Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Africa Trip, 2007: Introduction and First Day

This blog is about a trip taken by four individuals: Tom Neuhaus (the 57-year-old narrator of this blog), Stan Thompson (a 70-year-old photographer and writer), Mark Phillips (a 50-year-old engineer), and his wife, Kate Montgomery (a 4th/5th grade school teacher).

The trip began with the above four individuals meeting in Casablanca, Morocco. We spent two weeks, from August 9 through 25, touring the cocoa-growing regions of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire.

This is my fifth time in West Africa, my second trip with others paying to come along. In the past, I have described the trip as motivated by a need to know just how difficult the life of a cocoa farmer is. This time, I came to the realization that even though cocoa farmers have short lives and their children have minimal opportunities at an education and a life away from the village, they have some things we do not have: a true sense of community, a non-linear sense of time, and a peaceful way of life.

Whether you are of the mind that tropical farmers deserve to be treated fairly or whether you see more the innate nobility of their way of life, if you have an open mind and a relatively sound body, you will love coming with us. There is no better experience than waking up in a village, walking from home to home, watching women cook, children play, and men build this or that. And because you are bringing valuable tools in the form of boots, machetes, t-shirts, or bathrooms, the transaction comes out even. They share their way of life with you and you provide them articles that make their lives a little easier and a little more pleasurable.

During the trip, we also interview Fair Trade cooperative officials at Kuapa Kokoo in Kumasi, Ghana and at Kavokiva in Gonate, Côte d'Ivoire and buyers such as Saf-Cacao in San Pedro. At the Saf-Cacao plant's Quality Control Laboratory, we learn how to grade cocoa beans. In Ghana, we visit the port, Takoradi, from which most of Ghana's cocoa is exported and we watch the stevedores run with 141-lb bags of cocoa from the warehouse into the container. The one thing we do not do is find slaves on the cocoa-growing farms. While there have been reliable reports of slavery on some cocoa farms, I personally have never seen them.

This trip is sponsored by Project Hope and Fairness, a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation and Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates, Inc. I am trying to stimulate interest among Americans, Canadians, and Europeans in the life of cocoa farmers. The purpose of this non-profit is not to do charity, which sometimes implies the superiority of the giver. Instead, it is an exploration of ways to to build social, spiritual, and commercial links between consumers and producers. Our long-term goal is to move the cocoa business from its current post-colonial exploitative relationships to the new business model called "social entrepreneurship."

Tom Neuhaus, president of Project Hope and Fairness and of Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates and tour operator. Uncanny ability to find available WCs.

Stan Thompson, photographer and columnist for the Morro Bay Sun Bulletin. Excellent traveler and superb wit.

Mark Phillips, Engineer Extraordinaire, Dancer Extraordinaire, and SLO peace activist.

Kate, elementary school teacher and a valuable link to children and to women of the villages, who swarmed her every time Kate emerged from the car.

Peter Joy Sewornoo, our Ghanaian guide who found the villages, talked to the chiefs, and made all the transportation of sleeping arrangements. Peter has been accepted at a Swiss institute to earn his Master's Degree in economics.

Padmore Cobbina, the youngest member, who provided rap and levity at judicious moments. Padmore will be studying air conditioning and refrigeration this fall. We all agree that this is particularly congruent with his cool personality.

Evariste Plegnon, Tom's "Frere Ivoirien" since August, 2004. Miracle worker: deliverer of scales, builder of WCs, and shrewd "politicien."
Favorite phrase, "Je ne suis pas un politicien!"

Ray, Le Croc.

To commemorate fast food, we quote...

"How Doth the Little Crocodile" by Lewis Carroll

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail
And pour the waters of the Nile
On ev'ry golden scale
How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws...
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws.

Cheers. And enjoy reading the blog of the Second Annual Project Hope and Fairness Trip to Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire.

The success of this trip made possible by:

Joanne Currie--monetary donation to Kedesch to build classrooms
Members of the following churches, who bought t-shirts and chocolates, raising $2300 for machettes and boots
Mount Carmel Lutheran Church, San Luis Obispo, CA
Mission Catholic Church, San Luis Obispo, CA
Trinity Lutheran Curch, Vermillion, South Dakota
Farmer's Market, San Luis Obispo
Stan, Mark, and Kate, who each contributed $1,000, making possible the beautiful WCs of Zereguhe and Depa

Friday, August 10

We arrived in Accra around 4:00 AM. It took a while to get through customs. Peter and the hotel chauffeur were waiting for us outside. I paid $40 to the porters and $10 to the driver from Mensvic. I also paid $10 to the woman at the front desk. We arrived at 5:30 AM. Peter met the man with the rental car and I went to meet them at 7 AM.

I slept until 9 AM and met the others at breakfast, which I was in no shape to eat. We decided that we would all go downtown to purchase the boots and cutlasses (machetes).

We drove to Tudu area close to the MTTU (Motor Traffic Unit) and to Novotel and purchased 180 cutlasses and 82 boots (Wellington boots.) We paid $600 for the cutlasses and $600 for the boots, approximately. It took hours to get this done--perhaps until 1 PM. Owners of stores were both Lebanese and were very nice and efficient.

Tom purchasing rubber boots (called Wellingtons because Ghana was a British colony.)

The boxes of boots were quite voluminous; fortunately we had a roof-rack. Peter and I walked through an outdoor market, looking for the appropriate material. We found a large net designed to hold vegetables and made out of nylon. We also purchased some nylon twine. We paid someone $10 to help us find these items, which cost only about $5. We jammed the boots and machetes into the interior and drove back to the hotel.

We arrived back at the hotel at around 2 PM and the hotel doorman worked with Mark to attach the boxes of boots to the top of the car.

We left Accra and drove slowly through heavy traffic toward Cape Coast. We arrived at around 6 PM, ordered dinner in the restaurant next to the castle, then took a half hour to walk on the beach. We then ate dinner, my meal arriving a full 30 minutes after everyone else had gotten theirs. We had dinner with Abdullah.

We then set out for Jukwa, arriving around 9:30 PM. People were still waiting for us, amazingly enough. We had a short ceremony, agreeing to come back the next morning to disperse boots and cutlasses.

We drove further north and turned off the blacktop onto a rutted dirt road. This was fine until we came to a large lumber truck blocking our way. We drove with the left wheels in the forest, then turned back onto the road and negotiated somewhat challenging dips until we came to the village--a total of perhaps 2 km. It was 10:30 PM and the village was completely black. However, Peter was able to find a few persons who were awake and, within 10 minutes, we were surrounded by people. We hung around the porch of a small house that we were supposed to sleep in. Our hosts lined the floor with plastic sheets covered with cotton sheets.

Meanwhile, quite a lot of hullaballoo was happening on the porch. Some people brought this kerosene lamp for light. Lots of people came and sat on the porch with us.

Kate had already gathered children about her and was enjoying their company. Here are some children who were very excited to meet a white woman!

After about a half hour--near 11 PM--a bonfire was started with ends of bamboo, and the village crier went around with the "Gong-Gong", waking people up with a brass gong and a stick.

The bonfire was very bright, and dozens of people began a singing and dancing and drumming session that lasted until 2 AM.

Around 1 AM, being extremely tired, Peter and I took a shower at the well (borehole) in the dark and I went to bed. Kate and Mark continued dancing but were quite tired the next day. We all slept in the same room on a "concrete" floor with thin sheets covering it. I slept badly from about 1 AM until 5 AM when the roosters began to crow and the women were out sweeping the dirt.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Saturday, August 11

We spent the morning hanging around MManiaye. Peter went in the chapel and sorted t-shirts. I walked around and took a few pictures.

I went to the village Mens Room. This consisted of a 20 foot long pit with a roof over it. Along one side were corn cobs and shreds of paper. Use your imagination for what they're for, but suffice it to say, spent corn cobs were used in 19th century America for the same purpose. It's hard for a soft 57 year old to squat. It's also challenging to miss the chickens poking around underneath. What is the appropriate greeting when others join you? I just said "hello!"

This girl is selling smoked, dried fish. It is used to flavor sauces based on palm oil, onion, chilies, tomatoes, or any combination thereof. A nutritionist would also appreciate that smoked, dried fish represents a valuable source of essential amino acids and a food scientist would appreciate how this method of preservation allows one to enrich the diet without resorting to refrigeration.

Oil palm fruits are removed from oil palm trees in these clumps.

They are then teased out of the clumps. Note the palm kernels lying around on the ground behind her. They will eventually be gathered up and taken to the processor, perhaps a grinding machine in a nearby village. A couple guinea fowl are eating scraps by her feet, and a broom lies at the ready behind her.

Oil palm fruits are processed by boiling the fruit, rubbing of the fibrous exterior, and cooking this in water to extract flavors, carbohydrates, and palm oil. A picture of women in the process of extracting the oil can be seen later in this blog (Wednesday, August 22--scroll down 2/3 of the way).

A basket of oil palm fruit. Sometimes, you'll see dump-trucks piled high. In western Côte d'Ivoire, oil palms extend for dozens of miles in every direction--the foundation of the European margarine, chocolate, and soap industries

When you walk through a village, assuming there hasn't been an assembly called, you will find people doing a wide variety of things. This young man is sewing shingles. They are dried and then stacked and stored until a house is being built or repaired.

Gari is an important staple. Made from shredded cassava or manioc roots that have been fermented until sour, it is packed into jute bags and then pressed to extract moisture. Bags of fermented shredded cassava are pressed between logs that are fastened together at one end, and then tied together at the other--like a nutcracker. Juices flow out onto the ground and the little streams of sour-smelling gari juice are green from the growth of blue-green algae.

Off to another side is a long trail a fierce, biting ants. The rooster doesn't seem to be interested.

Afterwards, it is shredded. This is a gari shredder in the neighboring village, Adiyaw. The man is clipping the heads off of large brads, then pounding them into a cylindrical block of wood.

The machine is actually a gasoline-powered lawnmower engine, attached via rubber belt to a whirring cylinder set at the bottom of a wooden box. Fermented cassava is introduced at the top and a powder falls out at the bottom.

The powdered pressed gari is then dried in large, flat pans over wood fires. The large pot in this picture holds something else. But this is a gari-drying shed. They set the flat pan over the fire and seal it to the stove with wet mud, thereby increasing the heating efficiency.

This woman is transplanting plantain cuttings which she will transplant. Plantain is made into fufu, roasted whole, or fried in bright orange palm oil.

We walked to a small cocoa grove and were given a lesson in proper pruning techniques and how to cut pods off the trees.

The block spots on the pods which aren't quite ripe (they turn yellow when ripe) are caused by myrids, a small fly that lives on the undersides of leaves. The common way to control myrids is by using a chemical spray. Every 1 of the 10 villages we visited asked for gasoline-powered sprayers. The organic control takes more time: trim overhanging branches and destroy myrid nests.

This pod is ripe. Note that it tapers and has a pointy end--meaning that it has a little more Criollo blood than pods that are more round.

On the way back, Stan took a picture of this bird cage on someone's porch. It's made from the pithy center of a plant they call "bamboo", although it's plain to see that it is not at all a bamboo, which has a hollow center and a segmentation.

And he also took this picture of a young man stucco'ing the outside of someone's house. You can tell that ciment powder is expensive--looks like he's using very little, if any.

Sweeping the dirt. Every morning, women take these brooms made of the central spine of a palm frond dried and bound and sweep up the detritus of the previous day.

This man decided to get us some coconuts. I was out of water, actually, so fresh green coconut juice really hit the spot! Here he is, climbing the tree...

Here he is getting ready to cut some coconuts to bring down.

Mark and I enjoy fresh coconut juice. There's about 12 oz of very healthy juice on the inside and about a quarter inch of gelatinous coconut meat that you scrape off with a spoon fashioned from a piece of coconut shell. Fabulous!

These are other pictures that Stan took of Mmaniaye villagers...

Mother and her two children...

Beautiful woman.

New father.

After a few hours of hanging around and taking photos, we finally had the gift-giving ceremony. Members of the village sat or stood under the canopy or ramada. Someone brought the chief's stool, and he is about to sit down on it. Every chief has a different stool.

The rhythm section, composed of young men playing old plastic jugs, supplied a beat to which people sang and danced. It was terrific to listen to.

The chief and I cross machetes.

After the exchange of gifts, Peter and I Peter started by talking about our mission and invited cocoa farmers to discuss what their problems were and how we might help in the future. As with all subsequent villages, they were open to future visits, and welcoming any stranger who would like to learn more about their ways of life.

We finished with the scarf dance. This includes more rhythm and music, and women dance in with the cloths they wrap on their heads and deposit these cloths in a tower. They then dance in, in reverse order, and pick their respective scarves up with their teeth and dance back out. This is all greeted with much hilarity.

We left Mmaniaye to a rousing send-off and drove back down the road toward Cape Coast until we reached the substantial and prosperous village, Jukwah. Many people had been waiting there for us, and of course we felt very apologetic. We had a nice ceremony, exchanging comments about how difficult the cocoa business is, etc. The two men in the picture are the first two people Peter and I contacted last year when we planned the 5-village tour. Ironically, Jukwah is the most prosperous of the 5 villages; the houses are made of concrete block.

We also visited the old chief of Jukwa.

We drove back toward the turn-off to Mmaniaye in order to meet the welcoming committee at Adiyaw, our third village to visit in one day! On seeing our car arrive, the rhythm section rapidly assembled. Here they are, hitting various lengths of bamboo on stones. The sound was quite nice.

These young men had fun making eyeglasses--one from bamboo and the other from a cut up can.

Men and women joined in dancing.

Much hilarity ensued.

Following the music, we had our donations celebrations. Here I am donating several dozen Project Hope and Fairness t-shirts to the village chief.

Stan plays with the camera and makes faces while the children watch.

Adiyaw has a large gari-drying shed. In Mmanaiaye, they used circular drying pans. Note that this one has three circular and one large rectangular pan.

We left Adiyaw and drove to Elmina to meet Padmore, an old friend. He was originally planning to join us on the first day of the trip, but he came down with malaria--thanks to the festering lagoon right next to where he lives. So, it took a couple days of medication before the fever subsided and he was strong enough. We met him by the side of the road and I gave him a digital camera and some money to take the bus to Takoradi the next day so he could join the rest of our trip.

We drove back to Cape Coast, unloaded a lot of vegetables that we had been given by the villages, then did errands--bank, Internet. We spent some time shopping in the castle gift shop and walking around the grounds.

Stan is standing on the ramparts, from which slaves were tossed when they got sick and obviously couldn't make the voyage to the new world.

This is the dungeon in which over a thousand men were kept. Directly over this room was the Anglican church. White men could speak personally to their God sitting smugly 20 feet over the heads of poor pagans who had not yet been saved. The "staff" of the slave castles often had African wives; the town around the castle has many European homes built to house these wives and their children. When their tour of duty was over, they returned to England, leaving behind a town of children named Smith, Jones, etc.

We drove north from Cape Coast about 10 Km and ate at the Crocodile restaurant, a popular tourist spot run by a family that had lived in Germany at one time. The restaurant was really an inn, and included small buildings that projected over a pond filled with crocodiles.

After dinner, we drove north and turned off the road within 2 Km of the Kakum Reserve. After several Km of very challenging and rutted dirt road, we arrived in Ebekawopa--after all the lights had been turned off--about 10:30 PM. Peter knocked on a few doors, and gradually more and more people started to show up. Before long, people had put down mats and sheets in the church. We each set up camp there. Stan slept next to the altar; perhaps he was feeling insecure. I took an African shower (bucket of cold water poure over head) on the lawn; it was dark, so no one could see my nakedness.

I slept especially well this night because instead of concrete floor with a 1/16 inch thick mat plus sheet, I had an inch thick piece of foam under me.

Stan slept next to the altar--for good luck? Or to stay far away from someone who was snoring?