My name is Bede Rajahram and I am the president of the Trinidad & Tobago Beekeepers' Association.
Rajahram is an unusual spelling of an unusual name! Bede is an unusual name, too. I was born on the saint day of Saint Bede. My wife is Deepa.
I was a Catholic but I'm Hindu now. Well, I'm more open-minded than anything else. I'll equally go to temple, mosque or church. But more not go to any, really. When I'm in the forest, that's my church.
I came down Diego Martin when I got married. We've been there for the last 31 years but I still think of myself as "coming from" Couva.
I have elementary, secondary and some university education. I think I'm a perpetual student. I study beekeeping and travel for beekeeping conferences but not to Vegas. I've been to Miami, Guyana, Grenada, St Croix just last year.
In Trinidad, we have Africanised bees. Most beekeepers today grew up with European bees. You can be very rough with them. Bang your smoker on top of a hive and one or two bees will come out and look at you and go back in. You even open a cover too roughly with Africanised bees and they coming out at you. And not to investigate, they coming to sting! I wouldn't say they're "bad"– they're defensive. Handling them is a little different.
Lord Kitchener's song, "The Bees' Melody" is a beautiful piece of music I identify with. I've lost check of how many times I've been stung. But I don't get stung often again, because I've learned how to handle the bees properly.
In about 1979, the Ministry was giving courses at the St Augustine Nurseries in Curepe. They had this beekeeping and I was absolutely fascinated. From that time onwards, I kept learning about bees. I have close to 35 years' experience.
When you realise how valuable they are, you start to see a different angle to bees. Most people don't realise that one-third of the food they eat is because of bees. The world is losing bees at an alarming rate, especially in North America and Europe. We now have to protect what is ours.
35 years is a long time to be with bees. But, in the hives, you get peace and quiet.
I'm seeing the failure of agriculture. Nothing seems to have improved, regardless of the government; things actually seem to be worsening! Recently the Trade Minister made attempts to change the law [against imported honey], without setting up the protective machinery. We could lose all our bees! Diseases will come in in the honey itself. Somebody just has to pour their honey and leave it outside and there's a little drip that comes down. Bees have a very strong sense of smell. They'll carry that honey back to the hive. The bacteria starts to multiply and, very soon, you have a full-scale disease.
Trinidad is basically organic: we don't use chemicals against any disease that affects bees. If we had a disease come in through foreign imported honey [and it required chemical responses], we would no longer be considered organic–which would close off a lot of our market, to a lot of countries.
Trinidad and Tobago means home to me. I've travelled to a lot of countries and there are very few I would like to stay in.
Read a longer version of this feature at www.BCRaw.com
Honey is only harvested in the dry season, the honey-flow season, when the majority of our trees flower. The bees store the honey until it reaches the right consistency and then seal off those cells. When we see the honey capped off, we know it's ready to extract. It's filtered, to remove wax particles, and bottled right away, or put in a large tank to settle, then bottled.
It is very hurtful to see people drink soft drinks and drop the bottle on the ground! That, to me, is what a Trini shouldn't be!
The best thing about being a beekeeper is being with my bees out in remote regions in the middle of forests. There are no bad things with bees. There are bad beekeepers. Even bee stings aren't bad! I actually treat people with arthritis with bee stings. I take bees to them and give them bee stings on swollen joints! It brings tremendous relief. The bees die after stinging, though.