“If the bees could talk, they would tell us to stop going so fast. Don’t be greedy—you can’t take it with you when you die.”
Throughout his career, California beekeeper Khaled Almaghafi has been inspired by the way honey bees reflect social values like humility, dedication, and perspective—and how humans can learn from them. To Khaled, bees are as much role models as they are labor for the products he sells in his shop.
Khaled runs two bee-centric businesses in Oakland, California: Khaled’s Alive Bee Removal Service and the Bee Healthy Honey Shop. Small business owners have to be resourceful—scrappy, at times—and Khaled fully embraces that approach in all facets—his businesses even have a symbiotic relationship. He rehomes the bees he rescues from people’s’ attics and garages and puts them to work producing honey and beeswax for his retail shop. The arrangement is efficient; Khaled takes care of what others see as an unwelcome nuisance and repurposes them, which also contributes positively to the larger “Save the Bees” sustainability movement.
The Yemeni small business owner said his homeland’s traditions spurred his deep-rooted passion for bees, since beekeeping has been a sacred cultural practice in Yemen for the last 3,000 years. In America, people tend to run from bees—in Yemen, people run toward them, Khaled said, with a goal of claiming the bees as property and producing honey.
“On each corner in the United States, there’s a liquor store. In Yemen, it’s honey shops,” Khaled said.
The Qur’an even has a chapter, titled Surah An-Nahl, which talks about the role of honey bees in peoples’ lives. “[It’s about] how God created that small insect to benefit human beings in all directions,” Khaled said. “In food we eat, in medicine we take. Honey, if it’s pure, kills a lot of germs and cures illnesses.”
He learned how to keep a hive from his father and grandfather, both who were professional beekeepers before conflict with a sheikh tragically led to his father’s murder and confiscation of the family’s land. After seven years of war, the United Nations refers to Yemen in 2022 as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
“One time, the New York Times interviewed the president [Ali Abdullah Saleh]. They asked him how running the country was going. He said, ‘Running Yemen is like dancing with snakes,’” Khaled said. Saleh was killed in 2017 when a military coup rose up against him. “I guess one of the big snakes bit him in the end. That’s how it goes in Yemen.”
At 19, he left his home country for good, in hopes that California would be the beekeepers’ paradise he had heard about. After all, bees are in his blood.
“I used to follow my dad and see what he was doing. Slowly, slowly, I got stung once, twice, three times and it becomes typical. It becomes in the blood after all.”
Learning from the bees
“We could learn a lot from bees,” Khaled said. “You could learn how to be humble, how to be generous, how to deal with one another in society, and how to be a hardworking person. If we just learned a little from them, we would behave much better than we do now.”
Coexisting. Another honey bee life lesson we could benefit from. Khaled said it’s better to be stung by a bee than by another human; he keeps a copy of the Qur’an in his home, which he pulled out to reference its section on the role of bees on Earth. The way his bees work together in harmony to build the hive and produce honey reminds him of his religion’s teachings on community.
“Islam tells you that you have to care about your neighbor before your family members, because your neighbor is very important. You have to treat them well. It doesn’t matter where they come from or what religion they have, what color they are, your neighbor deserves respect like you deserve respect back from them. We grew up that way.”
A religious book separate from the Qur’an, called “The Prophet and His 10 Companions,” talks about the lifestyle of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Khaled interprets the book as instruction for how to live a simple, humble life, in harmony with nature.
“Nowadays, everything is fast. When you get sick, you go to Walgreens. Back in the day, they used to use just honey and herbs and old remedies,” Khaled said. “I think if you live a simpler life, you’ll be happier.”
The lessons from the bees extend beyond their sweetness and into ways of life. They leave nothing to chance—their intelligence and organization ensures that their work is perfect, every time. These are the principles that inspire Khaled to go to work each day.
“Be humble and do your best because the bees are doing their best in life,” Khaled said.
‘With patience, you get what you’re looking for’
Over the last 20 years, Khaled has developed over a hundred hives to produce honey for him across the Bay Area—a feat that was catalyzed by his mentor.
“It was a challenge to find a job when I came to the U.S.,” Khaled said, specifically mentioning his unpleasant experience working at a gas station. “One day, I opened the Yellow Pages, and I searched for beekeepers.”
It was that moment that changed the trajectory of his career: He found Earl Funch, a senior beekeeper who would soon become his friend, mentor, and benefactor—he began working with him, helping to answer the business’s phone calls. Slowly but surely, Khaled began to develop more hives and catch swarms. “He taught me all about live bee removal, and when he quit in his eighties, he asked me if I wanted to take over,” Khaled said.
You’re not going to get rich from what I’m doing. But I do have happiness, and that’s what counts.Khaled Almaghafi
Earl passed his blossoming property and bee vacuum to Khaled upon his retirement, which was a gamechanger in the young business’s establishment. “Slowly, slowly, I open a shop. I’m making a living out of what I like to do: rescuing bees, producing honey, and sometimes renting hives for pollination.” Khaled initially intended to spend just a few months in the United States, then return to Yemen—he has now lived in the United States for 33 years.
“You’re not going to get rich from what I’m doing. But I do have happiness, and that’s what counts,” Khaled said.
Grateful for the profound impact Earl has had on his business, Khaled is determined to pass the good deed on—he teaches small groups of future beekeepers the tricks of the trade at a nearby community farm. Khaled sold one of his students, Zubair, his first hive, kicking off his career in beekeeping. He even accompanied Zubair to his first bee removal for moral support.
“Getting involved with other people and helping them, that brings happiness,” Khaled said.
Support for immigrant entrepreneurs
A recent study published in the American Economic Review found that immigrants are 80% more likely to start a business than native-born Americans and make up 25% of all startup founders. Aimed at helping business owners like Khaled, a number of non-profit organizations and resources exist to support immigrants who wish to start their own business, such as:
The Immigrant Learning Center, located in the Boston suburbs, is a non-profit organization that hosts students each year to teach them English and help them find jobs. Since 1992, the center has taught almost 11,000 immigrants from 122 different countries—it also offers classes specifically for aspiring entrepreneurs.
New York City Small Business Services offers comprehensive guides in a variety of languages to accommodate future business owners. Their guide walks readers through all the steps to launch a business as well as connecting them with the necessary resources to actually move forward—other sections of the website offer customized lists of what matters for your future business and license and permit information.
Navigating the financial side of entrepreneurship can be the toughest. Venturize offers advice around small business loans in partnership with Immigrants Rising—the content covers everything you need to know before you submit your loan application, as well as how to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible.
The Immigrants Rising SEED Fund offers a variety of one-time grants for immigrant California residents that range from $5,000 to $10,000. SEED applicants must either be non-U.S. citizens or green card holders, or have limited English proficiency to qualify.
Interviews by and photos from Yelp Studios
This story was inspired by the short film, For the Bees, produced by Yelp Studios and recently featured in a series of film festivals across the globe.
- September 24-23: Oakland International Film Festival
- September 26-30: New York Human Rights Watch Festival
- October 6-16: Mill Valley Film Festival
- October 6-16: Green Film Fest of San Francisco
- October 19-23: San Diego Film Festival
- October 20-30: United Nations Association Film Festival (UNAFF)
- October 21-30: Montclair Film Festival
- November 25-December 1: London International Short Film Festival
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