Ten miles outside of the town in which I grew up in the Eastern Highlands of what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, was an excavated earthen dam called Fern Valley. Occasionally, when I wasn’t involved with some kind of sports
(we were a sports-fanatic community, some would say because of the absence of cultural distractions,) my mother would pack a lunch and a fishing pole and drop me off at the dam, where I would spend the day trying to catch bream and bass, seldom with much success.
(I’m still not much of an angler - my ego cannot stand being outwitted by a fish.)
One afternoon when I was probably ten years old, of a large and typical tropical storm appeared on the horizon. Abandoning the fishing
tackle and not thinking for a minute that someone might take it, I walked into the surrounding bush, following paths in the grasslands which led to a native village - round mud huts under thatch (called rondavels) enclosed by a wattle and daub fence.
I was taken in, kept dry in front of an open fire, given something warm to drink, and when the storm had passed, shown the path that led back to the lake. And at the appointed time in the afternoon my mother was there to take me home.
what was ‘home’? In retrospect it is amazing that I was so confident that I would be warmly received and looked after. I had accepted without question the African belief that no one is a stranger, that “I am because you are,”
that no one is refused hospitality.
And this was a ‘third world country,” so-called.
I recognize too, with both humility and shame, that if a black African child had walked into our house in the white
suburbs he would not have been received the same way.
It is equally amazing that apparently my mother was not concerned about my well-being. She was a London girl, a secretary at the BBC, who, in her mid 20’s and
at the urgings of her husband, had left England and the comforts of the city for rural Africa with two young children. She seemed to feel confident in the safety of her eldest son, that he would be looked after, that there were other mothers out
there who would do what needed to be done.
Fast forward almost 60 years when Mary and I were in St Petersburg, FL, for a family wedding. Because of a predicted snow storm we flew out of BWI a day earlier than planned and managed
at the last minute to get a room at America’s Best Inn on the outskirts of the city. On arrival a young lady who co-owns the Inn came out to greet us, was most warm in her welcome and offered to help us with our bags. The facilities
were meager but the welcome was warm and we felt respected and appreciated.
The following day we moved to a large hotel in the city center which is part of a national well-known chain, a booking we had made several months in advance.
I backed into the parking area by the front entrance, opened the trunk and was immediately approached by a young man.
“Are you off-loading or checking in?”
“Checking in” I responded.
“It’s valet parking and $14 a night” was his reply.
Having noticed that parking was available for $3 per night round the corner, I declined his offer and he walked back to his station at the valet
desk without another word.
What might he have said instead?
“Welcome to our hotel. Did you have a good trip? Do you need help with your bags? Would you like to take advantage of
our valet parking?”
First impressions are vitally important and this was not a good one. The perception was that this hotel is first and foremost about money; it was neither welcoming nor inviting and certainly there
was little evidence of the “irresistible personality, humor, friendly optimism, enthusiasm, commitment and warm smile” promoted on the web-site. Compare this to the Spanish-speaking women who serviced our room who were unfailingly
cheerful and helpful.
I wrote to the manager with the story of our experience; to his credit he called me personally, described what was being done to address the problem, invited me to stop by, check it out for myself and let him
know if there was a difference, and credited us with the cost of one night’s stay at the hotel.
So, what is the first impression created at any of our local beekeeper meetings? Does a relative stranger feel
welcomed, despite the paucity or otherwise of the surroundings? Does someone say, “Welcome to our meeting. Did you find us easily? Is there something in particular I can help you with?” Or are the regular members so preoccupied
with each other, so busy catching up, so involved with the business of the meeting, as not to notice and reach out to someone new?
Do we open ourselves to feedback and, if it is not positive, do we acknowledge it and respond
appropriately or do we find a reason to ignore it?
A bee hive has guards at the entrance to challenge intruders. Our impediments, our sentries, come in other forms, primarily distraction and a lack of awareness. There is a
noticeable ‘buzz’ that comes from a healthy hive and a good meeting, and as with a beekeeper, a visitor can sense it the moment they walk through the door for the first time.