It’s been some time since our last update about the beekeeping work going on in Chitekete and Sinde. Thanks to a long summer full of great visitors we’ve had little time to keep up with our regular blogs (let alone our regular lives). Even in the midst of our busy visitors schedule, the beekeeping work has continued on and we were even able to share some of it first-hand with our family and friends.
Starting in mid-May, our whole family took a 3 day visit to Chitekete to greet friends, catch-up with the beekeeping group, and to teach the initial lesson of our Beekeepers Training Course to the Tuvene Beekeepers Collective. For some time now I have been working on a 10-lesson tropical beekeeping curriculum that can be used to give first time beekeepers an introduction to the technology and technique of modern beekeeping– and to the fascinating social life and behavior of the bees themselves. Our first lesson was simply called “The Honey Bee,” and outlined the types of honeybees found in our area of the world, the hierarchy of the hive, and some general descriptions of the roles that each of the 3 types of bees play in colony maintenance.
The first lesson was a success and the group’s hunger for more knowledge was obvious. Even the old men, who probably hadn’t sat in a classroom for 50 years, were busy scribbling notes and copying pictures from the blackboard. I had a good bit of fun describing each of the 3 types of bees that make up a colony and playing off of local (and to some degree universal) stereotypes of The Ruler (Queen), The Woman (Worker Bee), and The Male (Drone). Thanks to a thoughtful birthday present from my wife, I was able to use 3 large drawings done by a local artists to illustrate the differences between the bees.
In early June, we were able to make our 4th harvest of Namtuma’s main hive in Chitekete, yielding close to 3 litres of good quality honey. The colony looked healthy and full and they had stored quite a bit of honey and pollen away from the small crops and orange trees of early 2014. Knowing that the dry season was following close on our heels, we left a good bit of honey remaining in the hive so that the colony had plenty to feed on during their upcoming dearth period. Namtuma and I processed the honey that evening and in the morning I loaded up with the interns to return home. We brought the honey home with us for bottling, labled it, and then distributed it to key members of the Mtwara community—who will hopefully be some of the foundations of our honey/wax market in the future.
In late July I was able to take Bobby Garner out to Chitekete with me to perform the first hive inspections of a Tuvene Group hive. The collective had received their first colony in early May and this was their first chance to get into the hive and “meet” their bees. Nearly 7 members of the collective suited up in their homemade rice bag suits and, in high hopes, even brought along honey harvesting equipment. Given that this colony had been in the hive for less than 2 months, there was no way honey was going to be coming out of the hive, let alone stored-up in it. I had told them many times that it takes a long while for a colony to build up enough infrastructure and strength to start producing honey, but some hopes just aren’t effected by rationality. The fledgling colony looked small but healthy and after a short visit, we left them alone to continue growing and producing.
On my last visit in mid-August, I returned to Chitekete via dirtbike to teach two more beekeeping classes to the beekeepers. These classes were entitled “Activities of the Hive” and “Beekeeping Equipment: Part 1.” We talked about the main work of the hive (reproduction) and outlined a seasonal calendar of crops, fruit trees, and weather cycles. As we talked about what seasonal resources were available to the hive and discussed how those correlated to what was happening inside the hive, you could see lights coming on for the students. Though many of these people are unfamiliar with modern beekeeping techniques, they are not unfamiliar with bees and their behaviors. They’ve been living around bees their whole lives. But the understanding of how rain, crops, and fruit trees effect the behavior of these creatures was obviously enlightening. All of the beekeepers began relating stories of their experiences with bees and how they correlated to the seasonal patterns of the time.
I think this is the “runner’s high” of teaching that I hear teachers talk about—the moment where you can see the smiles forming and the wheels turning as students gaining a mastery of their experiences through education.
Through our proceeding conversations we developed a linear calendar of seasonal characteristics in the Newala region and what they mean for our hives and our beekeeping work.
On this same trip I was able to make a few trips out to surrounding villages to connect with traditional beekeepers and learn from their experiences. Though many of these beekeepers are producing low quality honey and consistently destroying colonies through their harvesting techniques, they have a vast amount of knowledge about the behavior and cycles of bees in their region. My goal was to connect the experiential knowledge of these traditional beekeepers with the technical knowledge being developed by the beekeeping group in Chitekete. We met with a man named Twalibu from the neighboring village Mpalu, spent some time looking at his hives and talking about his experiences. He also has a small group that meets in hopes of improving beekeeping in their area and they were invited to join our group for our beekeeping course in Chitekete.
I was invited back to Mpalu in September to join them for their harvest and to see how they have traditionally done honey harvesting and processing. I’m excited to contribute my knowledge of some modern processing techniques and to benefit from their extensive knowledge of their area.
This is ultimately the role I’d like to play in all of this beekeeping work—to be a resource of information to these rural villages and to be a connector– helping neighboring communities to recognize and share the resources that (1) already exist and (2) are being created. It allows me, and ultimately our organization, to connect to new communities in a service-oriented way, building strong relationships on the foundation of sharing resources and, hopefully, improving livelihoods.
In the coming weeks I will return to Chitekete to teach the next two classes in our training curriculum, “Beekeeping Equipment: Part 2” and “Hive Placement and Management.” I’ll also spend time with the beekeepers in Mpalu, meeting other members of their collective and exchanging educational resources.
I’ve also been taken out and introduced to a small village on the outskirts of Mtwara town, called Mtepwezi. This village is one of the oldest villages in the Mtwara region and has been overshadowed and relatively forgotten about due to the incredible growth of Mtwara town. There is a small community of people who have been trying to get into beekeeping for the past few years and have had little success due to a lack of education about the process. I’ll be returning there this next week to start sitting with local leaders and learning more about the village.
Continue to keep our beekeeping work in your thoughts and prayers. It has been a long, slow journey in building our foundational knowledge and experience in this area and we’re just now beginning to see the fruits of that work as we connect to new villages, make new friendships, and see more hives appearing in villages all over the Mtwara region.