Honey in Nepal
I awoke to the smell of smoke.
My tiny flashlight illuminated the pile of clothing next to my backpack. I pulled on my wool beanie and jacket and went through the attic’s trapdoor. I emerged to a view of a Himalayan blue sky, framed by banana and guava trees.
Aama, my homestay mother, and her youngest son, Rabindra, crouched over a wooden box beside the mud house. There was buzzing.
Wearing a green, floral sarong; brown, long-sleeved T-shirt; pink, quilted vest; and white, veiled hat, Aama pulled trays from the beehive with one hand, waving a smoking hay broom at the hive with the other. She handed the frames to her son, who cut sticky hexagonal cells off wires and dropped them into a green, plastic bucket.
It was around 7 a.m.
“Aren’t you worried about getting stung?” I asked Rabindra.
He laughed and said he wasn’t.
Within minutes, they had filled the bucket.
The village on Panchase Mountain, my home for three days during a 10-day trip to Nepal, was a three-hour bumpy jeep or bus ride west of the lakefront resort town Pokhara, through farms, three river crossings, and hairpin turns. Goat and buffalo stables and mud brick homes emerged among terraced rice fields.
Aama removed her beekeeper’s hat and headed for the kitchen. I followed, sitting on a rug facing the wood-burning stove and stone hearth.
There were simple wooden shelves of tin dishes, glasses, and mugs printed with flowers and Eiffel Towers. Thin strips of buffalo and goat meat were hanging, smoking, above the stove where Aama sat cross-legged, blowing on the flame through a bamboo tube. She then set a cast-iron kettle on the single burner. She opened a pressure cooker next to her and stirred rice from the previous night’s dinner, which had been grown in fields down the road. She grabbed the kettle, placed it on a round woven bamboo mat on the stone floor, and set the pressure cooker on the burner.
“Chiya?” she asked.
“Yes, thank you,” I said, to the Nepali tea mixed with buffalo ghee and milk from their farm.
She spooned rice into a tin bowl and poured buffalo milk from a plastic Coca-Cola bottle over it.
“Honey?” I asked, pointing to the bucket by the door.
Aama smiled, grabbed two toast-sized chunks of the honeycomb, and handed me the bowl. It smelled of jasmine, cut grass, and mountain air.
I cut small pieces off the rectangles with my spoon, chewing honeycomb and rice together. Wax was getting stuck between my teeth, and spitting it out made me self-conscious. I broke the cells using the back of the spoon, and drizzled ochre-colored syrup onto the grains. The still-warm, sticky sweetness alternated from divine to pleasant to overwhelming.
Rabindra walked in and laughed at my concocted breakfast.
“I had to try it,” I said.
As the fire warmed my lap, I embraced the sweetness.