The family, whose first language is Portuguese, arrived in New Zealand from their native Brazil in 2016. They settled in Te Awamutu, where Linden works for Kiwi Bee Comvita.
Thanks to some high school lessons and four years’ working in beekeeping in Hawaii, Vivian, and Linden, as he’s come to be known in New Zealand, had some English skills.
But when they saw a piece in the local newspaper about an evening English Language Group (ELG) in Te Awamutu they jumped at the chance to improve.
English Language Partners runs the ELG for people who want the opportunity for more practical conversation in English.
“Vivian was the first to attend the group, and I started a few months after her as during the beekeeping season – spring and summer – I work long hours,” says Linden.
The couple, like many others in the rural language groups across the Waikato region, have kept on attending.
“We love the classes, we love the teachers. It’s not only about learning English, it’s also about getting to know the local history, the curiosities, and the people from other parts of the world,” says Linden.
The family is now applying for residency on the basis of Linden’s skilled work. As part of the process, Linden and Vivian, who is also fluent in Spanish, needed to pass an English language test. Both have passed, and Linden says the ELG definitely helped them do so.
Linden says that while he and Vivian sometimes still struggle with English and with the Kiwi accent, their daughters Nicolle, 17, and seven-year-old Charllize are completely fluent.
The family enjoys living in Te Awamutu.
“It’s small, but we have everything we want and it’s not far from bigger cities,” says Linden.
“In terms of development, it’s totally different from Puxinana, the small town in the state of Paraiba, northeast of Brazil where I grew up. Big supermarkets, clinics and gas stations are only found in the bigger cities in Brazil.”
“I have an unexplainable connection with New Zealand that has made me feel at home since the beginning.”
“We have relatives and friends and three dogs that we left in Brazil and of course we miss them, but New Zealand is our place. We know a few Brazilians around Waikato, we get together sometimes.”
Linden, who started studying beekeeping in 1997 in Brazil, is responsible for producing the queen bees for Comvita’s Waikato branch.
“It’s a very interesting part of the beekeeping process,” he says. “I need to produce baby queens and catch them once they are adults and deliver them to the guys who produce honey. I used to do the same in Hawaii. It is not difficult but it requires a lot of patience and weekend work too.
“I love what I do because queen rearing gives me the opportunity of seeing the beginning of the bee’s lifecycle. The organisation of a beehive and the way that bees work together shows me that we humans still have a lot to learn.
“Beekeeping in Brazil is totally different from beekeeping in New Zealand as Brazil has Africanised bees that are very aggressive and therefore harder to work with.”
Linden says he talks to the bees in English, and often sings too.
“I do it all the time! They seem to have no problem with my accent,” he says. “I grew up very close to my Grandma and she always used to talk to animals and plants too. She always told me ‘they don’t talk, but they listen to you’.”
“I usually spend my time looking for queens. If I don’t see the queen easily, I’ll say ‘where are you big girl? Are you hiding from me?’ Or, if I have to kill an old queen or a queen with problems, which happens sometimes,
I always say sorry first. And when I’m in a hurry and the queens show up fast, I always say ‘thank you’.”
Linden is one of several beekeepers in his English class. “We always talk a lot about bees in English. Maybe too much.”
Linden continued to work during lockdown, as beekeeping is an essential service.
“But we worry about our relatives in Brazil because the Covid-19 situation there is crazy and people are still thinking it’s not so serious,” he says. “We remind ourselves every day that we are very lucky to be here in this critical time.”
Joan Begg / Photos Lindenberg Gomes