As I sit here in the Peace Corps computer lab drinking a luke warm sprite and lime flavored wafers, I have a true story I would like to share. My counterpart and friend Yaya from my village decided to go to the village apiary Friday evening and open up a hive to inspect. Talking with my host father and a beekeeper and a few other beekeepers in the village the hive has not been opened in anywhere from six months to two years.
We got the suites, smoker and all the supplies we thought we would need and headed off along with three other guys that wanted to watch from a distance. We have been to the apiary a few times clearing brush and picking up old hives and noticed that this particular hive still had bees in it and we could get within a few meters of it without being harassed by the bees. We all walked within about 20 yards of the hive and started putting the suits on and getting the smoker ready. We wear what is the equivalent to think dishwashing gloves that our suits go over to our wrists then we tie thick rubber straps around out wrists to keep the bees from going up our arms and going into our suits. I had a kid help me with mine and he ties them up a couple inches from my wrists and it was fairly tight but I don’t like getting stung and I figured it would be fine.
Off we go to the hive and as we walk up we start smoking the entrance. I grab the lid and start to pull it off and it takes some effort as the bees have put a lot of Propolis on the lid to make it stick to the hive. (Propolis is a glue like substance the bees use to patch holes and secure things in the hive its almost like sticky wax.) As soon as I got the lid off the bees go nuts! They start swarming us, I take a couple deep breaths and try and stay relaxed. I begin to try to cut the Propolis between the top bars so I can remove them and inspect them. The top bars are very difficult to get off and I notice my right hand is starting to tingle and it’s not working very well. About this time, ZAP! I get stung in the neck. I take a step back take a deep breath and get at it again. This whole time I am looking at my hands and I see hundreds of stingers stuck in my gloves from the bees false stinging me. In beekeeping there is what is called a false sting, this is where the bees sting but it is just a small prick with very little venom. They do not get the full sting because of the suit or in my case the rubber gloves. I get the first couple top bars up and off the hive and inspect them and cut the comb off because it is old and needs to be removed. About this time my hands are killing me and I am getting overwhelmed a little bit by everything so I tell Yaya that I need a break and walk away for a minute. As soon as I get 30 or 40 yards away from the hive I start to get dizzy and light headed. Both my hands are numb and I can’t untie the rubber strapping to loosen them to let some blood back into them so they can function. I start stumbling around looking for a stump to sit on or something but I can’t find one. For a split second I get that realization of O crap I am going to die the bees are going to eat me alive and my hands are going to fall off. So I do what anyone would do I take a knee right there in the middle of the forest. I start yelling for Yaya to come help me please, come help me please. But I see him just working on the hive. Come to find out later he thought I wanted him to stop working on the hive and go home, so he didn’t want to so that is why he took so long to come help me. But, he finally made it over to me and loosened my straps and instantly my hands were functional and the panic “im going to die,” feeling went away. So we went back to the hive and continued to harvest honey. When we were done we had to walk over a KM away to get the bees to leave us alone and it took over an hour for them to go back to their hive.
As the two of us stood there waiting for bees to leave I told Yaya about my feeling of panic and being overwhelmed he was on the ground laughing, But later that night when he told my host family and neighbors they thought it was twice as funny. They all said “mong honi,” which means not brave in Mandinka.
We ended up harvesting about 1300ML of honey, which tastes amazing and a few kilos of wax.
Since Friday, I have spent some time looking back at the situation and what I would have done different and what I will do next time. First off don’t tie the straps so tight around my wrists, don’t leave my partner, and African colonized honey bees are real nice. I am safe and fine and no lasting effects except a couple bee stings.
Some people who I have written or talked to I have said I could write hundreds of pages about things I see and experience here. This is just one, ones like this happen at least daily if not multiple times a day. So I thought I would share. In addition, my camera cord broke so no pics for a while.