The Ideas Partnership, the charity I co-founded and volunteer with in Kosovo, does much of its work in Neighbourhood 29, a Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian community in a suburb of Pristina. The families we work with scrabble out an existence from begging in the city (women – and children) or from going through the garbage bins (men – and children) looking for recyclable, resellable or edible scrap. Though it’s a hive of activity, it’s not a natural haven for bees*
But there is nevertheless a house (one of the smarter homes, on the edge of the community – with a real fence, not just surrounded with old car doors and flattened oil drums) where I spotted a sign in Albanian announcing We sell honey. It seemed unlikely – the house looks out at the barbed wire fence of the salt factory which is built on the cheap land this side of the tracks, and backs on to the rubbish heap where the children we support into school can sometimes be seen playing. Where is the honey here? Where are the blooms?
Today, on the way back from taking one of the children we work with to the doctor, paying the women in our micro-finance soapmaking project, and sorting out adult literacy classes which start this week, I stopped off to see whether this miracle of advertised abundance could really be true. Or was it just a sales point for some shoddy product? (After all, the sign didn’t claim that the honey was made there. I once rented a house in a village in England where a man had a nice little business going to Lidl and buying economy jams which he decanted into reused jars with a handwritten label, and sold in his front garden for three times the Lidl price; and not a word of a lie – or indeed any claim at all – as to where the jam was made).
When I rang the bell today, a man came out and smiled when he heard that I was here for honey. Yes, yes, that would be no problem – he ushered me inside. As if the question had just occurred to me, I asked him, ‘and is it made here?’ Oh yes, he assured me again, and pointed to the corner of the yard. To my amazement I saw there a neat line of six or seven wooden box hives.
I still can’t guess what the bees find to forage on. Sampling the honey (a mellow, rich scent; a great liquid consistency, an amber colour, the same shade as a rusty oil drum) gives me no clue either. It’s tasty though – not just the sugary drool of glucose syrup, but something citrussy with caramel aftertaste.
And even more than being a flavoursome jar of sweetness, I take this as a metaphor; the honey of hope. Those bees can find enough material here to produce a healthy high-quality product, so we humans should be able to do something equally transformational. I think about the kids I saw today on their way home from school, the women working to make a living from the soapmaking project, the teenagers taking a second chance to learn their alphabet. Nobody doubts the effort required, but what the colonies of bees reminded me today is that – little by little – sweet, sticky miracles are possible.
For more honey tasting notes, stories behind extraordinary honeys, and recipes, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.
*you can get an idea of what the neighbourhood looks like from the photographs produced by the children who took part in our summer programme taking stunning pictures to present their community at http://www.neighbourhood29.com