At dusk in a southern region of Senegal, West Africa, three men don winter coats, rubber boots and pull on canvas sweatshirt with attached veil and put on rubber gloves tying strips of old fabric around the cuffs to secure the openings to make sure none of the tiny, but deadly creatures we plan to rob invade the makeshift suit.
We are going to collect honey in mangrove forest just beside the small village of Sangako at night from African bees. Also known as killer bees. The three men have been doing this for years, their wisdom precedes their age and they understand the risk they take for the liquid gold they hope to find.
By the time we wander through the thick mud uncovered by the low tide finding our way over the mangrove roots and through saplings to the small groupings of hives to see if the 3-month wait has brought a harvest. Due to the bees aggressive nature, hives are worked when a harvest may be eminent. We carry a hoe head that is used as a hive tool, a bee brush to remove the bees off the capped comb of honey so we dont bring them back with us, a large clean garbage can that the honey will be put into with lid to keep the bees out and from robbing the honey, a flashlight as by the time we reach we have only starlight to work by and a smoker, the most valuable thing next to the amount of people we have there, it will keep us safe when we open the hive disturbing the working bees and robbing them of their food stores of honey.
Whomever is carrying the smoker puffs a few bellows of white cool smoke in the front of the hive at the entrance, before lifting the cover and then slowly lifting the three ply plywood cover on the langstroth hive that is situated two and half feet on a simple wooden hive stand off the ground. The bees go from a barely audible hum to a loud buzz and are soon darting at our veils, angry of our presence. There is a deep brood box and another box on top, typically a honey super where they store their food, honey.
Sometimes these boxes are the same size, but supers, shallower boxes that are easier to carry due to honeys heavier more dense property. Salif, a younger of two brothers I am working with, maybe a few years older than me 35 or so, using the hoe head hive tool lifts up a frame filled with honey and cuts it in to the large garbage pail we brought.
One after another, after the third one, he is calling my local given name. “Arame, Arame.” I am not quite paying attention. “Jerejef, Jerejef Arame”. I hear him now. I ask him “Why are you thanking me? I am just here.” He replies, “You brought the honey, this is more honey than we seen all last year.” Coming from a very hard drought year the rains this year have been more than a blessing, they have been more normal, bringing with it life to this semi-arid part of the work that depends upon rain for every aspect of life. I explained the rain, brought flowers that gave the bees nectar to eat and make into honey, it was not I that brought the rain, it was Yallah, God.
“Jerejef Yallah, Salif bul man por la lem . Thank God Salif not me the honey.”