7.17.2014

Creating Art from Nature

Remy with his Guitar 
If I were to write an excerpt for a travel guide on Lomié, besides recommending a camping trip into the rainforest and a visit to a Baka encampment, the third thing I would recommend is a trip to my friend Yacouba’s workshop, where he constantly is making some form of art (bamboo mugs, furniture, incense holders, decorative wine holders - you name it!). Lomié can be tiresome a lot of the time, but at Yacouba’s I know I can find a bit of peace, even if that means silently watching as he weaves rattan to make a sofa.

I never thought I’d be, but I am a converted African art and architecture buff. I’ve always liked art, but a series of college courses on African art and architecture by the best professor around (hey, Dr. DeLancey!) began my now endless hunger for seeking out African art and architecture. Since Lomié was a former German colonial outpost, it has several German and French colonial-style buildings from the 19th and early 20th century, which add quite a bit of character to the village. But if its art you are looking for, the person to see is my friend and work partner, Yacouba Ousmanou Njoundiyimoun (say that three times fast!).

Yacouba started an organization a few months ago for the preservation of Baka and Bantu art and culture through which he seeks to promote traditional art and culture in order to grow tourism. He also works with the Baka to use their art to raise their standard of living. While Yacouba mainly works with rattan and bamboo, he is expanding his horizons and now working with a Baka apprentice named Remy who deals with traditional wooden art. Yacouba gets all his materials in and around Lomié, and all of his rattan he gets from the Pollidor Baka encampment, and last week I went with him as he picked up his ‘order’.
Yacouba with the Governor's 'Throne'
(Unfinished) and Staff

A few weeks ago the governor of the East region came to Lomié as part of his East region tour. He gave a speech about how the village will never develop unless people start working together (preach!) before he headed off to Messok and Ngoila. Yacouba thought it would be nice to surprise the governor with some presents, so he built a huge rattan throne and had Remy make the governor a wooden staff and a small wooden lion. The governor was so surprised and loved receiving some parts of our local culture.

Yacouba made all the furniture in my house from rattan, and now I think of my house as my own little art museum. Furniture which would cost thousands in the States cost me a mere few hundred. He has Carlos, a man who lives at the Adjela encampment, make wicker baskets, and Remy makes everything from wood. Yacouba always is busy making a million things and he works from 6am to midnight…every day! Last week I went to visit Yacouba, Remy, and Carlos (who was snoring on the couch that Yacouba was working on weaving). Remy had just finished making a traditional Baka guitar from wood and scraps found alongside the road. I asked Remy if he could play, and in response he blushed and said no. Yacouba begged to differ and he shoved the guitar in Remy’s arms. Remy began to play this simple guitar made from bits and scraps and sang along. It was beautiful! Yacouba and I sat and listened for a good 10 minutes as Remy strummed and sang away. It was a wonderful escape from the stresses of life in Lomié and it was such a lovely insight into Baka culture.
Always Balancing 100 Things. My Bookshelf and Nightstand are Somewhere Under There...

When Things Fall Apart

Note the Child Hiding from Me Behind the Chair...
Nothing ever goes as planned here in the East. I should really know this by now, but I guess deep down I keep hoping that this region/my village will surprise me. It does surprise me, but normally not in the way I want…normally it surprises me by being more of a wreck than I anticipated it would. While my main project/work is beekeeping and soy cultivation, once a month I do a health talk at the Adjela Baka encampment outside of Lomié. As I’ve mentioned before, Adjela is quite literally and figuratively a shit show (no literally, there is poop here and there about the encampment). The encampment is large with around 200 people, but it is the poorest, most malnourished encampment in the area and despite being right outside Lomié, the population is also highly uneducated.

I did my first health talk in Adjela this month, and I asked the encampment what they wanted me to discuss – they suggested malaria. So I went home, spent a week making really poorly drawn images of the transmission cycle of malaria and various prevention methods and thought up some educational games to play. I got really pumped up about giving my first causerie and told myself it was going to be a success (I’m trying to think positively!). Sadly, it wasn’t so much a success.

I arrived at the encampment on time at 17:00h after everyone was back from their fields. They knew I was coming, but yet nothing was set up and nobody was there. That's OK! This is typical for Cameroon. My counterpart Yacouba began walking door to door and pulling people from their houses to come to the little shelter where the talk was going to be. As people showed up, I noticed that the majority of attendants were under the age of 10…which wasn’t exactly my target audience. Oh well, I thought, it’ll be fine! I hung up my poster, got out the candy to encourage participation, and began. The first thing we did was play a game…or at least, it was supposed to be a game. The idea of the game was to get everyone to stand in a line and I would ask questions like ‘Who has heard of malaria?’ and ‘How is malaria spread?' If people knew the answers, they were supposed to take one step forward from the line. These basic education questions were meant to demonstrate that most people have heard of or know something about malaria. Then I would progress to questions such as ‘Who knows someone in the encampment who has had malaria at some point?’, ‘Who has had a family member with malaria?’, and ‘Who has had malaria themselves?’. These more personal questions were meant to illustrate that malaria is a problem for these people. If these questions applied to someone, they were supposed to take yet another step forward. Finally, I’d end with asking questions such as ‘What are methods of prevention?’ and ‘How is malaria treated?’ to show that most people knew something about how to prevent malaria. At the end of the game, it is hoped that almost everyone has at least taken one step forward in order to demonstrate that everyone knows something about malaria.

The Game Gone Wrong
Unfortunately, this game didn’t go as planned. The adults refused to get out of their chairs and the children got in multiple lines, despite my urging them to stand in one single horizontal line. I began asking questions and having them translated from French to Baka and Nzimé, but nobody was moving. ‘Who has heard of malaria?!’, I repeated for the 4th time as everyone stared at me. I glanced at Carlos who was translating for me to see if anything was getting lost in translation, but it didn’t seem so. ‘Oh great,’ I thought, ‘This is not showing that people know things, but rather that they know nothing!’. In desperation I tried to explain that they don’t need to answer the question, but merely know the answer in their head. Still, nobody stepped forward. I moved on. ‘Who knows how malaria is transmitted?’. Again, no movement. I asked 3 more times and nothing changed. ‘Who knows someone in the encampment who has had malaria?’, I continued. Again, no movement. I asked the question a second, third, and fourth time. Getting exasperated, I pleaded, ‘Okay guys, you have to know someone that has had malaria!’. No movement. ‘Who has had a family member with malaria?’, I moved on again. No movement. At this point, Yacouba steps in and begins dragging certain kids forward and mumbling ‘Your sister had malaria…your mom had malaria…you had malaria two weeks ago!’. After dragging a handful of kids out of line, Yacouba told me to give them candy. The candy was not meant for the game, but rather to entice people to answer questions in the discussion that we would have later. ‘Great,’ I thought, ‘Now I’m giving candy out to kids who have had malaria cases in their family as if I’m rewarding them for contracting malaria!’. The game continued like this until I finished. Kids were pulled forward by Yacouba, they were rewarded for no reason with candy, and then shoved back in line. While the game was meant to demonstrate that people know about malaria, it in fact showed quite the opposite.

I chalked the game up as a loss and tried to move on. I pulled out my poster of the cycle of transmission and asked if anyone could explain how malaria is spread. Silence. “Whoever answers gets candy!”, I desperately pleaded. After a minute, one woman slowly raised her hand. She pointed to my poster and began going to explain the transmission cycle. Here’s how the explanation went:
What's So Hard to Understand?!
  • The woman explaining: “So you see, there is a biting fly by water, and there are probably some wild mangoes around…”
  • I thought: ‘Wait what?’, but I decided to just let her continue and I’d correct her when she finished.
  • The woman continued: “The biting fly gets malaria from the mangoes and then he bites a man’s knee…”
  • I thought: ‘That’s supposed to be an elbow, but whatever.’
  • The woman continued: “Because this man had a spell cast on him from sorcery because of his bad deeds, he catches malaria from the mosquito…”

At this point, I did another double take at my poster, wondering what the hell on there that I drew led this woman to interpret my drawings this way and give this explanation. Nothing, nothing in my images explained what this lady was pulling out of her butt.

I thanked her, gave her candy (at least she tried…), and then attempted to correctly explain the cycle of malaria. No, biting flies don’t give you malaria. No, manges sauvages don’t give you malaria. No, sorcery doesn’t give you malaria.

I went on to explain how to prevent malaria and flipped my poster over to reveal prevention images, which again were all misinterpreted. I went into detail about the alternative modes of prevention and how one treats malaria. My explanations were long, but the phrases that the translator were saying were very short, which led me to believe that he was ignoring more than half of what I was saying. I stressed that children under five and pregnant women get free treatment of malaria and that pregnant women get free prophylaxis to prevent malaria. I stated this no less than 7 times in various ways in order to make my point. But as I would later find out, my breath was wasted.

"Children and Pregnant Women are Free! FREE, Gosh Dangit!" 

Cue: the drunken men. Oh, Lomié and your alcoholics and endless forms of homemade alcoholic concoctions! Some non-Baka men who live near the camp came stumbling up. I could see them coming from a distance, but I was crossing my fingers they would pass without any problems. Wrong. The 2 smelly drunk non-Bakas came right up to where I was presenting, tripped and fell into me, and asked what I was doing – all the while showering me with eau de ethanol a scent to which I am not very partial. I tried to keep calm and get the men to back away and take a seat, but they continued to derange. Then one went up to ask questions about the pictures on my poster, but ended up falling into it and tearing part of it down. He then backed away, began yelling in Nzimé, and began stealing the chairs out from under people for what seemed like no particular reason. The man stacked the chairs, sat on top of all of them, and the Bakas all moved to the ground. The other man was endlessly yelling about how I was lying and that mangoes do indeed transmit malaria (because why else would he have malaria? He just ate some mangoes!). Then the two men caught sight of the bag of candy, which I had hoped to save the remains of for the next health talk. They ran over, grabbed the bag, grabbed some handfuls for themselves, and then threw the leftover candy to the audience. At this point, all hell had broken lose. The drunken men were stumbling about and arguing with everyone, the children were all starting to lose attention and grasp the candy that fell to the ground, and the few adults were trying to do damage control and collect candy themselves. In desperation I looked to Yacouba for help, but he was busy talking on the phone. I then shouted and asked if there were any final questions before I ended.

  • Drunk man #1 raised his hand: “Oui, quelle?” - “Yes, which?”
  • Me: “Which what? I’m asking if people have questions on malaria.”
  • Drunk man #1: “Yes, my question is ‘which?’”
  • Me: “You need to be more specific. Which what?”
  • Drunk man #1: “Which…what…who?”
  • Me: “Okay then...moving on. I want to ask all of you two last review questions and then you can go home. The first question: What causes malaria?”
  • A woman raises her hand: “No biting flies, but biting ants, mangoes and mosquitoes”
  • Me: “NO, only mosquitoes! Guys we talked about this! Second question: how much does it cost for pregnant women and children to get malaria treatment?”
  • The group debates for a few minutes in Nzimé and Baka and collectively replied: “Around 5,000cfa”.
  • Me: “No, its free!
  • The group: “But what about the medication and consult fees?”
  • Me: “There are none for pregnant women and children under five. If you go to the clinic right there…,” I point to the CSI across the way, “it is all free! So, again, how much does it cost for pregnant women and children under 5 to get malaria treatment?”
  • The group: “Not 5,000cfa, but 4,000cfa”
I wanted to bang my head against the wooden post at this point. I told them all that we’d work on this all next time I came. As the perfect ending to the who fiasco, the drunk man #2 came back up to me while I was packing up my things and asked me if I was married as he gently stroked my arm.

Surprisingly after this whole discouraging debacle, I didn’t want to cry. Yes, I felt defeated, but I wasn’t angry or too upset. At this point, I’ve gotten use to things going awry. Mainly, I just wanted one of my friends there so I would have someone to laugh with at the absurdity of it all. Instead, I had Yacouba, who on the walk home said to me, “Well, I think that was successful! I think that went really well!”. If that is what well by Lomié standards is, I hope that none of my talks go badly!

7.16.2014

A Bite of America

Oumi Bathing 
Life continues to be difficult in Lomié, but despite the daily sexual harassment (If I had a penny for every time I hit a man these days…) and my stalker who is always high on cocaine and breaks into my house on a regular basis, I’m trying to make the best of my situation, although some days I’m more successful than others.  A positive new development is my new neighbor Didja, her husband, Djouberou, their 1-year-old daughter, Oumi, and Djouberou’s 10-year-old brother, Yaya. While I could argue that the worst part of Lomié is its people, I could also argue that the best part of Lomié is its people – so I guess it really depends on which people in Lomié we are talking about. The majority of the men, prostitutes, and anyone who consumes alcoholic beverages – bad! Muslims, some women, some children, and anyone from the Grand North – good! So I figured I’d give you a glimpse into my daily life by introducing you to the people I’m in contact with on a regular basis, both work partners and friends/neighbors. It only makes sense to start with my new neighbors, who've shown me much love and compassion through difficult times.

My new neighbor Didja is 18 years old and is married to Djouberou, who is 30-something. Didja hails from the Maroua area in the Extreme North and Djouberou comes from Kenzou in the East along the CAR border. Didja and Djouberou are one of the few the only couple I’ve met in Cameroon that are genuinely in love with each other – and it’s so darn adorable! Djouberou’s family is spread throughout Cameroon, and they all own boulangeries (bread shops). A few years ago, Djouberou left Kenzou to go to Maroua to help at his brother’s boulangerie, and that is where he met Didja. They fell in love, got married (ya know, 15 is really pushing the limit to becoming a spinster), and moved back to Kenzou. After spending a short sejour in Kenzou they moved to Yokadouma to help at another boulangerie, and then they moved to Moloundou to work at another boulangerie, and then 5 months ago they moved to Lomié…to help at another family boulangerie – what can I say, the man knows his bread.

Didja, Oumi and Yaya (who has facial
scars to signify which village he comes
so that if he gets lost, he can be returned) 
A year ago, at the ripe old age of 17, Didja gave birth to Oumi. Yaya is Djouberou’s brother (Didja’s brother-in-law) and in typical Cameroonian fashion, he came with them to Lomié for no particular reason at all. Being from the Extreme North and Kenzou, Didja and family are pretty strict Muslim. Didja is not allowed to leave the house (except to come to my house directly next door). She doesn’t even know where her husband works, which is just a stone throw from my house. Didja spends her days cooking, napping, gossiping with the neighbor girls, insulting passerby prostitutes, learning English from me and teaching me Fulfulde. Oumi spends her days peeing everywhere (on my floor, on me, you name it) and crying at the sight of me. Djouberou is a workaholic and spends his days from 6am to midnight making bread and pastries. Yaya spends his days running back and forth between the house and the boulangerie carrying food and chai or sitting under my prune tree memorizing Qur’an verses and Arabic – “I’m practicing my patois” he always tells me.

For a month or so, after our Fulfulde/English class exchange, I promised Didja I’d teach her how to bake. I introduced her to the likes of banana bread, mango bread, carrot cake, chai cookies, and black bean and carrot brownies. One day she came over and told me that Djouberou was thinking of opening a patisserie (pastry/baked goods shop) in town, which would be Lomié’s first and only patisserie. I thought: ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’. The following day, Didja said her husband bought a location, built a bakery display case, and all he had left to do was install the lights and glass in the case. I was shocked – nothing in Cameroon happens this fast! Didja asked me to write down the recipes of the American baked goods I taught her so that her husband could make them as well. Two days later after he spent all day and night baking in the outdoor stone oven at his brother’s boulangerie, the patisserie opened.

Djouberou and The Patisserie

I went on opening day and to my surprise besides the regular beignets, chocolate croissants, and flavored breads that are typical of any Cameroonian patisserie, I saw that the whole middle section of the display case was filled with the American goodies that I taught Didja to make. There were black bean carrot ‘bronis’ (because the word 'brownies' would confused people), banana bread, mango bread, chocolate peanut butter bread, peanut butter cookies (in the form of a big bread loaf), lemon squares, toffee squares, devil’s food cake, and carrot cake! Now, one month later, the American sweets section has expanded to yet another bakery window, taking up half the display case now! I was so excited to see that a little part of America was being shared with the people of Lomié, but I was skeptical any of it was going to sell. I asked Djouberou how business was and he told me it was going well. I bought a slice of the black bean carrots ‘bronis’ and ate it before I even got my fish and baton de manioc (because it looked too dang good to save until after I ate dinner!). I headed home because it was nearing my self-inflicted curfew (5pm – ugh!) and wished Djouberou good luck with business during the night when the bars get hopping.

The next day I saw Djouberou at 6am on his way to the boulangerie and I asked him how business was. “We sold all of your recipes! I have nothing but beignets left!” I was shocked. Cameroonians love their sweets, so I knew a patisserie would make good business, but I was astounded that the people of Lomié were willing to try my unknown American recipes since Cameroonians don’t tend to try new things much. Djouberou explained that he had to go to the boulangerie and bake all day and that all he was going to sell were beignets since everything else sold out. “The black bean carrot brownies were the most popular!”, he exclaimed. I stood dumb-founded. I guess if you can’t get Cameroonians to eat vegetables at dinner, sneak them into their desert.

 
Oumi's Typical Expression When I Walk By

7.15.2014

An Unconventional 4th of July

While it doesn't appear so, these kids loved it...I think.
I wasn't planning on spending the 4th of July getting caught in a storm, shut in a dark and electricity-less room with my counterparts in silence for 2 hours, taking a moto through the rainforest, and trying to explain that no, I’m not French. I spent the 4th of July in a way quite opposite of what I had planned. While I was planning to go to Ngaoundéré like the rest of my friends, that didn’t happen for various reasons. Instead, I spent it alone in Lomié, but while I thought I’d just spend the day shut up in my house reading a book and trying to get the day over with as soon as possible, I instead made some plans to get some work done. And in the end, it wasn’t too horrible after all.

Glamorous
I didn’t tell anyone that it was an American holiday, mainly because I didn’t want to answer questions about why I wasn’t drinking and celebrating and with other Americans. Instead, I schedule my daily rendez-vous with Atangana and Yacouba as I do every day, and this particular day, they had a surprise for me. They called me up mid-morning and told me that today would be the day that we travel to some Baka encampments to look for beekeeping sites. I agreed and figured it was best to get out and take my mind off the fact I’m stuck in a god forsaken rainforest all alone on yet another major American holiday. I dressed up in the clothes from my most recent care package from my mom, donned my American flag scarf I found at the frip, and began walking to Yacouba’s workshop. As my luck would have it, a storm randomly broke out when I was halfway to Yacouba’s workshop. As everyone started to run for cover, I grabbed my skirt in my fists and made a run for it, sloshing through blood red mud and nearly wiping out mid-intersection due to my broken shoes (which now have no sole). I arrived to Yacouba’s shop, a little worse for wear, and he closed the door as rain pounded the metal roof. I took a seat on one of his newly made couches. I tried to make small talk, but the rain on the metal roof was far too loud. I gave up and we sat there in silence…for 2 hours. I guess I needed the forced meditation!

The Path to Mokongoya
After the rain calmed down, we hopped on some motos and made our way to Pohempoum encampment, or so I thought. But once we reached Pohempoum, we made a turn and started following a small walking path into the forest – away from Pohempoum. I looked back and Atangana and Yacouba and gave them my 'Ummm....?' look, but their facial expressions led me to believe nothing was amiss. I sat there as rain-drenched leaves slapped me in the face and mud splattered up on me from our moto tires. 45 minutes later, we arrived at the 30 person encampment of Mokongoya. I was greeted with many gaping stares, as I am likely the first white person to ever venture out to this clearing in the forest. After talking with our friend Ambassa, the encampment chief, and surveying the future beekeeping and soy spot, we all sat down on benches that sat 2 inches from the ground (perhaps the perfect height for a pygmy, but not so much a 5’5’ American) and I passed out the 4th of July cadeaux that my mom sent me for my follows PCVs and I. I handed out American flag glasses, gave children tattooes, and handout out some bracelets, all the while trying to explain in a language I don’t speak that no, I am not French but American!


Gifts come…never…for the Baka children, so they got a kick out of it, even if they continued to be confused about what I was celebrating. This wasn't how I envisioned spending my 4th of July. It was spent without the company of Americans, but I had the company of a few new friends. It wasn’t spent looking up at fireworks, but instead looking up at the canopy of the rainforest. It wasn’t a day off work, but rather a productive day at work. It was a very unconventional 4th of July indeed, but it is one that I will forever remember.

What's the Buzz?

Mokongoya Encampment 
One of the two reasons I am not moving from Lomié to a new village is that I’m too dedicated to my project and my two counterparts that I work with. The second reason being that my program manager doesn’t want to be bothered with moving me because that would require her to do her job. So in essence, my one main project is all that I have going for me right now. But let’s talk about that project, why don’t we? Let’s focus on something positive!

I don’t think I have mentioned it before, but my main project I’m working on is a food security project focusing on beekeeping and soy cultivation in nearby Baka encampments. I know, I know, I’m a health volunteer and this sounds like a lot of agro work, but hey, honey and soy is good for health and nutrition, and who can turn down the miracle work of bees?! And this project is something that my community wants and needs. It also needs HIV/AIDS work to be done given that over 60% of Lomié is HIV+, but I have realized that I can talk about HIV and prevention until I’m blue in the face, but the factors that would curb the spread of HIV in Lomié are far out of my control (corruption, logging, poor roads, low incomes, lack of hotels etc). So instead of fighting a losing battle, I decided to work on something that I know will be successful.

If I could travel back in time a year ago and tell my former self that I would be doing beekeeping in a year, my former self would have laughed in my face. I guess life is full of surprises, right? This being one of them. But hey, I love it! I was a big honey and bee pollen eater back in the States (seriously, if you haven’t tried bee pollen – go do it!), so I consider it a blessing really getting to learn more about bees and see the process of how the things I took for granted in the States came to be. Bees are often hated by most people, but did you know that just about any natural food you consume is there because of the hard work of bees? Also, bees don’t want to sting you – they die when they do! We all know that bees pollinate and whatnot, but the work of bees is what can make or break crop production, and here in Lomié, the disappearance of bees is one of the reasons for low crop yields, which then affects village-wide nutrition. Let me rewind and explain all this in a bit more detail.

Second to Honey, the Baka like Mushrooms
A Little Context/Background
I’ve talked about the Baka before in previous posts, and given their needs, most of my work I do is with the Baka around Lomié. But for a quick recap, the Baka ‘pygmies’ are the oldest inhabitants of Cameroon, and their population is most concentrated here in the East region, and extends to neighboring Central African Republic, Republic of Congo and Gabon. Despite having lived in Cameroon’s rainforest for centuries, the Baka are a highly marginalized population, economically, politically, and socially. The Baka are mostly subsistence farmers and are more frequently found working as slave-like laborers on Bantu plantations for very meager wages, which barely support their nutritional and health needs. While the Baka have traditionally been hunter-gatherers, due to over-poaching, logging, and other environmental factors, this means of subsistence is becoming increasingly unviable, so they continue to become poorer.

In addition to hunting and gathering, the Baka have a historic love for foraging wild honey in the rainforest. In this process, a Baka (usually a man) attaches himself to a piece of vine and scales trees 40+ meters tall. Once at the top, he will release himself from the vine, walk among the canopy without any security measures, and then locate the beehive and begin hacking into it as bees come rushing out and start to sting. The Baka then removes the honey combs and passes them down to community members below before beginning his own decent down. In this process, it is not uncommon for a Baka to fall to his death due to a vine breaking or due to one misstep in the canopy. How do the Baka know which trees have beehives? There are birds which sing when they find a beehive. The Baka know this bird call, follow its sound, and look up in the canopy for signs of a hive.

Besides just being dangerous, the process of foraging wild honey is also not the best for the environment. In recent years, rather than risking death, many Baka will cut down the entire tree, but this tends to be drastic for mere spoonfuls of honey. Not to mention, the sound of falling trees scares nearby bees further into the forest, which results in less honey and diminished crop yields in nearby plantations and in the wild due to decreased bee presence.

Baka Children in Pollidor
The Project
The Baka love honey. Who doesn’t? It’s super nutritious and nature’s version of candy! But sadly, all the Baka I talk to can’t remember the last time they found honey due to the reasons I mentioned above. While modern beekeeping has been taught at some nearby Baka encampments before, it hasn’t yet taken off because the Baka don’t have the money to build the beehives. That’s where I come in. The solution to a problem is not by throwing money at it, but in this project, the money I’ll hopefully get will be used to build the beehives and from then on, the rest is self-sustaining.

The beekeeping portion of this project will involve training a group of around 20 men and women (the current list is near 40, but we are factoring in a dropout rate) in modern beekeeping, honey extraction, bee byproduct transformation, and the health benefits of honey. After the training, the Baka will build 40 beehives and split them among the two encampments where the Baka will maintain the hives and harvest the honey, with the help and supervision of an experienced local beekeeper, my counterpart Atangana.

Oh, but wait. My project goes beyond just beekeeping! Bees have to have flowers from which to get pollen and nectar, so what better idea than to start a few plantations with flowering plants and place the beehives inside these plantations?! And what better plant to use than soy?! Yes, I do try to incorporate soy and tofu in anything I can! Soybean plants have flowers which are great for bees, so in an effort to contribute to even better food security among the encampments in which I’ll work, we decided to plant 4 hectares worth of soy at the different encampments that will have the beehives. The reasons for pairing beekeeping and soy cultivation is threefold: (1) teaching the Baka to grow soy will equip the Baka with the knowledge to start caring for own plantations rather than work as servant-like laborers on Bantu plantations; (2) soy cultivation will introduce a nutritious crop that will not only improve the diet of the Baka, but will also serve as an income generating activity by selling the soybeans at the Lomié market, and (3) as previously mentioned, soybeans produce flowers which will give the bees plenty of nectar and pollen so that the honey yield in each of the beehives will be substantial.

So there you have it, I will be planting 10kg worth of soybeans in September, placing beehives in December, planting 20 kg of more soybeans in March and then harvesting all the lovely honey, bee pollen, royal jelly and soybeans in the months thereafter!
Future Beekeeping site of Mokongoya - It's so BIG!!! 

The Who and the Where
There are so many Baka encampments around, so my two counterparts, Atangana (a beekeeper) and Yacouba (my artisan friend and Baka culture preservationist), helped to define a few encampments that would benefit most from this project.

The Adjela encampment right outside Lomié was one chosen site because even despite its close proximity to Lomié, it is the most underdeveloped, malnourished, and poverty-stricken camp in the area. In Adjela, we will do beekeeping and soy cultivation. The group of interested beekeepers is mostly men, but a few brave honey-lovin’ women signed up as well. The site for the beehives is super forested, so that’ll be fun for the men to weed and clean up…not.
Some of the Beekeeping Group from Adjela

The encampment of Mokongoya (the name which took me 2 weeks to learn to pronounce and remember) is another encampment where we will do both beekeeping and soy. The Mokongoya encampment is beautiful – it takes about 45 minutes to get there on a moto (though it isn’t very far – the chief says he walks daily to Lomié and the walk takes about 3 hours) and the way to get there is by a tiny little walking path through the rainforest. The encampment feels like it is in the middle of nowhere (I suppose because it is really in the middle of nowhere), and there are only but 30 people who live there, but there is so much fertile land around, making it a perfect location. Plus the chief, Ambassa, has previously cultivated soy and he is an extremely hard and dedicated worker who is at the encampment all year round, unlike many Baka who retreat even further into the forest during the dry seasons.

The encampment of Pollidor is a third site where we are just going to plant a small plantation of soy and laissé the beekeeping in hopes that the future Mokongoya beekeepers will take it upon themselves to train the Pollidor population on beekeeping. Pollidor is easier to access from Lomié, but it is equally small as Mokongoya, with around 30 or so people.

While the actually beekeeping and soy cultivation will take place at only three encampments, myself and my counterparts will be making visits to all the nearby encampments to train on the health benefits of honey and soy, how to make tofu and soy milk, and how to eat a well-balanced diet in order to remedy the grave malnutrition problems at all the encampments.

Mokongoya Chief Ambassa, His Wife, My two Counterparts,
and a Random Child
The past few weeks have been spent banging my head against my wall due to the fact that I had no electricity to work on the grant electronic application. When I finally did get electricity after two weeks, I then spent another week banging my head against a wall from trying to figure out the budget for the project and figure out how the heck dirt-poor people can contribute 25% of the project funds. Thankfully, I submitted the grant application today (asking for nearly 4,000USD!), so now I wait to hear if it is accepted. If it is (which I sure as heck hope, if not, I’m getting my butt outta Lomié!), then I've got my work cut out for me the next year as we construct, plant, harvest, train, teach, and consume a lot of soy and honey - not to mention a whole lot of Baka culture to absorb. I look forward to my future as an amateur apiarist.

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