Saturday, September 8, 2007

Sunday, August 12

The following morning, we woke up to a bustling Ebekawopa. Roosters crowing, women sweeping the dirt into little piles of detritus dropped the previous day, children happily playing. We had been told that the ceremony would begin around 9 AM because some members of the village had to attend a funeral one village over.

One of the cocoa farmers took us on a tour of his property, which was extensive. We discussed the need for sprayers, the ever-present yield-sucking myrids, and other tactics for controlling their damage. The pods on this tree are red, long, and pointy--a sign that they contain some Criollo blood. Most West African cocoa is predominantly of the Forastero variety.

Here's a picture of the farmer, who is the son of the Cape Coast area chief, showing us a pile of ripe cocoa pods. In his left hand, he is holding the pod of a hybrid tree. Note how much larger it is. Hybrid cocoa also yields sooner--often in its fourth year of life.

As we walked through his farm, we came to a low spot where was situated a little shack occupied by a ruddy old man tending a primitive still.

He was feeding a wood fire, and a copper tube extended from the still through an organic pond. He happily showed us the first drops that were coming off the still and falling into the dirty yellow bucket. We happily shared tastes of palm wine and Koutoukou or Schnapps, our pre-breakfast apéritif.

After an hour of this, we returned to the village, where the cermonies had begun. This included young girls daubed with kaolin clay, alternating between line-dancing and breaking out into individual dances.

We ate breakfast while the bamboo percussion orchestra warmed up and the young girls danced. Our breakfast consisted of red-red: aloto or plantain fried in palm oil, cowpeas into which one stirred onions browned in palm oil (absolutely scrumptious!), fufu, and chicken stewed in hot pepper.

Accompanying the dancers was this rhythm section that consisted of old plastic jugs serving as drums as well as lengths of bamboo jammed onto rocks to produce their own percussive sounds. The plastic jugs are not seen in the photo.

Many adults also joined in the dancing. We joined in the dancing, and Mark, as usual, received rave reviews for his abilities to move with the music. I, in contrast, inspired mirth as I stomped my feet quite ungracefully to the music.

After the dancing and music, we presented the machetes, boots, t-shirts- and chocolate to the village. The man receiving on behalf of the village is the Lutheran minister.

The rest of the morning was spent walking around. Each of us walked around the village taking his own pictures or interacting in his own way.

These women were preparing fritters. You can see the wheat flour in the large bowl, ready to be made into fritter batter. The fat woman (obesity probably related to the huge goiter in her neck) is stirring the fritters as they fry. Oil for frying is usually palm kernel oil, which is clear and colorless. Palm oil is bright orange. Goiters used to be common in the U.S., but thanks to our current health-care system, such problems are now uncommon. West African villagers, who make less than $200 each per year, cannot afford trips to the doctor. They rely heavily on native medicine.

In the kitchen next to the church where we slept, people were preparing fufu, made by boiling cassava or manioc, then pounding it in a large mortar with a pestle. You can see mortars and pestles for sale along the road in some villages. Fufu is very gluey and takes on the flavor of the sauce it sits. Most Americans, accustomed to potatoes, do not like fufu, complaining that it is too gluey and heavy--worse than overcooked oatmeal.

Stan took this picture of cocoa drying--right at the beginning, when the beans have been transported from the farm in a plastic bag and spread out to dry on this bamboo mat. If it starts to rain, then simply roll the mat up.

This is a pantry--a raised box with roof surrounded by wire mesh. It allows free exchange of air, so things don't mold and it keeps chickens and other varmints out. I never saw a lock on one, so the varmints are not Homo sapiens.

Two sisters enjoying a plate of cowpeas for Sunday breakfast. This picture illustrates a miracle of West African village life: living on dirt while wearing very clean clothes. How do they do it? After 5 years of visiting villages, I still do not have a good grasp. Laundry is done in large, plastic tubs. The Dutch company, xxx, has a large share of the detergent market.


As our stay at Ebekawopa drew to an end, Kate got to play African mom.


It was time to leave Ebekawopa; we did so amid much celebration and proceeded north to just 2 Km before the national park. We turned off onto another dirt road, which became quite rutted. Four-wheel drive wasn’t even enough; the ruts were quite deep. I made the mistake of letting my right wheels off the rutted road, thinking that I would get more friction on the grass. The edges turned out to be quite soft and my vehicle sank on the right and the sides of the car wedged against the sides of the embankment. Switching into the various forms of 4 wheel drive did not help, and the tires began to smoke as they spun uselessly against the gravel and dirt.

It was hot and muggy, no time to do physical labor. We tried various combinations of rocks under the tires. To no avail. Then several of us found some lengths of bamboo, which we wedged under the back tires. I backed the car down the road and with a combination of wheel turning and jerking, managed to get all four wheels back on the heavily rutted surface.

Now much smarter about maneuvering heavily rutted roads (i.e., don’t think the shoulder is better just because it’s smooth), we proceeded down the road. After another couple of kilometers, we arrived at Gyaware, which means “Too far to come to marry you.”.

After some pleasantries, we left on a walk toward the Kakum reserve, walking about a km to an area often visited by elephants. Most of the plants had been trampled. We were told that elephants came out of the reserve to feast on the goodies, despite a wire strung in their path and despite all effortts at noise-making. “When an elephant is hungry, no noise will deter it.” we were told. This problem might be perfect for some young student engineer: how to outsmart an elephant with a high-tech machine run on solar energy?

The boundary between the fields and the reserv; the sheer thickness of the forest was astouncing--although there were clear tunnels where elephants had pushed through the undergrowth, destroying all in their paths.

In this picture, shock is written on our faces. It's not that we spotted an elephant. We're just gawking at the damage a single elephant can do as it lumbers (more accurately, barrels) through the forest, crushing so much vegetation.

We returned to Gyaware and had our customary ceremonies, including dances and music.

The usual donation of 40 machetes, 20 t-shirts, and a dozen boots being received by the chief, who is a very talented mimic of elephant calls. He had regaled us earlier while we were tromping around in the bush, with his sophisticated and complex repertoire of elephant noises.

Stan took this picture of a fetching young woman in another gorgeous African dress.

Another one of Stan's gems.

Afterwards, we returned to the main road, picked up Padmore, a young student whose education I have funded for several years, and drove 1 hour to Takoradi, where we checked into the Naakoff Chinese Hotel and dined at a restaurant that specialized in Ghanaian food.

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