The Story of Vilis Matulis
As part of a series of photo journals on how the TeleFood programme helps needy families, a resident of Latvia, one of the Baltic States, talks about his daily life.My name is Vilis Matulis. I'm 44 years old and live in a house in the countryside near the village of Ludza, eastern Latvia. I have lived in this area all my life.
I receive a state pension of 60 lati (120 US dollars) a month, but I mostly earn my living from those guys flying around outside, meaning my bees. [All Photos: ©FAO/Kai Wiedenhoefer]
I own two hectares of land here. I used to live with my mother nearby, but in 1989 I had this house built and moved in.That's my guard dog. When the bees are active, he hides in the shed to avoid being stung.
I have been in a wheelchair since a motorcycle accident when I was 19. I used to get free medical care during Soviet times, although you could wait a year or more for treatment. Now, to be treated at a sanatorium for a back injury like mine costs 16 lati (32 US dollars) a day.
This is my wife, Sarmite, and my mother, Valeria. Sarmite and I were married a month ago, so we are still on our honeymoon.A year ago I put an ad in the local paper looking for a wife. She phoned me, and I was so interested I went to see her the next day. She was what I wanted to see.Sarmite works in a nearby city as a nursing assistant in a blood donor clinic. She is moving in with me soon and might not be able to find a job in this area. But her hobby is to plant and grow things, so she'll get the vegetable garden going again.
My TeleFood beehives
I have been keeping bees for quite a while. One day in 2001 I was approached by another beekeeper in Ludza who said that if we formed a group we could get money from FAO's TeleFood fund to expand our operations.We were 11 in the group to start with. Four members are still active.TeleFood gave me the impetus to expand. I had 20 hives before, but now I have 33 big hives and 21 smaller ones. TeleFood paid for barrels to hold the honey, honeycombs and seeds to grow the plants for pollen for the bees to gather.
Benefits from TeleFood
Here I am checking the hives. There are so many bees now that I have to wear a protective hat and clothing.In 2001, I produced and sold 1 052 kilos of honey. I got 2.50 lati (about 5 US dollars) a kilo. I also sell frames with fertilized queen bees inside for 5 lati (10 US dollars) per frame. People normally buy four or five frames at a time.The extra money I earn thanks to TeleFood helps me cope with increases in the cost of living. Petrol gets more and more expensive. Latvia joined the European Union recently and merchants used that as an excuse to raise prices.
Growing queen bees
I have good demand for queen bees in season, which is from mid-May until mid-summer. I grow hundreds of them.
I put the bee larvae into these yellow protective tubes. The tubes are fixed into a frame and inserted into a hive without a queen bee. Bees care for the larvae until the queens hatch.
My workshop is just a jumble now, but in winter I build frames for the beehives so I am ready for the following season.
When I expanded my business with the TeleFood funding, I tried buying ready-made frames. But they have to be accurate within 1 mm in order to fit properly into the hives, and I found I was having to rebuild them.So I went back to making my own.
Going shopping by car
Here I am outside the small local grocery store. The lady comes out and takes my order, then brings the bag of groceries to the car. I go to the supermarket in the city for larger orders.
The gas and brakes are controlled by hand in my car. I had the conversion done here in Latvia. I can even drive on the highway. I just took the car in for a warranty checkup and drove all the way to near Riga, about 275 kilometres.
Sharing the chores
In the kitchen, we have no distinction between men's and women's work. I don't especially like to cook, but I like to help in the kitchen. Here Sarmite is cooking meatballs.When I am alone, I usually make coffee in the morning and a sandwich of bread and butter and something like cottage cheese and cranberry jam. Lunch is soup, meat and fried potatoes with a glass of milk. Sometimes, if I have a lot to do, I skip lunch.I eat a big dinner if I haven't eaten much during the day. If I don't have a proper meal in the evening, I can't sleep.
I would like to continue what I have started with TeleFood and expand my beekeeping even more. But then I would have to move because the neighbours don't like the bees, which sting their cows and dogs.
I am looking forward to becoming a stepfather when Sarmite's 13-year-old daughter, Laura, comes to live here. That will be a change.