We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

In the Dark, in a Beesuit, in a Pond

I was traipsing as quickly as I could through the fields and trees in the pitch black darkness. It was difficult in my big boots and bulky beesuit with veil and gloves, while carrying buckets and an extra beesuit. My sense of direction is bad at the best of times, but now it was non-existent. Stumbling over rocks and roots and then through cassava mounds and ditches in my disorientation, yes, I questioned my sanity. But the beekeepers were waiting for me.

I was at Mama Maria's with the beekeeping group in Malya. We had come in hope to harvest some honey. But one of the beekeepers realised before we got started that a rat had eaten the veil, so I had gone back to the land cruiser to fetch a spare suit. It had been easy getting to the vehicle by following the small light coming from Maria's house. But finding my way back out to the hives was another story! I knew I had gone wrong but was still trying to head in the right general direction... when suddenly … SPLASH!!

In the darkness I ran straight into a pond and was, with a shock, up to my thighs in murky water. The only good thing about it was that the beekeepers heard the splash and my startled scream and I could then hear them call me in the right direction!  

Last week was not an easy week! Bhatendi and I spent the first three days in Malya and the next three days in Kayenze, working with the two beekeeper groups in the hopes of harvesting honey. This was the second time to harvest with the groups and the plan was for them to do the harvesting work while I observed and assisted only when necessary. We didn't get off to a good start as none of the beekeepers turned up at the arranged meeting spot and it took 2 hours to get organised. Then we were against some insanely crazy bees and while we managed to harvest some good honey from the first hive at Maria's, soon after starting the second hive, it was just me and the group leader left. We had planned to go on to work at more hives, but we were all fairly finished! It was rather discouraging. The next night after a busy day with the mamas group making beeswax balms and then a very late beekeeper group meeting, we went to Mathias' hives. One of them had collapsed its top-bars and was insanely overcrowded with bees and took over an hour to sort out. But in it all, we did manage to harvest some honey and propolis! Our visits to the hives at Bageshi and Ema's were less fruitful. Again, Bhatendi and I fell into bed hungry and tired at 1am.
Night-time beekeeping with the red flashlight … about to start!
A few tired beekeepers waiting to go to the next hive
It was hard again in Kayenze! I won't go into all the challenges, which seemed to come one after the next! First, we were simply too early with most honey not yet capped, then there were hive trees cut down, hives burned, smoker troubles, roofs blown off, some crazy four-wheel driving in the bush… I will just jump to end of our last night. We had just arrived at Alphonse's after a fruitless time in the hills at Amos'. We were all incredibly well layered, with some wearing two beesuits just for protection from these crazy bees! But we had barely taken a few combs of honey when the rumbles of thunder got suddenly louder. As drops started, we quickly started closing up the hive. But as we put the rocks on the roof, the heavens opened with the ultimate thunder and lightening show! Once again, stumbling quickly through the dark fields, this time completely drenched. We could not get rid of the wet bees who clung to our suits! It took almost two hours for the rain to ease and us to clear the bees. Soaked to the skin through layers and layers, we were tired and hungry in the middle of the night, with no place open to sell us a bowl of beans! Once again flopping on my bed, listening to the rats scratch and the huge buzzing crunchy insect whizzing about my room, smelling the stinky pile of soaked muddy clothes on the floor and the drop pit behind the door that didn't close, yes, again I questioned my sanity. 

Beekeeper Group members sharing their stories of the 
good things God has done!

Suiting up

Preparing the smoker

So at the end of it all I did truly question what we are doing with this beekeeping project! Why?! It is so ridiculously hard in so many ways! But at the end of the day, those groups still did harvest some honey which has been processed, bottled, labelled and some already sold! And there is the hope that after a few weeks all the uncapped honey in Samson's five hives will be ready to harvest. At the end of the day, these groups are still wanting to carry on, still dreaming of being famous in Tanzania for their honey! Yes, they are making mistakes and still have a long way to go, but a couple of them are really good at the hive now and my hope and prayer is that they can carry the groups forward now. It takes a long time for new ideas to get accepted … but the conversations have started. Conversations they are having in the villages about saving trees doomed for the instant short-term benefit of charcoal to keep instead for the long-term benefit of fruit and honey. Conversations about the benefits of hives in fields for crop yields. And conversations about our wonderful Creator God! In Ngudu, the new community beekeeping group formed by the church has placed hives in a forestry reserve area alongside other beekeepers. Amazingly, the group hives have colonised very quickly … more so than the others. Other people have been asking why our group's hives colonise when theirs don't. The pastor was very clear in replying that the number one reason is because the group has prayed for God to bring the bees to these hives! And number two, they have baited the hive with wax and protected it with greased wires. And number three they are keeping the area around the hives free from weeds and branches.

And working with the beekeepers last week gave us opportunity to be with the women working in Malya with beeswax. The profits they get from this work are not huge, but it all helps. This has been a particularly dry year and for many their rice has simply dried up and died. They are left with nothing to harvest. But together these women are managing a group garden for vegetables and using group money to buy a goat and soon start a chicken project. We were also able to meet with one of the women in the Kayenze conservation agriculture group. She is looking at a great harvest of beans after already harvesting her maize enriched by them. She was wearing rings from the witchdoctor, but we could pray with her to the Creator God of the harvest who truly hears her prayers and drives away fear.
With Mama Antonia and her jackbeans in Kayenze
So now the next time you enjoy a spoonful of honey in your tea or melt it on hot toast, take a moment to appreciate the effort taken to make it available! To appreciate the amazing wonder of creation that leads bees to plants and results in their intricate work of making honey! And then I think, even in the dark, in a beesuit, wet in a pond, even then, it's worth it … maybe.

The honey harvest

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Rachel, I don’t know how you do it!! May God richly bless you for your faithful endurance. 💕


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