Bees have been in the news lately – most reports have been on the negative side. The bees are in crisis, we are told. They are suffering, because extreme weather for a decade or more has devastated their numbers, either directly (intolerable heat or cold) or indirectly (wiping out the plants they rely on for their sustenance.) Genetically modified (GMO) seeds and crops that are engineered to carry systemic pesticides are said to destroy the bees’ digestive system or poison them outright. Bees are dying by the millions and billions from causes that have been scientifically documented and those that remain mysterious.
I do not dispute these reports; I believe that this is really happening in many places on our planet. And I am aware of the fact that human life relies on these tiny BEEings as major pollinators of most of the foods that humans eat. So I do not take this matter lightly.
However, I want to let you know that the bees are alive and well here in Morocco.
If you want proof of this all you need to do is sit down in any outdoor café and order yourself the Moroccan national drink – green tea, steeped with a large amount of fresh mint. It comes served in a glass (that looks surprisingly like a large Moroccan coffee “cup”) with a sprig of fresh mint leaves and at least two tablespoons of honey or sugar.
I don’t know whether they are drawn by the promise of the sweetness or the fragrance of the mint (which can be whiffed from 20 paces) but they appear — as if from nowhere — and stay until the glass is taken back to the kitchen.
The first time Tomas and I met with our Arabic teacher, Ayman, we had ordered two teas and were coping with bees at our table. We learned the Arabic word for bee (nehla) and its plural form (nehel.) Then Tomas asked how to say “Watch Out” or “Be Careful” and we learned “Andeck.” Interesting first words to learn in a new language. In an attempt to speak “nehla” Tomas mis-spoke and we also learned “nachla” (palm tree.) So watch out for bees and palm trees.
In our short stay here we have witnessed some amusing and remarkable scenes regarding this tea-bee phenomenon.
Unlike the tourists (me) who bat at the bees (however gently or nicely) the Moroccans have a way of including them in the experience. Tomas witnessed one man just flicking the bees away with his finger, prior to sipping his tea.
I have seen one gentleman sip from one side of the glass while a bee drank from the other. Highly risky business, if you want my opinion.
On our first evening in Chefchaouen (one more Blue City story) we sat and drank a soda by the Water Garden – just to have a reason to sit there and enjoy the beauty. A Moroccan couple with their young (I’d guess 2 years old) daughter plus another couple (auntie/uncle – best friends) took the table next to us. Shortly, the waiter brought four glasses of tea and a smaller, empty glass to their table. Within seconds the bees arrived and we all shared a laugh over this oh-so-common experience.
The little girl was very curious about the pretty drinks. The mom had anticipated this, poured an inch or so of tea into the small glass and waved it around in the air to cool it a bit. Just as she was about to let her daughter have a taste, a bee flew into the glass and drowned in the tea. With a deft flick of the wrist, the mother tossed the cooled tea into the stream, which sent up a wail from the youngster who could not understand why her mother had just thrown out her “Big Girl Drink.”
Tomas and I tried our best NOT to laugh. It was no laughing matter to that little girl.
“Auntie” jumped into action and took the child away from the table to give mom a chance to prepare another small sip of tea. Meanwhile, the bees continued to visit all four glasses of the sweet, fragrant mixture, Tomas and I continued to enjoy our soda on our first evening in Chefchaouen and life went on in Morocco.
Alia’s Op-Ed: I have heard that there are commercial agriculture venues in Morocco that use chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides. There are several large metropolitan areas in the country and people need produce, so I suspect this is so. However, I live in a much more rural area where cultivation is still done in the “traditional” manner. For one thing, the farmers here cannot afford fancy fertilizers or doctored seeds. They operate on a minimal cash economy. When animal dung is plentiful, why not use it in the soil to grow food? Why would you ship food clear across the country (or out of the country) when you can sell it every day on the streets of your local town or village? I have yet to see an “18-wheeler” in Morocco, although I did see a “14-wheeler” once. Why would you spray poison all over your food when you don’t have extra water to clean it off? And who in their right mind would ever put a LABEL on a piece of fruit??? The day that Tomas and I purchased apricots from our local grocery, the clerk took us outside and pointed to the very tree from which the fruit had been picked. NOW THAT’S LOCALLY GROWN!!
Perhaps the “Bee Crisis” is pointing us toward the truth about our modern agricultural methods – that they are environmentally unsustainable and that we humans had best figure out ways to live in harmony with nature, instead of trying to manipulate environmental conditions for the purpose of reaping short-term profits.
In my mind, the bees are an vital part of the equation.