viernes, agosto 01, 2014

Meeting the Melipona bees and beekeepers of Mara

Along our tour route, we passed through places that we've traveled through for years but had never really stopped and taken the time to get to know them well. Many of these places are in the municipality of Mara and are close to the route where coal leaves from the Guasare and Paso Diablo mines in 18-wheeler trucks to the ports of the Carbozulia mines and also where coal would leave from if the Bolívar Port becomes a reality. Many of these communities like 4 Bocas, Carrasquero, el Moján, Nueva Lucha, aren't much to see. The land is dry, with the sun burning down and like much of Zulia, plastic debris and trash are abundant in this deforested landscape that is dominated by pollution and invasive species like neem. From what you see at first glance it's easy to pass through this land and only want to keep going, and not get to know anything else about what's here. 

With a heron friend of Añú ancestry, we were able to get to know this land more. Our heron friend took us along with her children to see the mangroves and the houses of different people in town. This heron has a cooperative project known as Hierba Buena that makes a variety of artisanal products for personal body care produced with natural ingredients that are mostly collected in the region. Our heron friend showed us how she is putting into practice concepts of self-sustainability and local economies, using natural materials and alternative medicine. The local products that Hierba Buena uses include chamomile grown and harvested in the communities along the Socuy river, cinnamon, coconut oil produced in the lagoon of Sinamaica, recycled cooking oil, and vegetable sponges (estropajo). Hierba Buena is also experimenting with extracting oils from different nuts and seeds, like cashew for example. They also use beeswax and honey, from Apis and melipona bees.

On the patios of certain houses in Mara, some on farms in the country and others in houses in the centers of populated towns, beneath neem trees and roofs of palm leaves you can find PVC tubes and  wooden boxes hung from branches or the rafters of structures. These objects have most of their entrances covered with clay as if they were made of adobe, and have one entrance in the form of a small hole in the front of the structure. In the majority of these entrances you will find a pair of eyes, along with antenna and mandibles that are watching everything happening around the entrance to their home. Finally after so long of traveling around singing the praises of the marvels of Melipona bees, we were finally able to meet some Melipona beekeepers. 

The heron told us that some Melipona beekeepers capture their bees in the mangroves, as Melipona is one of the pollinators of the Black Mangrove that has a small white flower. Due to the effects of the El Niño climate phenomenon, the rainy season that usually arrives between May and June never came this year, so the rivers throughout Zulia are really low. Plants aren't flowering because of the lack of water, and because there are no flowers there isn't food for pollinators like bees. So although we were able to meet the Melipona bees, we couldn't taste their honey that has medicinal properties, as the drought has impacted their whole ecological system. 

In addition to the inspiration of seeing someone living and raising a family in the land they are from, and working towards a better world from that place, the efforts of the heron also inspired us to think about what kinds of ecological projects we can develop in our own community, like those found in the solidarity economy beehive scene in the Mesoamérica Resiste poster. Thanks to the heron we were able to do a workshop and presentation with the Mesoamérica Resiste banners in the cultural center Ciénaga de Reyes, of the La Sierrita parish of Mara, for community members and cultural workers from the Misión Cultura Corazón Adentro, which has support from collaborators from Cuba who also participated in the workshop. This made for a space where a variety of people participated and shared a lot of knowledge from their experiences.

The issues of coal mining in the Guasare and Sierra de Perijá, and transporting coal to ports on the coast, grounded the workshop in local realities. Mining hurts communities in the region through pollution and through degrading their quality of life, and any small benefit that mining can generate is not benefiting the communities or ecosystems that are impacted, it's for the politicians of the region and leaders of entities like Corpozulia. 

Although these distinct places feel distant from each other, the reality is that it is all one territory where what happens to one area impacts everyone, from the forests that surround the rivers of Socuy, Cachirí, Maché and Guasare in the Sierra de Perijá, to the dry savannahs of Mara and la Guajira, to the beaches and mangroves of the Gulf of Venezuela and the Great Lake of Maracaibo. We hope that through our small effort of using the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic to raise consciousness in the communities that are in the path of coal, we are contributing to the struggle to protect this land, giving communities a reference point of diverse strategies that can be put into practice in these struggles.