Sunday, September 24, 2006

Bee Attack

Postings have been scarce over the past few weeks.

We have been really busy, but here is an update on some of our activities, and a golden oldie – Bee Attack – for those of you who missed it the first time around! It still gives me the itch!

The first of September saw the completion of a draft of the book of Acts, just over 1,000 verses, into the Loron language. We have printed up some copies, and the Loron Bible teachers in Ivory Coast are reading them to check for clarity and naturalness. We also need to do extensive comprehension checks with different individuals.

For the next month or so Marina and I will be focusing all our attention on printing and producing booklets and teaching aids in preparation for a literacy workshop we are planning to have here in Burkina Faso for new Loron literacy teachers.

Eight or nine men and women are planning to come from 4 villages to be trained on how to start schools in their villages, and how to effectively use the literacy materials. The workshop will run from Monday, October 30 to Friday, November 10.

Bee attack!

It was like something taken straight out of a 'Drama in Real Life' article in the Reader's Digest.

There, in my rear-view mirror, less than fifty yards behind our vehicle, I could see an African man writhing on the ground, frantically trying to fend off a swarm of bees.

Hundreds of bees were homing in on him. He had no protection, and the bees seemed to be focusing their attention on his head. He was twisting and turning and rolling in the dirt, wildly flailing his arms in a desperate attempt to get some relief from the hordes of bees making their suicidal stinging attacks on his body.

School Break
A couple of hours earlier, just after midday on Saturday, September 25, 1999, Marina and I had started our journey from Ferké, in north-central Ivory Coast, to return to the village with two of our children, Kyle and Leanne, who were on a two-week school break.

Just over two hours into the anticipated six hour trip back to the village, we began to make a gradual descent down a wet and bumpy dirt road towards a narrow concrete bridge which would bring us across the stream that flowed through the valley.

The grass was high on each side of the road. As we negotiated the rocks and ruts on the approach to the little bridge, we noticed that there were a couple of vehicles stopped near it. We could see a woman with a baby in her arms, and two or three small children following close behind her, running up the hill towards us.

As the mother ran past the car she waved excitedly, as if she was trying to warn us about something. Marina noticed what she initially thought were flies around the lady and the children, but then she realised that they were, in fact, bees. Marina called out for everyone in the car to close their windows.

Kyle was listening to his Walkman, and didn't hear Marina's first call, and within seconds some bees had entered the car. When Kyle saw what was happening, he quickly closed his window, and we then proceeded to dispose of the bees. Kyle got stung by one of them on his chest.

We continued slowly down the hill towards the bridge, through an ever increasing number of bees. We felt somewhat secure in our closed-up car. We inched our way forward to see if we could find a way past the stationary vehicles, and continue our journey back to the village.

No way through
When we came to the first vehicle, a 22-seater open-sided bush taxi, we saw a swarm of bees beginning to make a nest inside the vehicle, right on the window by the driver's seat. The other vehicle, a large truck, was stuck, its back wheels embedded in a collapsed culvert, and its front wheels sitting on the bridge, completely blocking the way across.

The noise from the vehicles, and the presence of people around the bridge had disturbed a bee's nest high up in the huge tree which overshadowed the bridge, causing the bees to attack. The bees were now swarming all over the area, up to at least a one hundred yard radius around the tree.

Just a baseball cap
As we sat for a few moments wondering what to do next, out of the blue a man came racing around the side of the truck, and almost ran into the front of our vehicle. He was wearing a baseball cap, and was holding a small piece of material over his face in an effort to protect himself from the bees.

Scores of bees were buzzing around his head. The man ran on past our car, and continued to run up the hill behind us, attracting more bees as he went.

As we assessed the situation, we quickly realised that there was no way for us to get across the bridge. We could see a large pool of water on the left hand side of the bridge, and we knew that the right hand side would also have either water or would be too swampy to get across. We decided to reverse back up the hill, and get away from the bees.

It was at that moment that I saw the man who had raced past us just a few seconds earlier in my rear-view mirror. He was lying on the ground, fighting the bees. He was still quite a long way from safety. Others who had been running away from the bees had made it to the top of the hill, and to relative safety, but it was apparent that the bees had got the better of this one man.

We knew immediately that we had to try to do something to save him. It would be impossible for us to open the door of the car and let him in, otherwise we would have all been exposed to danger, nevertheless, we had to try something.

The others who had escaped were watching helplessly from the top of the hill. The only chance was to somehow get him on top of the car, and hopefully, that way, we could get him away from the bees, and out of danger.

We rapidly reversed the car to where he was squirming on the ground. As we made our way towards him, we saw the baseball ca, and the small piece of material that he had been using to protect himself lying on the side of the road, smothered with bees. When we got beside him, we saw hundreds of bees swarming around him.

We yelled at him through the closed windows of the car, and told him to climb up unto the roof rack the car. He got off the ground, and staggered towards us. He wanted to get inside, but we continued to yell at him and pointed for him to get on top of the car.

His face was covered with bees. They were in his hair, on his neck and on his eyelids. He was in a desperate predicament. Terror was evident in his eyes as his face pressed against the outside of the car window. He seemed to be losing consciousness, but somehow he managed to focus his efforts and struggle up onto the roof rack.

As soon as he was secure, I jammed the gear stick in reverse and sped off as fast as I could, back up the narrow, bumpy road.

Others in the danger zone
After going for about 150 yards I reckoned that we were well out of the main concentration of bees. I stopped the car, and jumped out.

I glanced down the road and noticed three more men coming running up the hill through the bees. They, too, were frantically beating against these miniature menaces. By this time the bees were even madder than they had been before, and the men seemed to be struggling to get out of the danger zone.

I ran around to the back of our Nissan Patrol, climbed up the steps and helped the first man off the roof rack. Despite our rapid escape attempt there were still several dozen bees attacking him.

I somehow managed to get him off the car, and as I dragged him over to a pool of water by the roadside, I was stung a couple of times, once on the forehead and once on the cheek. I shouted for Marina and the kids to get out of the car, and move back out of the range of the bees.

After splashing some water over the man, to get the remaining bees off him, I left him, ran back to the car and raced down the road towards the other three men.

One of the men was lagging behind the other two. When I arrived at the first two men, they too wanted to get into the car. I had to persuade them to get unto the roof. By the time they had climbed onto the roof rack, the third man had been able to get to the car, and so we made another hasty retreat.

Out of danger
The first man we had rescued was now lying semi-conscious by the side of the road, behind another bush taxi which had just arrived on the scene. No one was going near him. The people seemed to have given up hope on him.

We went over to check on him, and we started pulling some of the stingers from his body. He had been stung dozens, maybe hundreds of times, and was in a lot of pain. Marina gave him some antihistamine tables to help control the swelling.

We realised there was no way that we could make it home to Gogo that day, so, after spending a little while considering our options, and making sure that the men were all being cared for, we turned the vehicle and started the two hour journey back to Ferké.

We arrived in back Ferké just before dark, and we were able to find a place to stay at the Conservative Baptist Hospital. We remained there for a couple of days, until the swelling around my eyes had gone down.

We later heard that all the people who had been attacked by the bees had survived, and were recovering well.

We made it back to Gogo on Monday afternoon, this time without any mishaps.

We praise the Lord for His protection and mercy.