Just returned from another successful project in Guinea, West Africa!
From August 25th through September 12th I (Kris Fricke) was in Guinea on this project, planned and administered by Winrock International and funded by USAID in partnership with the Beekeepers Federation of Guinea (FAPI). Bee Aid International's contribution in addition to my own time consisted of buying materials such as hive tools to donate, and facilitating the donation of a number of bee suits from local beekeeping supplier Pierce -Mieras Manufacturing to this project.
After arriving in Conakry, the capitol, we drove for about eight hours into the interior, winding up the two lane highway through the green hilly country. Guinea is extremely lush and provides the headwaters of two major west African rivers, the Senegal and the Niger. After eighr hours on the paved road we turned on to a dirt road for about forty minutes, followed by about five minutes on no sort of road at all through a pasture as goats sullenly got out of our way, before arriving at the village of Doumba. The village consisted of about about 50:50 beautiful large huts such as those pictured above and small square houses with tin roofs. Corn , peanuts and/or cassavas were usually planted between buildings, often intermingled with eachother. As a result, on the trails within the village one sometimes felt more like one was inside a corn maze than a village:
And of course, nearly everyone in the village is related to everyone else, and as you inevitably pass by other people's front porches as you go anywhere in the village and stop to talk to them, village life is a thoroughly social experience that I love and envy them for.
For the training class we had about 35 participants, most of whom were from the village, but a handful had traveled from other villages, including one man who had come from more than a hundred kilometers away. The participants were mostly men, with three women who attended the whole thing, though most of the neighboring women actually came out to attend and participate when we made wax products towards the end (candles, lotion, and soap). I also had the great assistance of the FAPI trainers Khalidou Balde (a brilliant young man I'd like to see get a graduate degree some day) and Aissatou Diallo (an inspirational role model for the women showing them that they can get just as into beekeeping as the men), as well as a great interpreter Morlaye Damba.
As usual, we began with practical basic bee biology. I always emphasize practical, because they don't need to know, and I don't teach them, what the names of the leg segments are called, but they do need to know how to identify drones and tell what seeing them can tell them about what's going on with the hive at that time, for example. We typically have "lecture" / "questions and answers" in the morning and then in the afternoon we went out with a different group of about five participants for a hands-on look at the hive. Khalidou and Aissa's prominent role in leadings these groups was very commendable.
After several days of practical bee biology the discussion turns to proper hive design (I can't emphasize enough the importance of topbars in a topbar hive being 32-33mm) and then honey extraction. Fortunately we had found plentry of beautifully fully capped combs of honey to harvest (as pictured above) so we were able to do a honey extraction exercise towards the end, then refine that wax and use it for wax products.
We made soap, which wax isn't even a major ingredient of (wax doesn't "saponify" itself, is just used to give soap body and consistency), but they were enthusiastic about it so why not. We also successfully made candles using local materials for molds (they somehow had much better luck with PVC pipe sections than I'd had on other projects and seemed to prefer it to the papaya-stalk mold trick I'd learned -- every project is different!), as well as lotion using locally available aloe vera. Here's Aissa teaching them how to prepare the aloe:
I'm optimistic that after this they will make more use beeswax (which they didn't seem to be doing much with previously) as a component in saleable products, as well as produce more topbar hives of the proper dimensions and make greater use of the advantages proper management can give them in increased productivity. My long term goal is to enable FAPI to better serve its many member coops and to be able to centrally process honey of a quality fit for international export, and to do so, as their local market is flooded and they're selling honey for half the international price locally.
In addition to the training, it was also of course fun just hanging around with the locals. Karim the tea maker was an important pillar of our program, spending his time pouring tea from cup to another until it was half froth, adding some kind of local mint and I'm assuming an amount of sugar I'd be alarmed to actually know.
The village children as usual were initially very shy of me but eventually would flock around me as soon as everyone else had gone to the mosque for afternoon prayers, and greatly enjoyed pointing at things in the copy of American Bee Journal I'd be reading and telling me the local Foula word for it.
Other highlights included the popular local activity (/ _only_ thing to do in town) of hanging out at hte crossroads ("karafou"), and visiting the village I was in last year (Sanpiring, an hour away). Visiting Sanpiring and seeing everyone was one of the most joyful things I can remember in a long time. "Many people have come here before, but only you have come back" they told me. I gave the digital camera I had brought to young Mamadou de Yaya as well as a large plastic bee toy to his brother Mamadou de Boba (yes the brothers have the same first name), and as an added and unexpected bonus a young man of the village was having his wedding that day so I got the rare cultural treat of being able to see some of the ceremony (it involved all the men decorating a calabash filled with kola nuts).
Sadly all things must come to an end and before I knew it there was already a rapidly shrinking number of days left to the project. As much fun as it is it's also exhausting in certain ways (such as for example having no means of taking a shower or bath other than splashing oneself with cold water). Saying goodbye is always hard, but also for the first time there was more or less an understanding that FAPI will be having me back next year (most projects are a one-off where I never see them again), so I was able to say "I'll see you next year."
Drove back to the capitol, passed two crashed trucks and one ebola response convoy hurrying along with a siren (as far as I can tell there hasn't been a case since then, that may have been the very last!). Spoke in front of about 18 officials at the Ministry of Livestock back in the capitol about the current state of the beekeeping industry there and what they can do to help it along. Some of Peace Corps' in-country staff was present but apparently it will take an act of the US congress to get Peace Corps volunteers back in the country.
Returned to the states, having my temperature taken twice in the Conakry airport, twice in the Paris airport, and once again at the Atlanta airport. The morning after returning home I was visited by a representative of the county health department and as a matter of course served with a legal notice of quarantine for ebola. I'm under quarantine for 21 days, and on the 22nd day I'm off to East Africa for the planned Bee Aid International projects there!