This year's trip consisted of two, one-week trips, the first to Ghana, and the second to Cote d'Ivoire. We accomplished the following:
1. We built a solar drier in the village of Ebekawopa.
2. We distributed 200 pairs of boots to 5 villages in Ghana.
3. We distributed 200 pairs of boots to 5 villages in Cote d'Ivoire.
4. We distributed 100 SuperGrain bags
5. We donated two dryness meters
6. We donated 1 scale
7. We discussed a new system for increasing cocoa farmer profitability
This year's trip consisted of the following actors:
Tom, trip leader, and president of Project Hope and Fairness and Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates, Inc.
Skyline Lau, student in Accounting and International Finance at California State Polytechnic University.
Peter Joy Sewornoo, Ghana representative of PH&F and master's degree candidate in trade law at a school in Bern, Switzerland.
Padmore, friend of Peter and Tom, who is finishing his training in refrigeration and air conditioning engineering.
Alex, driver in Ghana, who has worked for 12 years, driving and entertaining visiting British dignitaries.
Evariste , Ivory Coast representative of PH&F, responsible for planning details of Ivorian visit.
Maury, Ivorian driver and over-all super-conscious employee who washes the car's motor before he eats his own breakfast.
This year's trip was made possible by the following donations...
- $4,000 raised by Amy Cheng of Seattle, Washington, to pay for the 400 boots donated to 10 villages.
- $2,500 donated by Joanne Currie to offset general expenses
- $1,000 contributed by Don Maruska to offset the cost of the scale donated to Dawayo-Chantier
- $1,000 contributed by Skyline Lau to partially pay for a bathroom in Pezoan
- $500 by Ernie Roide to help pay for 1 dryness meter
- TMTTA (too much to talk about) spent by Tom Neuhaus to pick up the slack
Sunday, August 17
We passed children in one hamlet who were playing with their "pet" snake.
We spent a few hours at this small resort (Till's Hotel) on the ocean, popular with European tourists, one of whom was parasurfing.
Although we were told to just wait until the baggage service called us, I decided to phone at 11:30 PM, as they had not called and the bag should have arrived at 6:30 PM. Good thing. They would have closed at midnight and we would have had to seek out the bag in the morning, cutting further into our schedule. We made the right decision, as the bag was there. Never believe everything people tell you. God helps those who help themselves.
Monday, August 18
We left for Cape Coast at 11 AM, the back of the 4X4 loaded with boots, and the top rack filled with our luggage and still more boxes of boots.
We arrived in Cape Coast at about 3 PM, then toured the slave castle, and ate right on the beach in the usual place. I had boiled plantain, vegetables, and chicken. Some of the best roast chicken ever! So flavorful compared to what we get in the U.S., organic or non. The vegetables were cooked in palm oil. Very delicious. And we had a bar of Ghanaian chocolate for dessert.
We headed to Mmaniaye, our first village in the early evening. A village of maybe 100, it has one well, no running water, and no electricity.
The children of Mmaniaye greet us. Skyline is an instant hit, as she is quite exotic to look at, and she has a very pleasant demeanor with the children, despite the onrush of hands poking and prodding her.
After our arrival, we celebrated with a large bonfire, music, and dance.
The next morning, I took this picture of three men getting ready to spray cocoa trees. The government of Ghana provides assistance to cocoa farmers in order to keep their orchards healthy. Cocoa is especially vulnerable to myrids, an insect, and black pod.
Padmore takes a shower.
Processing palm kernels into oil used for deep-fat frying.
Women preparing the palaver sauce for our lunch. It is made of greens minced by pushing them with one's palm against the cutting edge of a cutlass or machete.
Skyline befriends Soledad, who is 16 years old and whom we met last year.
Young man wears last year's t-shirt.
PH&F donates 40 pairs of boots to Mmaniaye.
Ebekawopa means "It will affect your waist", meaning that the village is so far away from anything that going there causes you to lose weight.
We slept on the concrete floor of the church. I slept soundly and snored loudly, disturbing the sleep of my companions. In the morning, we started with the usual Ghanaian breakfast--boiled yams (African yams which are 2 feet long, 4 inches in diameter, and quite starchy), boiled plantains, vegetable stew complete with hunks of salt fish swimming under the usual sheen of bright orange palm oil. The flavors are as usual marvelous, although the vitamin A-rich palm oil tests the mettle of your gall bladder.
This was to be the day I was going to build a solar cocoa beans dryer. The Lutheran Pastor, Samson, had arranged a meeting with the carpenter. The carpenter had arrived at 6 AM, but I had to do my bathroom routine. But first, a trip to the toilet. This consisted of walking about 400 feet down a path, past the palm oil "factory", past a cocoa grove, past several houses, to the school, through the classroom with its mud floor, behind the school, through the weedy schoolyard, to a mud and palm structure whose interior consisted of large planks over a 5 foot deep trench. You removed your bottom clothing (in full view of anyone curious enough to look out the back of a classroom), squatted over the trench. No running water to wash your hands. Oh well, that's why you use your left hand and eat with your right.
Following the bathroom routine, I met with the carpenter. I showed him a structure (a pantry) on which to base the design.
While the carpenters labored, we participated in the donations ceremony. I was presented with a chiefly shirt and named "Chief of Development", to be "enstooled" next year. This pictures shows us donating the 400 boots to the village.
All day, the carpenter and his assistant worked. First, they had to get nails. They rode their bikes down the 3 mile long road complete with the muddy "cliff" back to their village and found a bag of formerly used nails and screws, quite rusty. They also brought several rough hewn planks of tropical wood (local product :=)). They spent the day sawing those planks BY HAND and planing them with two hand planers. Just like the old shipbuilders.
Two planks brought in by bicycle
The carpenter's sawing technique.
By the end of the ceremony, at about 1 PM, this is how far the carpenters had progressed.
The carpenters made these frames and we covered them with screen so the cocoa beans would dry from both sides.
By the end of the day, we had the structure, which is 32 X 32 inches (they use inches because they have an American tape measure) and about 5 feet high. The top and sides are covered with plastic, there's a door on the front, 5 trays that slide in and out, each made with a frame covered with plastic screen. I inserted the solar powered fan and whoosh off it went.
We anchored the machine next to the "main street", a path and filled it with cocoa beans. Samson will email me periodically to let me know how the machine works. I think it will work well. The sun heats up the plastic covered chamber, causing the air to gain capacity to hold moisture. The fan sucks the warm, moist air out and sucks cool, dry air through the 5 trays. At night, the dryer works more slowly as convection occurs naturally.
Thursday, August 21
The following morning, we set up the machine. Sampson, the Lutheran minister, is loading cocoa beans into the machine.
A close-up of the beans on their trays and the solar-powered fan.
Padmore Cobbina reflects about how one could set up a business distributing the hardware to make these driers possible.
We left about 10:30 AM and drove to Gyaware, which means "Too Far to Come MArry You". We were 2 days late, so only a few farmers were there. I did my usual dog and pony show and Peter translated into Fante, the local language, which is quite beautiful.
Donating the boots.
I also gave my customary talk about the dryness meter and the grain storage bags. With every talk, I give the village 5 SuperGrain bags. We are postulating that if the cocoa farmer knows the dryness of his beans as well as the true weight, he is able to deal from a position of strength and knowledge rather than weakness and ignorance. Here is a summary of what we discuss:
1. The dryness meter, which costs $550 in the U.S. and $1,000 in Ghana, is useful for ensuring that the cocoa beans are truly 7% humidity before they are stored in the bags. This prevents molding.
2. The dryness meter will allow the village to dry commodities to moisture levels just under what the middleman/buyer wants. That way, the farmer/village earns more money, because they are selling more water--clear profit.
3. The grain storage bags are useful for cocoa, rice, corn, cowpeas, soybeans, dried coconut, and any other dried commodity. They set up a high CO2 atmosphere which kills all animal life, meaning that the commodity can be stored indefinitely or until the farmer or village decides to sell.
We finished the morning visiting Jukwa, donating boots and discussing our new system. Picture is of donating 5 SuperGrain bags.
Afterwards, we headed north to Kakum National Park. This is a 300 square kilometer preserve of virgin forest. Its most famous feature is the canopy walk, which we did. This was my first time, and less courage is required to complete the trek 110 feet above the forest floor.
We spent the rest of the day driving north to Kumasi, where we stayed in the Treasure Island hotel. The rates are very inexpensive, the plumbing works, and there are two internet-connected computers in the lobby. Handy.
We started Friday by driving to Lake Bosumtwi, a 10-mile-wide meteor impact crater. BTW, a meteor is the rock while it is still in space. A meteorite is the mineral that results after the meteor has contacted terra. So, it is not correct to say "meteorite impact crater."
Lake Bosumtwi is a tourist favorite. It is quite beautiful, and there's a splendid mythological tale connected with it. Do not believe the tale that people at the edge of the lake tell you about why it's shrinking. They want your money. They claim it's to plant trees to minimize evaporation. It's all a scam.
There is a lovely hotel that costs only $45 per night right on the lake. The grounds are very nice. You can rent a log to float out on the lake. Kids fish for tilapia and move their logs through the water by using their flipflops as oars.
We arrived in Accra around 8 PM and had dinner with a friend at the American Embassy. He is connecting me with potential donors and perhaps next summer he will invite me to present my work at the embassy.
Saturday, August 23
Today, Skyline and I flew to Abidjan. We arrived at 3:30 PM. Evariste and driver, Maury, met us at the airport. We immediately set out for Gagnoa, as the drive would take about 5 hours. We arrived at 11 PM, only 1 hour from our destination of Galebre.
We had a bit of a problem finding the road because once the sun sets, it's hard to find people to ask: Every time roads split or cross, there is no sign to tell you the way: Also; the police and military are out in force bleeding the poor people dry while letting the wealthy zoom past in their fancy 4X4s, smug in the plush comfort of their vehicles, their heavy gold jewelry and airs of superiority: Every time we got stopped, we had to pay. Driver's license no good and will have to forfeit. $20 gets it back. Last night was the culmination. on the way back into Abidjan, they were playing their usual nasty tricks. Open the trunk. Want to search your luggage. "T-shirts? Oh, I want one. Why are you so selfish and horde them only for the farmers?"
I give out one. Suddenly; the car is surrounded with thieving military. So I stood up and yelled, "I didn't come thousands of miles to help cocoa farmers only to have the military pilfer my suitcases!" They stopped theiving and we drove away. I felt good; like drinking Turkish coffee: What a buzz.
The schoolhouse with its new roof.
The elders from Dawayo-Chantier and from 3 other villages were waiting for us. We quickly assembled in one of the classrooms of the new school. Dr. Brou gave a talk about the importance of making this experiment work. He introduced me and Toty. I (through PH&F) donated the tools and thought up the system, and Toty will implement it by visiting the village every month and by recording all financial transactions so that we can gather data documenting how knowing the weight and the dryness of cocoa beans empowers villages to earn more money and ultimately to lift the cocoa farmer out of poverty.
Dr. Brou and I discussing the plastic bags that will allow farmers to store their beans as long as they wish.
Evariste Plegnon and Skyline. Evariste has been working with me since we met in 2004.
Cocoa beans drying the natural way--under the sun.
Children of Dawayo-Chantier.
The new weighing scale, donated by Don Maruska.
We had a delicious lunch back at Dr. Brou's house of Chicken Kedjenou and local rice. By 2 PM, we were back on the road, heading toward Abidjan. Another 5 hour drive. We spent the night at the Golden Hotel in Abidjan.
Monday morning, we went to the American embassy to apply for Evariste's visa. We spent 2 1/2 hours there and then drove to the Lebanese quarter, where we ate fabulous Lebanese food, stuff I've never had. For example yogurt mixed with toasted bread (yes i know), olive oil, fava beans, and tongue. Lovely olives and pickled vegetabls. Finished with Turkish coffee.
Skyline and I went to do the Internet Cafe thing. Skyline and I then sat in the cafe waiting for Evariste and Maury, our driver. They were supposed to drive to Port Bouet and load up the boots. So we did 90 minutes of internet and then another 90 minutes of sipping Oranginas.
Finally, they arrived, and Evariste informs me that only 12 of the 20 bags of boots fit in the car and on top. I looked at the car and exploded. "I didn't fly 6000 miles to only deliver 2/3's of the boots!, I yelled." So we drove back to Port Bouet and loaded ALL the rest of the boots. We stacked 5 packs on the back seat between us. Later, I found out that Evariste had "forgotten" the 20th pack in his bedroom, along with the LOVELY Lebanese pastries we had purchased for the road. Slippery fingers (and sticky).
Skyline with Evariste's daughter. Whenever we encountered children, Skyline was there cutting little squares of paper and showing them how to make origami birds and flowers.
The car properly stuffed, we started out toward Yamoussoukro: First, we're stopped by the police just at the border betzeen Port Bouet and Abidjan: 5 dollar bribe. Then, we're stopped again in Abidjan: 10 dollar bribe. Stop at the bank to get more (sic) moula. Drive 10 minutes north. Stopped. 15 dollar bribe. Always the reason is we're too overloaded but of course the real reason is we're fat flies in the path of the lizard's tongue.
It was by now dark: We stopped for dinner after one of the checkpoints; Skyline and I enjoyed some spicy grilled mutton. The head honcho of the checkpoint was quite nice and told us to find a hotel rather than continue: We continued. Around 11 PM, we reached a town just south of Yamoussoukro. We check into a filthiest hotel I'd ever seen. And worst construction. Evariste was eaten by bedbugs all night. But the electricity and the plumbing worked.
Tuesday, August 26
Skyline and I enjoyed a little breakfast while wating for Evariste and Maury to wake up. We sat at a local maquis and enjoyed the usual omelet and bread, sipping condensed milk cafe au lait (I love the stuff). Across the street, a wooden building started to smoke and there were loud popping sounds followed by bangs. An electrical fire accompanied by involvement of the surrounding wood structure. After 5 minutes, the "fire department" arrived, which consisted of a pickup. They took one look and sped away. Moments later, the electricity was off in the entire quarter. I guess fuses and circuit breakers are not used.
The building's occupants quickly put out the fire by slinging bowls of water onto the roof of the building. Necessity is the mother of invention.
We drove to Yamoussoukro, the capital. Fun things to do? Visit the crocs! We drtove to the presidential palace, which is on a manmade lake full of crocodiles. We were allowed to film them as long as we don't take a picture of the palace (hasn't been used in 15 yeqrs--cost billions). I took video of a live chicken tossed to the crocs. A young yellow one caught it: The 12 footers were too lazy: One feather remained on the croc's lower lip, a reminder of the chicken that was. We paid the old man/keeper to jump in and teaze a croc by pulling its tail.
Predator and prey.
After the excitement, we continued on to the basilica, the largest church in the world. Constructed by President Houphouet Boigny in the 80s using World Bank money, it is a replica of St. Peter's in Rome. The pope at the time called Houphouet Boigny and asked him to make it smaller than the original. Houphoet Boigny obliged by making it 1 meter shorter, then erected a cupola on top to make it taller. A 100-foot-high statue of the president is on the inside. I have never had time to visit.
We continued to Daloa, arriving at 4 PM. We checked into our hotel and then drove out to Batteguedea and Broguhe; where we delivered 80 pairs of boots and I talked about next year's project, which is to deliver a dryness meter and plastic bags so they can store products and get higher prices for larger amounts sold. We enjoyed Bangi (palm wine) which proved to be a powerful laxative. Went native.
Meeting with members of the village of Broguhe.
Donating boots to Batteguedea.
This morning, we set out for Issia and the villages in its vicinity. The drive takes about 2 hours. On the way, we met someone who had just hunted this large rodent, called a Grasscutter in Ghana and agouti in Ivory Coast. We ate it the next day, Kedjenou style.
As you enter Issia, you see a large granitic hill on the east side of the road, reminiscent of Ayers Rock in Australia and Enchanted Rock in Texas. It's essentially a large inclusion of magma exposed as 500 feet of surrounding sedimentary rock wore away and flushed out into the Gulf of Guinea.
We strolled on the paths among the trees, listening to the service taking place al fresco in the small structure at the top of hundreds of stairs. Faithful sat on benches here and there, praying or singing. Thousands come here every year.
When we came out of the retreat center grounds, I took this picture of a lad herding cows through town.
We continued to Pezoan, the village where Skyline and I had paid for the bathroom. We spent a lttle time, did our usual presentation, unloaded our luggage, and then headed down the road to Zereguhe. There, we conducted the usual ceremony--donation followed by discussion of new system for ensuring dryness of beans. After 2 hours; we drove to Depa, where we began our meeting on lawnchairs in front of the chief's house. It began to sprinkle. I suggested we ignore the sprinkles, but the elders thought that to be a bad idea, pointing to the horizon. Within a minute, we had a deluge of diluvian proportions. Noah would have been impressed. Fortunately; the chief's meeting structure held us all.
The new WC in Pezoan. It is a solid, concrete block structure with a concrete pad on the inside. There is lots of space to take a bucket shower, and the "pit" is deep enough to last a hundred years, according to the builders.
Donating boots, SuperGrain bags, and t-shirts in the Pezoan's chief's outdoors living room. He built it himself. Although the picture does not do it justice, the craftsmanship is quite impressive: every connection tight, every cross piece neatly in place. The ceremonial aspects were kept short, as we needed to head down the road to Zereguhe and Depa while it was still light.
We joined the people of Zereguhe and sat on plastic lawnchairs in one of the communal areas.
Afterwards, we drove to Depa. We started our meeting "outside" but it began to rain, so we collected under the chief's outdoor living room. It poured, and rivers of water rushed down the hill. There is no drainage system in the village, so water follows routes it has carved in the soil. This picture, a little fuzzy because of the low light, shows me donating the second dryness meter. I donated it to Depa, as I feel a special bond with the chief there and so I made Depa the last village we would visit.
Depa gave us this rooster in exchange for the boots, t-shirts, and dryness meter.
We celebrated our friendship with Ivorian whiskey: Yum.
By the end of our meeting , it was dark and still raining. We got into the now empty car (rooster excepted) and slid/drove back to the highway, then back to Pezoan. Here; we had dinner of a second grasscutter, the one we'd bought and plunked in the trunk. I showered in the new Turkish toilet (hole in one corner with lots of room to take a nice African shower; which means pouring the contents on your head.) We retired to the chief's sleeping quarters. I slept in the chief's bedroom.
Thursday, August 28
This morning; we started with coffee and bread for breakfast; Arsene, who is from Depa, asked for money to help pay for his child's medicine. I gave him 20,000 CFA, which amounts to $50. This equals about 3 months of earnings for the average farmer.
The chief arrived and performed a bobo ritual on Skyline. This consists of passing a fowl around your guest, then serving the fowl to the guest for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
We went into the ceremony structure and listened to music performed by the youth. I learned one of the songs and amused people with my lame rendition of it. We then ate breakfast, which consisted of the bobo hen. This was followed by still another music and rhythm period. It was noon before we left Pezoan. We drove back to Depa; because they had a "surprise" for us. It consisted of my being named "village chief", which means I now have a vote on their council, and I also have chiefly dress and a scepter, which consists of a goat hair brush. Skyline also has chiefly garb: I guess such a thing should go on one's resume! I will post the picture as soon as I get it from Skyline's camera.
Depa gave us two goats after the ceremony. Maury is tying them (live) to the roofrack. Later, we moved them to a more comfortable berth inside the car.
We left Depa for San Pedro and drove south for most of the afternoon. Only stop was a rubber plantation to show Skyline how latex is collected. At 5 PM we arrived in San Pedro and immediately stopped by Saf Cacao; which is owned by Ali Lakiss. It's the 4th largest cocoa buyer in Ivory Coast. The plan is for Ali to accept beans from the 5 villages and grind them into cocoa liquor, which we will turn into chocolate. This is a longterm plan for a separate line of Fair Trade only chocolate, made from the beans of Project Hope and Fairness villages. We will pay for quality, and thereby pass more money onto the farmer.
We're stayed in a Vietnamese hotel tonight and ate Vietnamese food, which Evariste proclaimed to be "expensive and lacking substance."
Yesterday, Friday, we set out from San Pedro at 8 AM for the 7 hour drive over rutted roads. Maury put my two black suitcases on the roof and made a little padlock complete with African grass in the back for the two goats. During the trip, whenever we finished a banana, we tossed the goats the peels. Ever see a smiling goat?
At 9 AM, Maury slowed down, as the road was lined on both sides by people standing around. They were standing in mute respect for a 30 year old woman whose body lay on the side of the road, under a blanket. We stopped to inquire and show respect by not just driving through. The woman had been hit by a car at 5 AM. Her mother walked up and down the road flailing her hands and crying out.
We gave one of the people a ride to the next village and we continued on our way.
The trip was otherwise fairly eventless and we entered Abidjan at 4PM. Our hope was to visit Bart Willem at SACO in order to talk about the upcoming bean certification system that has been proposed and that may be implemented to combat child slavery and abuses of child labor. Unfortunately, he was too busy.
We drove to Dr. Brou's house. Dr. Brou started Kedesch; the school for children of cocoa farmers in Galebre. We are working wirh his assistant to set up a system of ensuring that farmers know tyhe weight and dryness of their beans before they enter negotiations with middlemen.
Dr. Brou's house is a large concrete villa populated with close to 20 people. 4 of them are his family. The rest are church members and their families.
We drove 1 hour over kidney-crunching dirt roads to visit Dr. BRou's church. He has 27 pastors, dozens of deacons, and a congregation approaching 2000. Tuesdays through Fridays, hundreds sleep in the sanctuary and pray. The sanctuary; surrounded by the usual rutted dirt, is an enormous roof on poles. It and the surrounding buildings are under construction. When we arrived, the entire site was pitch black because the city had just cut the power.
We returned to Dr. Brou's, ate a dinner of beef and rabbit stew (last year he fed us monkey stew).
The next morning; Saturday, we ate breakfast with Dr. Brou and listened to his grandiose plans for building an enormous church complete with church businesses, hospital, school, etc. He left us at 10 AM to lecture to 60 pastors at his church.
Although I have no interest in promoting Dr. Brou's evangelistic ambitions, I have found someone who cares about the cocoa farmer and who can work with me aqs I plan to work with him.
"This trip is effectively over. I don't expect to report any more adventures, as the plane leaves in 4 hours. What could possibly happen in that time? Maybe it's bad luck to even ask such a question. ", I said in an email. Nothing untoward happened, and the trip back was eventless. An auspicious end to a successful trip. I hope you, dear reader, consider coming with us in the future. Tom Neuhaus