Only The Paranoid Survive

Photo by French photographers Laurent Renaud and Dominique Haution while on safari in the Masai Mara National reserve, Kenya. Courtesy of
Photo by French photographers Laurent Renaud and Dominique Haution while on safari in the Masai Mara National reserve, Kenya. Courtesy of

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis once said,  Paranoia is never entirely mistaken. I can back the man up on that.

I generally display a composed manner even where heckling is approved. But that calm demeanour is blown smithereens the moment I hear the distinct buzz of a bee. The change of reaction surprises people. Bees scare the daylights out of me. A single bee drifting towards my coffee mug is bound to set off all my panic buttons. In female company, the panic attack is heightened because at the back of my mind is the inevitable and sheer embarrassment of getting stung again.Once in the company of an attractive young lady at a business meeting, a bee hovered in front of my face as if taking aim. I lost track of conversation and was preoccupied with how to get away from the source of threat without breaking into a run. The lady noticed my obvious discomfort and said reassuringly, “It is only a bee”. She wouldn’t understand.

I can produce a detailed history of unprovoked attack from bees. I have gotten stung so many times, I reasoned that this level of profiling can only be penance for sins committed in a past life. I have even been stung while getting interviewed live on a national talk show. The venue was a tropical garden. On this one sunny day, a bee decided to crawl up my leg and stung me just when I was getting into my groove. I took the sting like a man and did not utter a word. The host was impressed when I told him about it afterwards and he promptly roasted me on air the following week. My friends told me later that I looked like a man suffering from a constipation throughout the remainder of the interview.

In another incident, during an important fundraiser at an in-laws, a bee landed on the edge of my cup of water, placed on the ground, next to my seat. When I reached under the seat to take a gulp, I got stung on my upper lip. Of all the cups in a gathering of about 50 people, I became the chosen one. The commotion that followed was ugly. I cursed in front of little children. I spilled water over an elderly man, lost my sense of bearing for a few seconds as I stumbled through chairs trying to suppress the excoriating pain of the sting. People panicked, some started running and if it was not for a calm uncle, I would have set off a stampede.

These incidents were only preparing me for the real test. A work colleague had a turned her guest wing into a private office where we spent long hours editing content for documentaries on weekends. On this particular day, I heard bees buzzing on her roof and raised my concerns. She explained that bees had set up a colony in her ceiling but an ‘expert’ was coming to sort it out. Her casualness was remarkable. How could she be so calm with danger lurking above.

I should have listened to my instincts but instead I listened to my ego. I did not want appear overly paranoid. An hour in, I heard footsteps on the roof and a familiar sense of uneasiness set in. ” Maybe we should step out and let the man on the roof finish his task”.  I was dismissed with a wave of hand. “He is an expert. All the way from ICIPE.” ( International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology). I started to panic and true enough, moments later, an entire hive fell right through the ceiling into the room. There was no time to think. In a surge of adrenaline that propelled my flight response, I threw my jacket over the lady and rushed her out of the door through a hailstorm of bees. Not a single bee stung her. I got hit 9 times! and lived to tell the story.

My paranoia around bees is informed by past trauma. I stopped denying that I suffer from an irrational fear of bees. The condition is known as apiphobia. I recently became a beekeeper in an attempt to confront my fear but it will a long time before I can learn to stay calm around a honey bee.

Keen observers will notice that terrorism is planting similar seeds of paranoia. We have an urban population of young people showing symptoms of paranoia and every loud explosion as witnessed during the Nairobi, Kikuyu campus stampede, triggers the worst of fears.



Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan writer, curator and editor. This blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan and African life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.


  1. Martin Wahogo

    hahahahaha! Pala, chivalry over self preservation is the cause of your apiphobia enhancement

  2. Emma Gichuhi

    I hear you on this bees thing. Reminds me of a friend who used to ‘attract’ mentally unstable people. On several occasion has been kicked in the butt by them. One appeared out of the blues and kicked her. She once was kissed by one and she was mortified. I as a result have a mad fear of these people. What pray is the name of my phobia?

  3. dennis kabutei

    hehehe… when the flower blossoms, the bee will come. Perhaps that explains why you were the chosen one.

    • That chosen flower that bees spot a mile off. I hear you. I don’t mind the pollination. I just wish they wouldn’t leave their stings behind.

  4. You just have to befriend the bees, such buzz you have in the presence of bees gets you stung. You could start by calling them pet names such as honey.

    • That is like telling a guy who survived a lion attack, to start calling the lion, “puss, puss!”

  5. One thing that facinates me about you is your ability to use humor and real life fun stories to drive the main point home. i always read your articles with smiles expecting real serious stuff down there.
    Anyways, I have also had a good share of bee stings, but haven’t developed apiphobia. I have a phobia for corrupt people and those with a cooking fat problem. what do they call that?

    • Cooking fat problem? That is a new one. I do also have that allergy for the thieving kind. Thanks for the kind words.

  6. That part with the in-laws, you clearly oversold your presence…

Leave a comment

Please be polite. We appreciate that. Your email address will not be published and required fields are marked

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.