A retired construction worker who lives alone in rural Newton County is still getting over jet-lag after the trip of a lifetime. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore reports.
Reporter Standup: I’ve just arrived at the home of Gene Foley in the far southwest corner of Missouri, just outside of Joplin on a little country road. And he has just returned from the African nation of Uganda. And I’m here to talk to him about what he was doing there exactly.
[Sound: Car keys, car door shutting]
“When I was younger, I had a friend of mine—we were neighborhood friends. We started in the third grade. He and I was going to run away to Africa. And we didn’t get very far, but that was one of our dreams,” Foley recalls.
The 74-year-old Foley came across a notice in the American Bee Journal. It was asking for a volunteer beekeeper to travel to rural Uganda to help the villagers learn more about beekeeping.
“Producing honey, and selling it is one ways of means of makin’ a livin’,” he said.
He applied, and before he knew it, he was landing in the airport in Antibi. The organization that placed the notice had a representative there to meet him.
“The only ways and means to get to the villages is you have to travel on a motorcycle. There’s no roads up there. There’s trails, but the trails are ancient trails. They’re treacherous. And it was quite a ride, I’ll say that,” he recalls.
Once he got up in the mountains, he said the land and its people came alive. The little children ran out to greet the visitor with pale skin. The huts were made with homemade mud bricks, with dirt floors and tin roofs. In Uganda, the most important sector of the economy is agriculture.
Foley marveled at how each little community up in the mountains was completely self-sustaining.
“There’s bananas, is one. There’s sweet potatoes, okra, beans, corn…you will not believe what they are capable of raising in the mountainside,” he said.
And, they made honey. But Foley says the beekeepers there had a lot to learn when he arrived.
Foley: “They didn’t know what was in a hive. They didn’t know a queen. They didn’t know a drone. They didn’t know the worker bees. They didn’t know eggs or larva. And I explained all of this and walked them through what a hive was, what was in a hive, how the bees collected the honey, how they brought it back, and how they processed it.”Moore: “Were you working with a translator? I’m just trying to picture in my mind telling people about a ‘Queen bee’ and a ‘drone bee.’ That may have been hard to get across through language barriers.”Foley: “Yes. That was one of the things, ‘How am I going to correspond, or get through?’ He said he would handle that, and that we would have interpreters.”
Foley says the village life was male-dominated—that the women did most of the hard manual labor.
Foley: “[The women] tend to the bees in dresses. The honey bees can find the opening around the woman’s legs under the dress. Whereas the men will have a bee suit on, and their legs are protected—the women’s legs are not. That’s very disappointing.”Moore: “Well, did you see anybody get stung while you were there?”Foley: “Well, yes I did. The African bees are very aggressive. I did see a woman stung very severely. I went to her aid and brushed off hundreds of bees off of her. And it was a very tragic thing. But the very next morning, the lady was there in the village, smiling and laughing. And I talked with her and took some pictures of her. She assured me she was just fine. And I don’t think any American could have took the bee stings she did.”Moore: Would be able to see your honeybees?Foley: Sure. Sure, we can do that.Moore: Okay.Foley: Pardon my house…Moore: Oh, that’s all right…Foley: …I’m a widower…Okay, yeah, this is the bee yard. It’s called an apiary. And that means it’s a place where you keep bees—a bee yard is what it is.Moore: And you’re sure we don’t need any kind of protective gear? Foley: No…Moore: Okay.Foley: Honeybees are very gentle to a point when you disturb them. When you disturb them, they defend their house.
Foley speaks with respect, and even reverence, when referring to the tiny insect.
"I absolutely love the honeybee. And I always felt in my heart and my mind it’s a gift to the world over. It’s a gift from the Maker. And if it was not for the honeybee, we would be in big trouble,” he says.
He mentions how the honeybee is responsible for pollinating most of the fruits and vegetables we eat in the United States.
“The almond fields, orchards, apples, oranges, peaches, cherries, blueberries, cranberries—there are endless names of fruits, vegetables, crops and seeds that the honeybee pollinates,” he said.
He says from his modest home in rural Newton country that sharing this gift with villagers on the other side of the world has made life a little sweeter for him.
For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.