Friday, June 15, 2007

Kenya - Not so Ferocious African Bees

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya in the late sixties, I shared a ramshackle European farm house with two other PCVs. Despite its dilapidation, it was certainly not a rural African hut. We had indoor plumbing, running water (when the 1913 vintage pump could be coaxed into operation), electrical outlets (but no generator), even a phone line and telephone number (but no instrument). Nonetheless, it was acceptable shelter.

What did remain magnificent, however, were the flowers. We had a profusion of roses, day lilies and flowering bushes of all types. Orange and lime trees continued to produce abundantly. The most redolent white trumpet shaped flowers grew on bushes some ten feet high. We called them the bee trees because they attracted bees. Hundreds, if not thousands, buzzed around incessantly. When the indoor plumbing was inoperative on account of lack of water, the dash through the bee trees to the outdoor facility had to be timed so as not to agitate the bees. Even so, we got used to them and coexisted amiably.

One of my housemates, Dennis, observed one day that the bees were getting louder and flying constantly around the windows to his room. Investigation behind the shrubs showed that, sure enough, bees were streaming in and out of the crawl space. Our Nandi tribesman night watchman, confirmed that bees had moved in and were making honey. He proposed a solution. He said he had some friends who knew bees and collected honey. In exchange for the bulk of the honey, they would rid us of the hive. We cut the deal. Within a day or two, one of the experts inspected the site. He said his team would return when the time was right.

We waited expectantly, but no one showed. The dry hot days stretched out. The bees buzzed. Dennis could not sleep at night from the hum below. Finally, the rains began, first in the afternoon, followed by a long evening soak. The next rainy night the bee men arrived. In the pouring rain, they stripped naked, busted into the crawl space, pushed a smoky torch under the house (I feared they’d burn the whole place down) and began passing out buckets of honey comb. Soon they located the queen, placed her and a quivering mass of insects into a paper box to cart off to more salubrious surroundings.

With some delight one of the bee men told me that bees did not associate wet hairless human skin with the enemy. However, they would attack furry creatures with frenzy. Woe be to the bee man who was not shaven! The night, the smoke and the rain also confused the bees, impeded flying and communication.

We got a half bucket of delicious honey out of the deal and patched up the hole the next morning.

No comments: