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

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