Work work work work work you see me I be work work work work work… That’s the beginning of the Rihanna song Work featuring Drake but it also describes my life this past 2 weeks. I traveled to a village 2 hours north to attend an 8-day beekeeping training organized by USAID’s Farmer to Farmer program, WinRock
International and the Federation of Beekeepers in Middle Guinea, otherwise known as FAPI. This is the 3rd year an American volunteer/expert beekeeper named Kris comes to do these trainings in Guinea. To sum up how I feel about the workshop “I thought I knew a little about beekeeping but I had NO idea”.
I had gone out to harvest about 3 times but all these times we went at night and we were always in a hurry either because the bees were mean or because we had to harvest 5-6 hives in one night (about 3 hours of work because the hives aren’t right next to each other). I had repeatedly asked my work partners in the local beekeeper’s union to explain what was what in the honeycomb but we hadn’t gotten around to it. I finally learned what the brood (baby bees) look like and what ready-to-harvest/capped honey looks like. I also learned why you’re supposed to harvest before the rainy season starts. 1) because the honey production will go down during the rainy season since it is not ideal flying weather for the bees and 2) because if you wait to harvest into the rainy season there will be more humidity in the air. More humidity in the air= higher moisture content in your honey which can make your honey go bad. If harvested before the rainy season and stored well, honey should be non-perishable.
The training was a mix of theory and practice. Each day we’d go out in small groups to inspect hives and see common problems/things to look out for and correct. 30 local beekeepers and I learned about bee biology, hive design, how to inspect the hive, how to filter the honey and how to make candles and lotions from beeswax. It’s also possible to make hair pomade and lip balm. I want to start experimenting with scented wax candles.
The day after the training I was also invited to attend a business meeting with FAPI and a businessman from Ethiopia who works in the honey business. This was a friend of Kris’, the American beekeeper. Kris paid for this man’s flight to come and do some business advising with the Federation and explain the steps to being able to export to EU markets. You have to comply with a lot of regulations to be able to export to those markets. At this point the Federation may be very far from exporting to the EU but there is plenty of work to in making sure they are filling local demand and possibly demand from neighboring countries.
I was super lucky to find out about this training and the timing could not have been better. I had been getting a little frustrated with my host organization because my work partners are very busy and they don’t prioritize things with the union because they have other activities going on. People here generally do more than one activity to make a living. They only harvest once a year so they don’t rely solely on beekeeping to make money. This is all well and good but if they managed their harvest better they would have more quality honey and make more money vs. having to find other sources of income. Both of my work partners also keep their own beehives so they have less incentive to worry about managing the union harvest very well because they are not going to profit directly from that.
Now I have a number of potential projects I can do completely independent of them if they don’t find time in the near future. It’s really not fair to come and be ready to work for 2 years and to be paired with people who don’t have or don’t make time. Plus there’s plenty of other people who do have and do make time so I don’t need to be worried about not having accomplished anything by then end of my service because my work partners never made time. The Federation of Beekeepers in Middle Guinea (FAPI) have a lot of work to do and those people do that job fulltime so my time may be better spent helping them. A win for them is essentially a win for all the unions and cooperatives which are below them.
Aside from sharing what I’ve learned with fellow and new volunteers as well as beekeepers in my union and other nearby cooperatives I’m planning some other awesome ideas. Gonna hold off on sharing them for now because I don’t want to jynx them but I will share soon enough once they get going.
They say Peace Corps is the toughest job you’ll ever love. These past 6 months, especially May, I’d gotten familiar with the tough part and was wondering who came up with that sugarcoated description of Peace Corps service (maybe that person didn’t get evacuated and choose to volunteer to reopen another program that was recently evacuated). But now I am happy to say I am getting acquainted with the love part! I’m so excited (and also relieved) that I’ve found some direction for the next year and I am SO ready to get to work!!
For a lot more beekeeping pics click on this link: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10210159302883050.1073741851.1353036037&type=1&l=d0fcdd5a29
UPDATE: Peace Corps Guinea Just got A LOT bigger!
In other news, the Peace Corps Guinea program more than quadrupled in size this last month. I am back in the Conakry area for the time being to help train some of the 80 new volunteers we received. The new groups are generally not this large but a group expected to arrive last December was canceled because the country had not been declared Ebola-free yet. We went from a program of about 15 people to 100 in the span of a month! So I’ll be helping with training and sharing everything I’ve learned with them. Excited to have people to visit in other villages. =D