Sweet and Sticky

DSC_0943I plunged my hands into the 25-liter bucket of cold, sticky oochi mixed with honeycomb and scooped as much as I could into the filtration system (another 25-liter bucket with a corrugated base resting on top of a larger empty bucket.) With Jeff’s GoPro camera strapped to my head, I was ready for the action of filtering and purifying some fresh oochi-(Luvale for honey). The oochi was smooth and dripped off of my hands with each motion. A Zambian beekeeper, my guide in this process, was meticulously following my movements in case I dropped any of the honeycomb mixture, which I did… quite often. After several tries, I decided that maybe this very involved demonstration would be better left to the professionals. So instead I reached my hand back into the bucket and grabbed a clump of oochi and honeycomb and put it right in my mouth. I chewed the glob in delight and spit out the remaining wax as the sweet taste of oochi lingered on my taste buds.

Jeff and the Zambia Gold interns- Katie P, Katie B, and myself- had set out for Lwitadi, a small village just east of Zambezi, for an afternoon of visiting and interviewing beekeepers and also touring some of their beehives. We pulled over on the side of the paved road and parked the car only to walk a few feet and step through a sea of tall grass acting as a wall between the road and the beekeeper’s home.DSC_0904

The beekeepers (as we had collected more than a few, filling the entire land rover at one point) explained that the purification process normally takes a few hours. As more and more harvested honeycomb is piled into the corrugated bucket, gravity begins to do its job and the fresh honey seeps out of the holes at the base and flows into the new container, leaving solid chunks of wax and bee parts behind.DSC_0910

Deeper out in the bush, our group was able to witness a few beekeepers in action. The beekeeper suited up in his harvesting attire: two pairs of pants, one on top of the other, one thick button down, and a mask made of patches of burlap sack sewed together with a mosquito net webbing. I watched from the ground as the brave man scaled the tree with ease and tied a rope around a branch using a pulley system for the bucket he would use to collect the fresh honeycomb. It truly was a balancing act as the beekeeper stood on a thin branch while reaching into the log hive to scrape the honeycomb into the bucket.


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Safely on the ground, Newton, another one of the beekeepers, began to pluck bees out of the honeycomb so he could have a taste of the new harvest. “These ones are strong and sharp” he said as he flicked one off his finger. A beekeeper’s job is usually carried out later at night when the bees are less active but these men graciously agreed to share their harvesting experience with us during the mid-afternoon, when the bees were less than happy to see us.DSC_1083 DSC_1096

I have always felt a special connection with bees and honey, but my relationship didn’t start out so sweet. Ever since my sophomore year of high school when a swarm of 2,000 bees decided to land on the front hood of my car and start a new hive, I have wondered a couple things- Why did the bees land on my car conveniently during the lunch period for the whole student body to see? And the ultimate question: Out of all the 200 cars in this parking lot, why did all these bees land on MY car?

My mom used to tell me that the bees were looking for a sweet girl and that is why they landed on my car, but I had a hard time thinking positively about the flight patterns of bees when they were messing up my daily routine. During school, four months after I had gotten my license, a security guard called me out of class to inform me that all the bees in Colorado had swarmed my car. It could be seen from the building. My least favorite part of this whole extravaganza was the fact that after a beekeeper had finally come and loaded all of the bees into a box, he offered us a sample of his freshest honey from his bee farm back home. I tried the honey a few times and was not very pleased. For the most part, the honey sat on a shelf in my pantry as a reminder of one of the strangest phenomena in nature to ever occur in my lifetime.

My relationship with bees is much sweeter now. I am a part of an intern team for Zambia Gold- a student run organization on Gonzaga’s campus that supports education and economic development projects in the Zambezi community through the sale of honey harvested in and around Zambezi. Each Monday night throughout this past semester our interns would take shifts at a booth in front of our dining hall and promote the mission of Zambia Gold and encourage friends and fellow Zags to support us by purchasing a pouch of our Zambia Gold honey. All of this time I never thought twice about the time it took to produce a single pouch and all of the hands involved in the process. A hive of bees flies about 55,000 miles to produce a pound of honey. That’s more than five times the distance from here to Spokane. And the average worker bee makes only a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. That means (if I’ve done the math correctly) that over 93,600 bees contributed to making the 1,300 ounces of honey we sold just last semester.

Our weeks in Zambezi have come to a close and tomorrow is the day that we set out for Livingstone for the last week of our adventure. My mind is fully packed with the experiences that we have had in the Zambezi community and my heart is overflowing with love and gratitude for this place and these people, both Zags and Zambians.

Like a big bucket of harvested honeycomb, there is a lot to sort through. Final celebrations and hard goodbyes have filled our past few days and there has not been much time to let the great experiences seep out into the forefront of our memory. But just as the purification process for a bucket of oochi takes some time, so will sorting through the mixed emotions that come with leaving the place we have called home for the past few weeks. My looming fear is that I won’t be able to keep up with the balancing act of being present this week in Livingstone while also desperately trying to cling on to the memories I have made back in Zambezi. The beekeeper’s steady feet on the high branches of the tree he climbed to get to his beehive give me hope: it may be risky to have my heart pulled in so many different directions but I know that, by being present and relying on my community, I will be able to stay balanced.

Come tomorrow, I will take a big bite of a gooey honeycomb glob in Livingstone and start to load all of my emotions in the filter bucket and wait. With the support and encouragement of my fellow Zags, I look forward to reflecting on my experiences and piling on memories as the insights slowly drip out like some sweet, sticky oochi.


Kisu Mwane,

Elly Zykan

Class of 2018



Taylor (our fellow Oochi mama) we are thinking about you often. Oh what I would give to see your face when you taste this stuff. (Hopefully it’s better than Katie’s when she was surrounded by bees) It’s really good, I promise. Even without the stale pretzels.


PPS (from Katie P.): Mom, I used the new lens to take the tree photos safely from the ground. It was GORGE-ous. Elly and I are laughing so hard right now. Love you.

PPPS: Elly’s mom, Elly and I (still Katie P.) have been awake for over an hour adding photos and doing all that bee math. She says, “I’ve never felt so alive.” She loves you.

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11 Responses to Sweet and Sticky

  1. Hannah Van Dinter says:

    Ahhhh I love the awe and wonder you express in this blog post. Similarly, I am in awe of your ability to do such complex math and to attract so many bees to your car 😉 You, Katie B., and Taylor have all expressed so much passion for Zambia Gold already, and I am thrilled to see the ways that your passion for this work grows following your return from Zambezi. You all are in my thoughts and prayers!

  2. Hayley says:

    What a beautiful post! I love to see Zambia gold interns diving into the honey of life. To all of you there, as you jump into an extension of this adventure, continue asking the tough questions, pouring your hearts into the new and old relationships that surround you, and trying to bee (). Be present, be authentic, and be bold. I love you all even if you don’t know me! I’m praying like crazy for each one of you.

    God Bless,
    Hayley Medeiros
    Zam Fam 2013

  3. Kim Wilcox says:

    Thank you for the reflection, Elly! We have enjoyed our honey and so have our friends that have received it. I will makes sure to have everyone read your post. Our honey will now taste sweeter! Safe travels to each of you as you move on to Livingstone!

    Hayley’s mom

  4. Beth Finger says:

    Good morning, Zam Zags!

    First of all, #blessed to BEE the mother of Elly!!!!

    So excited to see the place where the GOLD originates… And to see you smiling and sticking your hand in a bucket of fresh oochi is actually PRICELESS. Who would have guessed this was your path?

    I promise that you will NEVER forget all of the amazing experiences you have had in Zambia, so follow Hayley’s advice to BEE present and BEE bold as your adventure takes you to Livingstone.

    Seriously, look around at each other, embrace what you appreciate about each other, and relish your time together. You are sharing a special time in your lives in a special place doing special things. As much as we (families and friends) miss the sounds of your voices and frequent texts, we are thrilled to read of your adventures and reflections.

    Miss you the MOST, Elly! Have a blast this next 7 days + a few hours (not that I am counting or anything…)



  5. Lindsey Hand says:

    Elly! You are so sweet (just like all that honey)! I am cracking up at that last picture with Katie not feeling those bees haha! I feel your pain, Katie…the bees on the safari were not very nice to me. I’m still bitter. Thanks for sharing about the honey collection process and for doing all the math to show how impressive it is. Zambia Gold is lucky to have someone like you as part of the team! Love you, Elly dear! Enjoy this time and this transition. Thinking about and praying for you all.

    Love always, Lindsey

  6. Dori chelini says:

    Safe travels to livingstone! Keeping you all prayers. Mrs. C. (Zac’s mom)

    Zac enjoy this time and embrace each moment. Love Mom

  7. Cathy Mercer says:

    Thinking of you all, knowing you have been trying to find a way to prepare to leave your recent home. Thank you for sharing your journey with us through your reflections, thoughts, questions and insights.

    Looking forward to many nights of stories and pictures. Be well and stay safe.

    Love to you all.

  8. Beth Polacheck says:

    This was yet another wonderful post! I am glad I can make Katie P and Elly laugh thousands of miles away!! Safe travels this next week. Love you Katie Lou!

  9. Peter Sherman says:

    Yay ZG, Yay Elly, Yay ZamFam!!! Sending love to you all in Livingstone!

    <3 Pete

  10. Taylor Ridenour says:

    Elly! I am so thankful for the images you captured with your words and numbers(go math-my heart is just swelling imagining you all excited over those numbers) and the ones Katie P provided! ahhhh!

    oh my goodness! I am so excited for the stories and photos and gopro footage of this experience! Oh what I would give to be standing next to you three there. I’ll make sure to pack some stale pretzels for next year, just in case(;

    All my love to you ZG, cannot wait to hit the ground running when you are all back!

  11. Blair Zykan says:


    Loved reading this post – and seeing the pictures from where Zambezi Gold comes from. Last Friday morning, I was putting some of that delicious honey into a giant cup of tea and was thinking of you. Perhaps inspired by your adventure. Can’t wait to see you on Friday night and hear all about everything!



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