West Africa Love

Peace Corps Volunteer Experience in Mali and Guinea

Getting Down to Beesness

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So we FINALLY started beekeeping which is awesome because I was getting really impatient to start that.  In February I was told we would start late March but that turned into late May.  We want to harvest before the rainy season starts because on rainy days the bees eat all the honey they made.  In the meantime I was keeping myself busy by reading everything I could on beekeeping,  teaching English at the middle school and doing some gardening. I’m going to need to find other things to do when it’s not time to harvest because it’s a seasonal activity and the union I’m partnered with isn’t very active when it’s not harvest time.

Some background on beekeeping here.  We harvest at night. We do this because the bees aren’t working at night so they’re supposed to be calmer and this way there won’t be angry bees flying around during the day when people are out. Also, once we rile things up they have all night to settle in again. I haven’t been able to get good pictures yet since I wear really thick gloves that make it difficult for me to handle a camera and because it is dark when we got out but I’m going to try the next time we go out.

There are many types of hives but the kind the union has are Kenyan topbar hives.  This type of hive has moveable frames that allow for hive inspection and manipulation.

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Kenyan topbar hive

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Traditional hive made from hay in neighboring village

Things you need to harvest a Kenyan topbar hive: a smoker, smoker fuel which can either be corn husks or dried cow manure, a bucket, a brush to move bees off the comb, a hive tool to pry open the hive and  pull up the bars, a knife to cut off the honeycomb, a beesuit, and a flashlight.

 

You need at least 4 people to harvest,  One person will hold the flashlight while 1-2 people open the hive. The 4th person may or may not have a bee suit depending on your resources and they will stand away while you’re harvesting and just carry the bucket back.  Before you open the hive you smoke the entrance. Bees communicate using pheremones and the smokes helps mask alarm pheremones released by the “guard bees” posted at the entrance. Then you pry open the hive and start pulling up bars. You cut the honeycomb off the bar with the knife.

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This is a what it looks like when you open it and pull up the bars.

This is my journal entry from my first harvest:

Yesterday was my first time harvesting. I had been so impatient to do it but once we were close to the hive and there was buzzing around my ears I started getting a little scared. One of them got in and stung me behind my ear.  I pulled my hand up through my sleeve to remove the bee and my glove fell off. When I tried to put my glove on again I got stung 2 more times. It really hurts when you’re getting stung but the pain subsides pretty quickly.

One of my homologues kept saying “C’est chaud” (It’s hot) meaning these bees are mean. When one of the bees got inside my second homologue’s mask I thought we were going to abort the

The welt on my lower lip is a wound from the battlefield. I got a little careless my third time harvesting and my lip grazed the net where a bee was waiting to sting.  I've got a really good suit so if I'm careful I won't get stung at all.

The welt on my lower lip is a wound from the battlefield. I got a little careless my third time harvesting and my lip grazed the net where a bee was waiting to sting. I’ve got a really good suit so if I’m careful I won’t get stung at all.

mission and cover any holes through which the bees were getting in but once you start you have to finish. The person that was removing the honey got stung at least 20 times.

After we got away from the hive  we immediately started washing the suits and all the materials.  It felt like we were cleaning up the evidence after a crime.

My first two times beekeeping we were doing my work partners’ personal hives so we only harvested 1 hive each time.  The times I’ve gone out with the union there are alot more people with us so we harvest 4-5 hives in one night. We’ll start around 8 pm and not finish till around 11 pm.

Other Agroforestry Activities

In Mali I was a Community and Economic Development/Business volunteer but Guinea did away with its CED sector so here I am an Agroforestry volunteer.  Agribusiness, which is basically what I did in Mali, is a component of the agroforestry program so it hasn’t been a radical switch but people do have certain expectations of what I know.  They assume I’m an agriculture expert which is not the case.  I always have to spin it as “I’m here to help the beekeeper’s union with marketing and organizational capacity”.  A lot of the things I learned in Mali under the CED sector will be useful for helping the beekeeper’s union get more organized but I have also been trying to read as much as I can about different aspects of agroforestry.  Peace Corps has a considerable amount of of agroforestry manuals so you can usually always find some literature on whatever you want to learn more about. Honestly even if I had had a lot of farming experience in the U.S. it’s very different here so I would still be learning a lot and figuring out what works well.

Gardening  and Farming

Another component of agroforestry is planting trees/helping during the reforestation period.  This is important because women use firewood as fuel to cook and they collect firewood by going out into the bush.

I tried planting Gmelina trees (this species is known to grow quickly and is good for timber use) using water sachets and at first it was a complete failure.  I was basically growing weeds in the water sachets =/.  After 3 weeks of nothing I found out I was supposed to activate the seed by soaking it in water for 2 days or grating the seed (why nobody had mentioned this to me before I don’t know).  I was feeling pretty down when nothing was growing.  Like wow I can’t even grow anything as an agroforestry volunteer- that’s pretty embarrassing. On my second attempt I finally succeeded! Growing Moringa is relatively easy so it’s a good confidence booster for nubes like me and the Gmelina I planted has also started growing.

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I also started helping someone farm. Most people in Moyenne Guinea have their fields right next to their house but my friend’s mom farms away from her house so I decided to help her out.  I’ve found that farming is an excellent outlet to let out frustrations and I think people really get a kick out of seeing me do it. I also prepared a small bed in my backyard and my friend’s mom helped me plant tomatoes and eggplants. I’m planning to grow lettuce as well.  I can get all these things in the market but since market day is only once a week in the nearest town and things go bad quickly, it’ll be nice to be able to pick fresh vegetables from my backyard.

English Classes

I have so much respect for Education volunteers. They accept all the challenges of Peace Corps volunteer life and don’t get the perk of choosing their own schedule. And aside from the classroom hours there’s lesson planning and grading. Luckily I only had to do it for a month and a half and it was only on Fridays.  I’m more than willing to do an English club but I didn’t really enjoy it in a classroom setting.   The students don’t have any English books so you have to find the balance between writing things on the board which will be copied into their notebooks and possibly reviewed later and just having them listen and practice speaking.  It’s also hard to know how much French they know or understand and students aren’t forthcoming when they don’t understand something.  Whenever I assigned homework, I would make myself available to help people or to answer other questions but no one had come to me so I assumed they understood the assignment.  With one of the assignments it was obvious that about 10 people had copied each other because they all wrote the same thing that didn’t make any sense. That was pretty disheartening but I need to remember what it’s like being in middle school. Also, some of these kids live very far away. Some of them have to walk 2 hours to get to class so they may not have a lot of time to stay after class to ask questions.  Despite all the difficulties it was cool to meet the students and learn more about how the school functions.  One of my students started bringing me mangoes and avocados which was super sweet.

Update on the Electricity

So we’re supposed going to get electricity here but I already have an idea of how things usually go in West Africa which is that they are rarely on schedule so I decided to invest in a solar panel sooner than later.  Even in town the electricity  is not completely reliable and it is usally only on at night so who knows what it will be like in the village when it finally comes.  The investment cost me about 2 months salary and worked for a whole 6 days before the inverter (that’s the thing that allows you to charge things from the car battery) broke.  The store owner did not charge me for the new one but that one lasted even less- a whopping 2.5 hours.  I spent about half of what a new one would have cost me trying to fix the old one and it is still not fully functional.  I’ll be getting a new inverter that is not made in China with next month’s paycheck.  I’m also taking bets on when the electricity will come if anyone wants to get in on that.

 

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Author: moniq77

Peace Corps volunteer in Mali before the program was suspended due to security concerns. Finishing my service in Guinea.

3 thoughts on “Getting Down to Beesness

  1. Haha! So awesome! Man I’ve only gotten stung 2 times in my life. Once when I was in kindergarten and the other when I was like 7 months pregnant! Lol you’ve already got me beat in one session! So I was a bit confused about the difference in what you do in Mali vs Guinea. The CED? Maybe w can chat about that next time. How awesome that you got your own garden going!!! I finally do too! Tomatoes beans (which btw are super easy to grow) and zucchini. I feel the same way as you about having fresh veggies. Except I’m not really limited to once a week except I am because I don’t want to go to the grocery store with Caspian more than the once haha! Totally sucks about the solar charger. Do you want me to try and order you one and ship it to you? I bet I can find a good one on Amazon. Let me know, I’d totally be down to do that for you :). Take care! Chat soon 🙂

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  2. Sounds like you are learning so much! I am not much of a gardener myself… When I was 12,
    I pulled out all of the sunflower seedlings in my family’s backyard because I thought they were weeds. Later my mom was like, “the weirdest thing happened — someone pulled out all of our sunflowers!”
    Awww man I didn’t realize your solar power thing broke twice! You should set up a PayPal button on this page and then crowdsourcing money for a new one and label the fund, “skype with Monica” fund
    ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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