Thursday, September 6, 2007

Wednesday, August 22

We spent the morning in Depa, eating a leisurely breakfast and chatting with the chief. Kate was presented by the women with a truly Ivoirian dress: complete with oil wells and a picture of Gbagbo. We left in late morning and drove south toward Galebre.

After breakfast, the chief came over and sat on our porch. We exchanged pleasantries and he then presented us with a goat as a symbol of the village's appreciation. It accompanied us to our next stop, Galebre.

On the way, we stopped at a rubber plantation. We met a man and his wife working in the forest. They were gathering nuts from the rubber trees. They explained that seedlings are grown from the nuts, they transplant these, then graft a high-yielding variety onto the wild rootstock.

The wife shows us some of the nuts of the rubber tree.
Many cocoa farmers are tearing out their cocoa trees and planting rubber. Because the American and European chocolate industry pays so little for the product (cocoa is cheaper today than it was in the early 80s), the cocoa farmer often gives up in disgust. This is why Project Hope and Fairness is working so hard to let consumers know how much the Ghanaian and Ivoirian cocoa farmers are suffering.

Anyway--back to the rubber story. When a tree is mature, its cambium is slashed to cause bleeding of the latex. It drips into a cast-iron cup which, when full, is emptied of its contents.

The contents set quickly. They are piled on the forest floor and eventually carried out to the road, where they are piled on wooden platforms. The balls of latex smell absolutely disgusting. It is no fun to live downwind of a rubber plant!

The trip to Galebre took only about 90 minutes. We had to stop and ask directions several times, because the road-signs installed by the French decades ago had lost all their printing. We arrived for a late lunch and dined with Dr. Brou, the president of Kedesch, an organization devoted to the education of the children of cocoa farmers and to raising the standard of living of cocoa-farming villages in the Galebre region.

Joanne and I donated $2500 to Kedesch for electrification of a classroom. After lunch, we walked through Galebre and visited the weaving site. Off to the right was a new building under construction. Turns out that Dr. Brou decided to use the money on the building rather than electrification of a classroom. His reasoning was that the electrification of a classroom was inefficient when said classroom was being rented.

Young man weaving a cloth. Children who are too old to go to primary school--between the ages of 15 and 17--participate in the weaving, shoe-making, or sewing programs.

We walked to Dr. Brou’s family land, which includes a small lake, the site of an old quarry formerly used to construct asphalt highways in the region. A very attractive site for the hotel that Dr. Brou is planning.

We enjoyed interviewing women in his compound. Kate was especially taken by old-style pottery which has been replaced by plastic, metal, and enamelware. Imagine how heavy this is even without the water!

We all enjoyed learning about how rice is dried, stored on the stalk in the hot, smoky kitchen, pounded to loosen the hull and bran, and then tossed in the air to winnow the grain. In this picture, the rice is drying.

Once dried, the rice is stacked at the back of the kitchen, the walls of which are black with smoke. Note the cute little stove. In many villages, the stove consists only of three stones, kept outdoors.

Before each meal, the rice is pounded in the mortar to loosen the hulls and the bran. This is very time-consuming, and most of the villages we visited in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire requested a rice hulling machine.

Pounding the grain does a lot of damage--as you can see from the half pieces. Also, note that pounding hulls and polishes: the result is white rice. They call this "Uncle Ben variety" although it is far superior in texture and flavor to the brand by that name.

Below are other images depicting life in Dr. Brou's compound.

This picture shows women processing oil palm fruits. They are first cooked to loosen the outside fruity portion from the inside hard kernel which is saved to make palm kernel oil for frying. European chocolates use up to 5% palm kernel oil, which has a melting point close to that of cocoa butter. Note the pile of fruit pulp. This is boiled with smoked dry fish to produce a sauce typically served with chicken or grasscutter (agouti).

Here's engineering at work! In Tokyo, city law requires all 5-story-plus buildings to cover a certain percentage of their roofs with vegetation. Obviously, this has been done in West Africa for many years. Perhaps we in the United States could learn from the wisdom of the ages.

Plantains. They are roasted and wrapped in newspaper, making an excellent snack when driving. Or, they are boiled and pounded to make Foutou. Or, they are sliced and fried in palm oil to make Aloto. Combined with cowpeas (black-eyed peas) you have the very excellent Ghanaian dish, Red-Red.

Pineapple. In Abidjan, one sees pineapple juice venders on the street. They typically carry a pile of fruit in a wheelbarrow, cut long strands of "skin" off and drape them decoratively on the handles of the barrow. Then they squeeze the interior inside a plastic bag, massaging it into juice and pouring through a funnel into an old water bottle. The result is heart-stoppingly good.

We spent the night at the Hotel de l'Amitié. Our very excellent and quietly efficient driver maneuvered the ancient and decrepit Peugeot over heart-stoppingly deep ruts through the gate and into the courtyard.

The courtyard of the hotel. It's made of dirt, and like any village, it is swept early every day. The rooms are concrete block with concrete floors, there's a single 10 watt light bulb (compact fluorescent) inside, a mattress with sheets but no blanket, a fan, and one wall socket. During the night, the mosquitoes visit, so either cover yourself with the sheet or if it's too hot, cover yourself with repellant.

The hotel toilet, which is flanked by the two "showers". As in a village, you wet yourself with well water from a bucket, you suds yourself up with soap, and then you pour the cold well water over yourself. Don't mind the spiders and moths crawling up the walls of the toilet or the shower. If you're an entomologist, you're in hog's heaven.

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