Honeycomb Heaven

16 March 2011

The end of today came about with, quite literally, a “buzz” of excitement. It was quite an event: a fire up a tree, with children and patients milling about, fascinated, whilst my Log guys got rid of the pest. Destroying the African bees nest had to be done once it was dark or, as Gatkoor said so eloquently, “You will face the consequences.”

Bees in the compound.

Bees in the compound.

I had received a radio call in the afternoon, telling me that there was a swarm of bees which were increasingly threatening the patients of the Therapeutic Feeding and Intensive Care Unit. The bees were lodged high in a tree, and had indeed built a nest up there. I called Tut Lual, the most senior warrior, reliable and level-headed, of my Logistics team. He came hobbling over to have a look (no toes – shot off by a soldier). A plan was hatched that, at night, we would all return, once the bees “could not fly”, and would be sleeping.

The ensuing adventure was both slapstick and frighteningly serious (which, of course, made it even more difficult to keep a straight face). Patients were closed into their wards – which was a disaster to start with: put a Kuwai in charge of a Logistics team, outside a Nuer hospital ward, up a tree with fire, in the night and you see what happens!

I had given Passiel (one of my daily workers) long latex gauntlets and a mosquito-net hat. The guys got the Logistics ladder up the tree, and, in the darkness, started to hack away branches with a machete. Slowly bits of nest, then wax honeycomb, then honey started falling to the ground. The fire was passed up – flaming sticks –to torch the remainder of the nest and drive away the bees. I had asked if there was any MSF protocol, and told not, so we were all pretty much making it up as we went along, but with that Neanderthal incentive of honey at the end.

Shards of burning wax, sticks, sparks and bees rained down into the dust from on high, but Passiel had managed to save some of the precious honey. We managed to round-up all the bees and burn them, and, considering the potential for swarming, patients and panic, the whole exercise went remarkably smoothly.

Every morning since, I have sucked on a lovely piece of the freshest African MSF-Lankien honeycomb!