“Always ensure you take care of yourself. No matter what profession or activities you get into, keep in mind that you have to maintain a high self esteem and look good doing it too.”
By Sharmain Grainger
It hasn’t always been easy for a woman to step up in a man’s world and make a significant impact. However, women are increasingly doing this in just about every sphere of human existence. From travelling to space to taking charge in the emergency room, women have undoubtedly been excelling. They simply seem to have the physical capacity to do it all.
It might have been for this very reason that the ever popular American Singer, Beyonce, intoned in her ‘Who runs the World? Girls’ selection: “Please accept my shine…How we’re smart enough to make these millions; strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business…”
Carlotta DeJesus can relate all too well to this notion ever since she invaded an arena traditionally filled by men, and was able to make a name for herself.
Some people know her as a ‘Bee Keeper’, or the ‘Honey Lady’ from Victoria, but what many do not know is that she is so much more.
She is a happily married wife to Colin De Jesus, a mother of four nicely groomed children [three girls and a boy], a seamstress, and she certainly hasn’t been afraid to pick up a hammer or climb a scaffold when the need arises.
DeJesus can without doubt be classified as a strong and very versatile woman who is passion-driven when she puts her mind to anything. But little did some people know, way back in the day, she’d envisaged herself delving in the nursing profession.
Born Carlotta Fortune to Roslyn Arthur-Boyer [now deceased] and Leslie Fortune, on July 11, 1971, she remembers growing up at Kuru Kururu on the Soesdyke/Linden Highway. She was the last of six children and recalled having an immense liking for the women in their white uniforms who catered to sick people in hospitals. This was the path she embraced and was sure she would follow to fruition.
DeJesus attended St. Mary’s Primary School at Soesdyke, then Soesdyke Community High, before moving on to Dora Secondary. She remembers attending Commercial classes where she learned to master the use of a typewriter. But according to DeJesus, the closest she came to joining a profession in health care was when she did a stint of work-study.
“I was very interested in nursing, but I really didn’t get the support to attend nursing school,” recalled DeJesus.
Her next option was to become a teacher and that is exactly what she did. As a teacher she was able to teach one year at Timehri Primary School and then the Timehri Nursery for another five years.
But things would take a drastic turn when she decided to make use of vast lands she had acquired on the highway. DeJesus decided she wanted to become a farmer and started to cultivate a citrus farm. She later started to reap and sell her produce and would even frequent the Bourda Market in Georgetown to do this.
She eventually met and married her husband Colin, and the two took up residence at Victoria on the East Coast of Demerara.
“I really didn’t know much about the East Coast…I knew about the highway, but this was new to me,” related DeJesus, who did not see the need to give up her farming life even after birthing three children.
However, it was when she was pregnant with her fourth child that life really started to take her down an unorthodox path. DeJesus recalled being a part of many environmental awareness sessions. According to her, although she was involved in citrus farming for several years, helping to protect the environment was never a subject that she had encountered before.
In fact she recalled coming into contact with a woman by the name of Annette Arjoon, a popular conservationist, who really helped to peel back a side of her that she didn’t even know existed.
Eager to learn more about conservation, DeJesus said that she availed herself to a mangrove sensitisation session. During that session, she recalled being exposed to information about how bees could help to preserve the environment. She remembers being especially intrigued by facts such as “when bees pollinate anything they grow better…it is always good to have the bees around, because if we don’t have bees, human beings only have another five years to live.”
She explained, “Let’s say we decided to kill all the bees in the world, the world will stand still after the next five years, because the bees have been pollinating the majority of the foods we eat.” The lessons she learnt were really impactful, so much so that an advertisement she saw about bees helping to restore the mangroves grabbed her attention.
Moreover, DeJesus decided that she too wanted to help save the world in whatever small way she could by harvesting the very crucial bees. She recalled attending a meeting, with her husband, at the National Agricultural and Research Extension Institute, which indeed helped to expand her horizon.
Before long, DeJesus, together with her husband, were on a mission to trap and hive bees with a view of helping them to pollinate and preserve the environment. But the bees were not simply on hand to be captured.
She recalled having at times to climb multiple-storey properties to find bees after they were detected by worried residents. This, of course, became an added means of income for the DeJesus family.
“I don’t know how I did it, but my 250 pounds would get to the top of a scaffold and do what I had to do to get the bees,” related a blushing DeJesus as she related that her fear of heights has never hindered her from getting the job done.
She and her husband, she disclosed, literally started to make house-calls.
“To get me people call 690-0053 and to get him they call 641-9426. There are different beekeepers around the place, so if people call us we would sometimes refer them to another beekeeper. But there have been times that we have moved bees from as far as on the Linden Highway and even Berbice,” DeJesus disclosed.
“If someone finds bees in any part of their house or anywhere, they can just call us and we are there to trap them,” related DeJesus, as she recalled that this entails being garbed in overalls, covers on the head and face, and long boots on the feet. Sometimes retrieving bees, she disclosed, includes even removing boards from some buildings to find the nest.
“We try to get to the queen first, because all the other bees follow the queen… once the queen is trapped all the other bees will follow,” said DeJesus, who informed that trapping the bees is not always an easy task.
“Sometimes the queen flies away and you have to keep searching,” recalled DeJesus. “It is always easiest when the queen is captured first,” she emphasised. She moreover had to learn quickly how to differentiate between the queen, worker bees and the drones.
At first she started keeping bees at her citrus farm on the highway and the bees started to pollinate her farm and produced the richest and sweetest honey she’d ever tasted. Of course DeJesus immediately recognised that this was another viable income-earning avenue.
Since she had long had in mind to use the bees to help preserve diminishing mangroves along the East Coast of Demerara, DeJesus and her husband found a suitable spot to build another home for their bees. She recalled how her husband, a contractor by profession, constructed hives out of boxes to accommodate their growing bee population. They currently have about 30 hives.
The hives on the East Coast, she noted, “are placed away from the residential areas, away from people…we had to use a boat to cross a wetland with the bees to place them on a dam.” It was DeJesus’ hope that like on her citrus farm, the bees would pollinate the nearby mangroves and even nearby fruit trees as well and produce honey.
But DeJesus found that the bees’ pollination of the mangroves helped her to produce what seemed like a completely different type of honey altogether.
“It was a different flavour! It had a nice, not too sweet, a bit salty flavour and it had a nice gold colour,” recalled DeJesus, who realised that the slight saltiness of the mangrove honey was due to the salt water from the sea. She started to market this honey as ‘Mangrove Honey’ which even customers recognised as different from the sweeter and darker honey produced at the citrus farm.
Business was looking up for the DeJesus family, which allowed for the establishment of the ‘Victoria House of Honey’. But the business not only marketed honey but also candles as another by-product. But honey by far is the most lucrative.
According to DeJesus, “I am not afraid to call my price for my honey, because I know when people buy it, they know that its quality they are getting.”
“Some people say ‘oh I can get a whole rum bottle for $1,500 and they say that my one litre bottle for $3,500 is too much, but I just say go ahead, because I know that is nothing compared to what I am offering,” boasted DeJesus.
“I don’t mix my money with anything at all, what you are getting from me is the real thing,” DeJesus added. Many of her customers, she disclosed, are foreigners who have long recognised or heard of the quality honey she markets.
“When foreigners come they like my honey because I understand if the honey isn’t quality, when winter comes the honey crystallises. My own they say doesn’t; it remains nice and thick, so they keep coming back for more,” related DeJesus.
But right now there is a shortage of honey and DeJesus has linked this to the prevailing weather pattern.
“If we get too much sun we don’t get blossoms, so the bees wouldn’t get anything to get their nectar from. When we get too much rain, the rain beats the blossoms off, so the bees still don’t get to pollinate… so you have to get at least moderate weather to get the honey,” said DeJesus as she admitted “this weather is bad for business.”
DeJesus who holds the position of Assistant Treasurer of the Guyana Apiculture Society, is moreover convinced that Government should lend a helping hand to beekeepers in such times. “I would like for government to pay more attention to beekeeping. In other countries like Jamaica, the government gives grants to beekeepers to help them with their hives,” DeJesus revealed, even as she expressed optimism that this will be recognised following an international Beekeepers’ conference slated to be hosted by Guyana in the coming year.
However, since faced with the challenges in the beekeeping arena, DeJesus has fallen back on her sewing talent. According to her, since before emancipation “I have been busy sewing African outfits, and now I am busy with orders for school uniforms too.”
But even if there were no sewing jobs, DeJesus said that she could always turn to bird-watching and tour-guiding jobs which she had dabbled in, in the past. She credits her versatility to mentors the likes of Arjoon, Vanda Radzik and Raquel Thomas, who are all ladies who have a passion for seeing women succeed in their communities wherever they are.
It was perhaps because of her unyielding commitment to get things done, even when they seem near impossible, that DeJesus has since been appointed Chairperson of the Grove/Haslington Neighbourhood Democratic Council. She is by no means a politician, she assured, but rather, claims to be an individual whose aim is to always be progressive, especially when it comes to herself, family and community development.
In fact, she was once the President of the Mangrove Producers Coop, through which women were able to market their produce. It is this independent and progressive mind-set that DeJesus hopes her three daughters will embrace throughout life.
“I usually tell my daughters, equip yourself with everything you can: you cook, you nail, you paint whatever you have to do… I say to them don’t make the men feel that without them you can’t survive.”
Such lessons she has also been sharing with girls at the Guyana Girl Guides Association, where she volunteers her service as a leader. She has also been working with youths of President’s Youth Award Republic of Guyana [PYARG]. One of her primary messages disseminated, particularly to young girls, is to “always ensure you take care of yourself. No matter what profession or activities you get into, keep in mind that you have to maintain a high self esteem and look good doing it too.”
In fact, DeJesus has embraced as her life motto, “education is the biggest thing you can depend on, and when you have that, you can pick, choose and refuse.” But DeJesus has over the years remained humble and has always been willing to take good advice from anyone. She quietly intimated, “I am just a person who is always willing to learn…I am still learning everyday and I just want to say to people, especially girls, you can do whatever you want to do and be the best at it ,once you put your heart and mind to it.”
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