Vanishing of the Bees Director and HoneyColony Founder Maryam Henein honors the bee hive. She listens to bees. And they’ve whispered many things to her over the past five years. Like in June 2011, when they made a pass at her in the Dominican Republic. She was escaping the madness of Los Angeles, accompanied by Jan Wellman, HoneyColony’s Co-Founder.
The two were attending a screening of Vanishing of the Bees at the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development’s annual environmental film festival. To unwind, they’d gone down a week early and rented a private condo on the beach in a little town called Don Julio.
“We were being guarded by men with rifles,” Maryam recalls. “I guess you could say HoneyColony was born at gunpoint.” Maryam is joking — the weapons were simply part of the security. “Jan was working on an idea for a new kind of online technology that rewards relevant social influence and I started telling him about how the bees work together with hive mentality and how similar social media is to swarm intelligence.”
In that instant, Jan’s technological brain built for modern business collided with Mayam’s fascination with and deep knowledge of ancient hive logic, and the inspiration for HoneyColony sprang to life.
“We jumped into the ocean while the armed guards looked after our mangos,” Maryam laughs.
But just 10 years earlier, Maryam stood face to face with the staunch reality that she may never run and jump again.
Metal In Her Flesh
At age 29, Maryam was enjoying a career as a budding Los Angeles TV producer and hustling freelance journalist. But on April 25, 2002, at about 6 o’clock pm, just after sipping a chai latte at the illustrious Urth Café in West Hollywood, her life changed forever. As she was negotiating a crosswalk to get to her car, a Ford Explorer slammed into her at 40 miles an hour. The impact forced Maryam onto the hood of the car before she rolled back off its side and onto the pavement. By the time the driver stopped, he’d dragged her 49 feet into the adjacent crosswalk, leaving a trail of skid marks from her denim jeans and jacket.
The accident left Maryam with five broken ribs, a torn rotator cuff, a major hip laceration, a smashed L1 vertebrae, a broken tailbone, a fractured left femur, and a severely bruised spirit. Her leg was immediately outfitted with a 14-inch titanium rod.
A full year after the accident, Maryam’s femur bone was still not healing, a condition known medically as a “non-union.” The solution suggested by a doctor at Cedars-Sinai was to hoist the screw from Maryam’s hip bone higher up to her buttocks.
“I said, ‘hell no. I am not a piece of IKEA furniture.’”
Despite her doctor and chiropractor’s disapproval, Maryam trusted her gut and decided to have the painful second screw above her knee removed. Later, she discovered that screws are often the direct cause of non-unions.
“I know someone who actually lost part of his leg because he blindly believed a doctor. You need to be your own best health advocate. Western medicine excels at surgeries, running test labs, and prescribing drugs, but they do not possess a holistic approach to healing. In my situation, they didn’t even prescribe physical therapy — maybe because I was a Canadian without insurance at the time. And they definitely didn’t take into account the effects the trauma had on my psyche. The treatments were piecemeal.”
After several years of chronic physical pain from the rod and mounting post-traumatic stress disorder, additional ailments piled on: insomnia, depression, severe bloating, and gastrointestinal issues. Western medicine prescribed sleeping meds and psychiatric treatment and suggested she perform an intrusive colonoscopy and endoscopy. Gentler approaches like dietary changes, natural supplements or individualized treatments were never even mentioned.
“At that time, I felt so lost and helpless. At one point I was working as the assistant to the director of Cat Woman, and I was so extremely sleep deprived and in such intense pain that I felt crazy. I wanted to disappear.”
Recently Maryam was diagnosed with markers for the autoimmune disorder lupus and symptoms of fibromyalgia.
“If someone looked at me they would never know I have a disease, like on days like today when every muscle in my body is hurting. Autoimmune conditions are the ‘look good, feel bad’ disease.”
This is indeed true.
The gorgeous brown-skinned beauty looks nothing like that of a disease-ridden woman who just turned 40. You could easily mistake Maryam for being 10 years younger while envying her toned yogi body. It’s hard to believe she was not always a glowing Vitamix beacon of green health. But Maryam confides that long before she knew what spirulina was or that wheat was “evil,” she struggled with her own self-image and was even bulimic for a time.
Her road to a healthy lifestyle was not a birthright — and she has the pictures to prove it. Growing up in an Egyptian household in Montreal, Canada, with a dash of Greek heritage, she ate tzatziki, dolma (vine leaves stuffed with meat and rice), macaroni with béchamel sauce, cow brain, fried calamari, and lots of other rich foods. And at thanks to the era — late ’70s and early ’80s — she also indulged in her fair share of Doritos, Coca Cola, cookies, cereals, and Happy Meals.
Like so many other modern teens, Maryam landed her first job at McDonald’s. At the time, she was convinced that eating a McFish was a healthy choice.
“When I think about that now, it’s like, oh my God, what was I thinking?! But I didn’t know. I haven’t eaten any food like that for at least 15 years.” This goes to show that you can change your course at any moment.
Pain And Perseverance
Perhaps it was Maryam’s journalistic nature that compelled her to search tirelessly for strategies to restore her body’s health and equilibrium after “the accident.” Intuitively, she grasped that the answer to reconstituting her body would not come from an operating table or any other cut-and-dried, one-and-done approach. But giving up was not an option. She became a self-taught nutritional encyclopedia, investigating every avenue of possible relationship between nutrition and disease. Part of her healing involved sharing information with others about health and well-being.
Maryam’s search for answers led to several critically influential turning points. First, she met a naturopath who would turn her life around with a careful elimination diet, targeted supplements, and the advice to listen to her own pain. Second, she made the decision to have the titanium rod removed from her leg. After several years of pain, health crises, and healing — the bees flew in, just as she was ready to embark on a project that made a difference.
Bees For Life
In 2007, when Maryam’s friend George Langworthy — who eventually became the co-director of her award-winning film, Vanishing of the Bees — first told her that bees were disappearing, she didn’t grasp the enormity of the situation. But as a “sister at heart,” she was captivated once she discovered that the bees are a matriarchal society. In a hive of about 50,000, at least 90 percent are female. What’s more, they work together with the greater good of the hive in mind. Maryam also learned that bees are responsible for pollinating a third of our food supply and that a widespread and very troubling phenomenon, known as colony collapse disorder, was causing bees to abandon the brood and the queen, something unlikely to occur on its own in nature.
A few days after Maryam’s first conversation with Langworthy, the bee visitations began, and they continue to this day. Not many of us can claim to have walked through a thick swarm of bees merely hours after learning about their plight. Or tell the tale of their yoga studio being overtaken by thousands of bees just minutes after leaving the building.
In fact, one day during the making of Vanishing of the Bees, Maryam stood at her kitchen sink washing dishes and worrying about where her next dollar would come from. At that exact moment, a single bee flew right up to window in front of her, tapped the pane of glass, and flew away. “It was as though the bees were reassuring me that everything would be OK.”
The bees are the reason Maryam now knows eating four or five servings of vegetables is not enough. “You have to make sure your food is not poisoned with pesticides! The bees really opened my eyes to all the chemicals we are exposed to.”
A Shift In Consciousness
After finally completing Vanishing of the Bees — a five-year saga — Maryam was exhausted but ready for her next project. After the epiphany in the Dominican Republic, Maryam and Jan got to work building what is today known as HoneyColony, an antidote for the indecipherable onslaught of mainstream health information.
“HoneyColony is a call to arms. It fuses my love of bees, journalism, and alternative medicine. Creating a community and sharing information encourages others to become their own best health advocate, a push for us to participate and reap the benefits of community wisdom. The opportunities are endless,” Maryam says enthusiastically.
HoneyColony empowers people by providing access to a concentrated source of organic, user-driven information. Site members lend their voices to determine what works and what doesn’t. It is an amoebic force that continually grows, moves, evolves, learns, and changes based on collaboration and sharing. Ultimately, HoneyColony is aimed at people who know there’s something else out there in terms of a healthy lifestyle but don’t know where to start. It’s a community lifeline, a non-biased source of information members can trust because they help create it.
HoneyColony plans on aligning itself with nonprofits to help foster low-income communities to create social food equity. It’s a big dream, but if the bees have shown Maryam anything it’s that love is spread when everyone is working in alignment for the greater good. There would be no honey without the hive, and so HoneyColony relies on hive members to create the balance so desperately needed in the current climate of mainstream misinformation.
“Food is medicine and healing is for everyone, not just the privileged. Honeybees spend their entire lives being of service, and, if you think about it, all bees do is spread sweetness and life,” Maryam says. “HoneyColony will strive to do the same.”