work assignment. I as a beekeeping trainer at BeeCause Gambia was just getting into the swing of my new job when my friends, mentors, and long time managers Mick and Jenny left the NGO after some work disagreements with the head trustees. I will not as a Peace Corps volunteer weigh in on what has happened except that my work in The Gambia looked to be on ice for awhile while this conflict developed. After 2 weeks of uncertainty, it now looks like I will have a future with BeeCause, though we now are operating on a skeleton crew without our previous managers and our doing our best to preserve a beautiful work site that has now been left vacant. . Without management on the site Balla (my counterpart) and I will manage ourselves by trekking out to visit with a train beekeepers in the village.This will mean over the next 4 months I will be trekking throughout the country doing roughly 2 weeks of trekking for every 4 days off.

Kumoo Kunda is a wonderful site full of sustainable bee keeping technology and ideas, like this bee hive made from a metal box.
Despite what was a very difficult situation, this has given me a silver lining; While I no longer get to work on the land and with the people that were so instrumental in developing it (the site called Kumoo Kunda). I now have the opportunity to travel around the country seeing all the different cultures and places that the people in The Gambia call home. So before I head out tomorrow, I wanted to write a brief post as to what it has been like working with bees.

Walking a Mile in Someone else’s Bee Suit… + or –  1 Cobra.

This story was written a month ago as part of a story I put in the new letter as Dave the volunteer I am replacing was a legendary beekeeper, ladies man, and fluent Mandinka speaker (where I am only a advanced Wolof speaker, but Dave was also here for 3 years)

Yesterday was my third training at bee cause, now that Dave’s left I am the full time bee keeper at BEECause (Cashew Guy at IRD = Seth). Catherine is here from the LLR, she has brought some students who are really excited about bee keeping.  We start this training by going bee keeping.  I retrieve the old rice sack Balla has set aside and I pull out the well worn suit that says “David H.” in big letters on the top. It is by far the most comfortable and flexible and feels kind of like a jubejue…  possibly if I wear it, I will find honey everywhere, subtly flirt with everyone in a way that is witty and hilarious, and that I will yawn and fluent Mandinka will spill out of my mouth… “Uuubi lee lay eekta rakata abi ami, aabaraka yamoy (I have no idea what this means as I speak Wolof)” laughs would certainly ensue from my mastery of the language and then people would stop telling me “Jahtu, that man can speak Mandinka” possibly if I wear Dave’s bee suit it all these things can be achieved.

This is some new comb with baby bees ready to hatch from their sealed pupae state
Most importantly, I have never been stung. I attribute this to Dave’s suit (“If you wear this, the bees they cannot sting you” I can just imagine the Maribou saying as he gives it to Dave)… and I am moderately terrified of bees.  These are things that do not seem to go hand and hand with a trainer of beekeeping at an NGO (BEECause) with aggressive bees and locally made suits. Perhaps the Jubejue is working… time after time I go bee keeping and other people get stung up but I am immune.  After suiting up, we all make are way down to a long string of hives located just outside the property... 

This is Balla and our new orange suits...
Balla (my wonderful BeeCause counterpart) and I have a running joke that came from a previous training with Dave a month earlier. A Gambian trainee forgot to zip up his suit all the way and a few minutes into training he starts to do what looks like the robot while calmly saying “The bees have entered my suit”... he was stung quite a few times in the face...

Yesterday we were standing a few feet away from our hives suiting up.  To remind people to zip up all the way I do the robot… “The bees have entered my suit” I say, I get some laughs. Then we enter hive #4, a particularly aggressive hive and immediately a cloud of bees are on us, and it had not been 20 seconds since my reenactment that I feel a sharp pain on my neck. OWWW! What happened?  Dave suit is quite thin, and Balla assures me that they just are getting me through the suit. Then again… what is happening? Well this time I see two bees climb up the INSIDE of my hood and I knew that I have gotten my comeuppance…don’t make fun or you too will have misfortune visit you, this is definitely a karma thing.  Sheepishly I go “Balla, uhh the bees have entered my suit… I have to run” I take two more in the arm on my way back as the bees follow me entering through a still unknown hole. I have to stand and wait for the cloud to leave me before I take my suit off and have Jen remove the stingers from my neck and arm. 

On a different day balla was trying to prove that a hive without a queen will not sting because of the absence of the
defensive hormone that the queen emits. This time he was not stung... the next time he tried he took a stinger to the face. 
After applying some cream we check the suit, we found a grape sized hole in the neck of the suit, Dave’s Jubebue had failed me, I get stung and am not fluent in Mandika… although maybe I am a funnier and more flirtatious. Take away message; check your suit every time for holes.

Just over a week ago, I had a slightly different adventure. I was upstairs drinking some tea with Jenny (One of the manager’s of BeeCause) when her children come running out of their adobe house in towels, one shouting “Mommy mommy a cobra just went into the house, up the stairs, and into your bed!”  So, Jenny who has a moderate aversion to snakes sent me into the house with a stick and a headlamp to discover the truth about the cobra claims. After prodding everything with a stick I was just about to declare the house snake free when I lifted up the mattress and discovered a three foot black cobra coiled on the bed frame under the bed.  After excitedly dancing around awhile to the tune of “Oh my God there is a snake in the bed what do we do.”  Eventually I volunteered to take care of the matter.  Armed with a headlamp, a bucket, bee keeping gloves, and safety glasses (I assumed it was a spitting cobra as Dave has seen a few during his days at BeeCause) I went back into the house with Mick, Jenny, Emily and Jen A. who happened to be there with their counterparts on training. Carefully, Jen and Emily lift up the mattress and Mick shines his flashlight down onto the cobra, which was now under the frame of the bed looking up at us.  It was really pretty it was a shiny black and had a perfect diamond head. After talking and pacing some more Mick finally told me to get it over with, lifted up the bed and the cobra made a break for the far corner… I hesitated for a moment but grabbed the cobra by the middle and stuffed it in the bucket. I had turned to take it down stairs when its head popped back out of the bucket, hissed, begin escaping from the bucket despite my best attempts to keep it shut (God these things are strong!)  After escaping the snake began slithering around the house everyone yelling (as best as I can remember) something slightly different… the only thing I can remember is Jen A. saying “get the machete cut its head off!” I looked for the machete but was mostly just fixated on where the snake was headed. I ended up grabbing it by its tail and lifting it up.  To my surprise most of the snake lifted too as its body of coiled muscle felt more like a pipe and less like a rope. I stayed a few feet back with my hand outstretched in case it wanted to turn on me…  walking outside with it I proceeded to huck the snake with a forehand motion like a Frisbee into the bush rotating and flying a good 20 feet and landing somewhere in the darkness. I did feel quite accomplished at the time… Sadly there is now question of was it really a spitting cobra, the argument for is the black color with diamond head… against is after being an idiot and grabbing the tale why didn’t it spit on me and I never saw the hood? Regardless I am now called the “Snake Tamer” by Mick which is not a bad start to my new job.

One of the many trainings I have been apart of, this time I didn't get stung

Interview with Dave Harelson (this is the interview that made it into the news letter, some inappropriate content, but it all made it on to print.)

X: You lived up country for two years. What was the greatest challenge you had living in the village?

D: Lack of privacy definitely and personal space.

X: Now that you have lived both in the village and in the city could you compare and contrast a few of the differences?

D: Yeah the village I don’t feel as stir crazy as I do in kombo. I feel way more stir crazy here, when I’m in the village even when nothing is going on I feel like I’m doing something. I have way more personal space in the city, the ocean is hear, I love the ocean, obsessed with bodies of water, food is better but I miss my host moms cooking but really privacy and personal space apart I like village better.

X: For aspiring mandika speakers, what steps did you take to get your mandinka from basic to intermediate to really really good?

D: Write the s$(& out of every word 20 times, write the s#*$ out of everything: chalk on your floor, markers on your corrugate, chalk on your pit latrine while you’re taking a s($*, notebooks with mandinka words and sentences: constantly and consistently applying new words in conversations.

X: I have an article in here about how I battled a uuhh cobra. It was a cobra right? It was long black and had
a diamond head. I mean what else could it have been?

D: Well it could of been a snake in the colubridae family: rat snake, corn snake they all fall into that family. Spelled C-o-l-u-b-r-i-d-a-e (Dave as you can tell is a biologist who loves snakes)

X: And they can be black with diamond heads

D: Some of them… but it probably was a cobra. I have only seen cobras at BeeCause

X: So I picked it up by the tail and chucked it. What would you have done? And could I have put myself in some danger that way?

D:  I would have identified it… if it was a spitter I would have gotten some eye glasses, I would have then pinned its head down with a rake or a stick, picked it up behind the head, taken it out and let go.

X: So a cobra spits at you what do you do if it gets in your eyes?

D: Rinse with warm water some salt hydrogen peroxide.

X: Your pretty screwed aren’t you

D: Yeah you either don’t see again or have permanently blurred vision. If you wash it out immediately though you’ll probably be ok.

X: You’re a prolific reader from my conversations with you, can you tell me a few of your favorite or most influential books that you have read while in country?

D: Jitterbug perfume, ohh that books gives me hard ons. No that book literally gave me hard ons.  The brief and wondrous life of Oscar Wao it’s a fictional book based roughly on history it has some of the f*)#@ed up things that was done under dictatorship in the Dominican Republic… it really makes me afraid of dictators now. Maybe not afraid just more aware of all the things they can do.  Oh, the sex lives of cannibals, that was a good one to read while here, I really connected with it in village, it’s funny you should read it! 100 years of solitude that was good, 40 days 40 nights.

X: Not sure Kate will let me put in the part about hard ons. Do you want to change that for print at all?

D: Ok, let’s go with, erections. That book literally gave me erections, that’s more appropriate medical terminology.

X: I’ll leave it for now. What is the most intense bee keeping experience? And if it’s not the same most stings sustained in a single beekeeping?

D: Balla and I in tumani tenda opened a few hives that were the most aggressive I ever encountered. Those we some angry bees. We were out there with Maureen and the bees got into her suit and started stinging her.  There were like 50 bees in her hair stinging her scalp. We had a hive on the water tower once which was cool.

X: Most stings in a single bee keeping?

Balla, suited up with a smoker

D: Forty

X: What is your greatest Peace Corps accomplishment?

D: The friends I have made

X: Any lessons that you have learned that you would like to share with out up country bee keepers?

D: Work with individuals and let others learn from that individual

X: Better than kafos.

D: Yeah definitely.

X: Have some fan mail questions here for you… you can pass on this one if you want… Bunama (Scott C.) writes Dear Dave, are you dating a national? And if so is it a guy?

D:  (laughs for a while) ok ok ok, tell him I have been consistently intimate with nationals but I have never dated a male national and if I did it would be Balla.

X: Balla writes, what is your favorite thing about bee keeping?

D: The sociology about bees is so complex and so interesting. It makes you just want to be interested in them… to watch them … to keep them… to proliferate them. The sociology is so unique. Oh and eating the honey, biting off fresh honey right out of the caps.

X: John Rozmus in well the middle of a swamp somewhere… writes how do you plan on maintaining your girlish figure when you’re back in America?

D: (laughs for a really really long time) I plan on doing spin classes at my favorite neighborhood gym and eat grape nuts.

X: Thanks for doing this Dave. Finally, Remy in the awesome village with a genie infested mountain writes: what is your favorite Mandinka proverb and what has it meant to you?

D:  Ding dingoli be ya duwo long bari itolu mang du da duwo long de. It essentially states that no matter who you are or what culture from you will never master everything.  You will always be ignorant and there will always be room for discovery. 

My Ending Message:

I am happy to finally go out and trek, and work and sweat. After 2 NGO melt downs of either politics or incredible wasting of funds, it is incredible to get away from it all and experience the Gambia and Africa without having to think about capacity building, sensitization, constituents, organizational cooperation, or fund justifications. I am so tired of NGOs and wasted aid funding right now that I am going to be a business major to look at sustainable development.

I would love to write you more about this if you have questions about my year of experience so far in Africa. It has changed my life even if much of that changed has been a barely organized chaos.

I will leave you with some pictures as I do not have the energy to write an accompanying story I will settle for small captions.

Spend your week in Peace,

This is a framed picture of the beauty of Kumoo Kunda (oh Kumoo Kunda is mandika for home of the bees)

Kids are afraid of my tallness and whiteness

This is the sum total of my year of work. A cashew steamer, millions of dollars and methodologies later, it has horrible cracks in the foundation from shoddy workmanship and is not fit to be used. A few more million dollars... we might have one or two functional units the waste is incredible when people just down the street are literally starving

Mick and Jen's son has found yet another African pet, this time its a pigmy squirrel mouse (i think)

Products made from our honey and wax include, lip balm, soap, and body lotion

Hat and the cat a new Dr Suess Remix

I did some materials development for publishing a pictorial manual on how to make a grass hive, here are a few photos.

No comments:

Post a Comment