Sunday, August 14, 2011

August 13, 2011


I am writing this on December 1, 2011, as a preamble to the blog. Something very exciting has happened and I need your help! I have succeeded in joining the Global Giving Challenge, which consists of raising $4,000 before December 31, 2011. It is to build a cocoa study center in Cameroon, and 2012 marks the first year that students will be coming!

Please visit this web site and make a donation. A mere $25 will go a long way toward making this center a reality. Imagine how beneficial it will be to students and to cocoa farmers!

This is my 9th annual trip to West Africa. This year, for the first time since 2005, I am traveling alone. Originally, I had imagined doing a sort of eco-tourism thing, but it hasn't turned out that way. Two chefs from a local restaurant are planning to join me next year, but this is the year of the solo.

Once I land in Accra, I will be met by my usual driver, Alex, and two Cal Poly students, members of the Fair Trade Club, will join me. Lisa Wong will travel with us for 3 days, visiting the 5 villages that we have visited in the past. And Garrett Morris will do the entire Ghana tour.

I am still in the process of setting up a seminar at the University of Ghana in Legon, and I hope to also set up a meeting at the Cocobod, the governmental body that controls all of Ghana's cocoa, from the seed to the export bag. My mission this time is "Decolonialize Cocoa". By this I mean that cocoa farmers should be part of ALL of the value chain, not just the growing of the cocoa. I want to propose a Cocoa Study Center, to be located in a village somewhere between Cape Coast and Kakum National Park, because these are the two biggest tourist venues in Ghana, affording villagers the opportunity to make their own chocolate and sell it locally.

By involving the cocoa farmer in every part of the chain, the farmer truly becomes an expert--like a wine grower who makes his/her own wine. As they say, "Knowledge is Power". To read more about the cocoa study center, click here.

So, the Ghana piece will hopefully involve:

Purchase of $2500 of boots and cutlasses for villages
Quick visit to Cocobod to set up meeting
Three days of visiting villages and two castles
Visit to Kakum and drive to Kumasi
Visit of Kuapa Kokoo, the Ashanti Palace, Lake Bosumtwi
Visit of Yayra Glover, who is doing FT/ORG beans
Possible visit with people involved in the Millenium Project
Seminar at University and meeting at Cocobod

On Tuesday, August 23, I will fly to Douala, Cameroon and meet my contact, Mr. Kila Balon. To learn about this part of the trip, click here.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Drove to Santa Maria at 6 AM and parked at airport. Took Central Coast Shuttle to LAX, then flew to NYC and arrived around 9 PM. Hired a cab to take me to James's apartment on W 57th street.

Sunday, August 14, 2011.

I woke up to a view of the Hudson river from 37 floors up! Here's the Mayflower using diesel fuel to struggle against the current.

James and Lennon are in Vermont at a wedding, so I have free reign of their apartment! James told me to be sure and check out the roof, so I took the elevator to the roof and here's what I found...

And of course, there's the view, but it was a rainy day. 50 years ago, almost to the day, I looked over the Hudson from the top of the Empire State Building, hours before we boarded the SS Liberte and embarked on the greatest adventure of my life, a year in France. From that fateful day, I remember seeing Sicilian pizza makers throwing circles of dough in the air and I remember the view of the Hudson.

I checked in at the airport and had a meeting with Evariste Plegnon, a former Project Hope and Fairness assistant (2004 - 2008) and now living legally in the U.S. while raising $6000 to bring his wife and three children over.

Monday, August 15

The plane flight was uneventful and we landed in Casablanca about 8 AM. This time, I elected to not take a taxi into town, as I've seen the place, I had no one to show around, and I was tired. So I checked into the airport hotel and slept all day. In the evening, I ate dinner (an excellent Quattro Formaggi pizza with a nicely herbed Moroccan olive oil) and took the van to the airport.

The flight left at 12:05 AM and landed in Accra at 4:30 AM.

Tuesday, August 16

We picked Lisa Wong and Garrett Morris up at 7 AM and drove around, looking for a place to have breakfast. Here's one place that unfortunately opened for lunch. No chance for lobster and scrambled eggs. Instead, we had Ghanaian omelet, fat slices of untoasted white bread with margarine and Nescafe with lots of sugar and condensed milk. I of course avoided the wheat.

After breakfast, we purchased 200 pairs of rubber boots at Agrimat and 110 cutlasses at one of the stores on a busy street. Garrett, striking a particularly vicious pose, models the cutlasses.

We managed to pack 100 pairs of boots in the car before we ran out of space; if you peer through the back window, you will see them. Then, we took the remaining boxes to the bus station, where Alex arranged for them to be shipped to Cape Coast. Alex parked illegally while we sat in the car and were bombarded by questions such as, "When are you going to move the car?" Alex returned and we drove off in the direction of Cape Coast.

We arrived at the castle around 3 PM and I showed Garrett around. Lisa had already visited the castle, so she didn't join us. Cape Coast Castle is one of 60 located along the Ghanaian coast, put there to protect colonial investments such as the slave trade and the gold trade. Garrett stands next to the Cape Coast fishing fleet, consisting of incredibly heavy wooden boats that take about 10 burly men to push up the beach and out of the water.

We ate a Ghanaian dinner in the restaurant next to the castle. As usual, service was extremely slow. Also, my Okro Stew was not very tasty, but the Banku was nicely sour and the Tilapia was fresh and good. We spent a half hour doing Internet at Oceanview Internet, then drove 45 minutes to Ebekawopa, arriving at around 9:30 PM.

Our welcome this time was a stereo system blasting African Rock from speakers that flashed lights at us while a Honda generator chugged in the background. Lisa and Garrett danced with the children while I sat and observed.

We slept at the pastor's house. After our visit in 2009, he built two rooms to accommodate us and other visitors. This is a solar lighting system (4W) that a Physics student designed at Cal Poly and Carisa Nakano, a Cal Poly Architecture student who made development of a cocoa study center her Senior Project, installed in April, 2010. It's working beautifully unlike the 20+ Chinese systems I bought last year and that quickly self-destructed. Finding a good solar lighting system is not easy; most of the stuff out there is just plain junk.

Wednesday, August 17

After breakfast (Fish with Palaver Sauce, boiled yams and plantains; Thank You, Mrs. Sampson!), we drove to a sub-chief's house to talk about using land for a cocoa study center. He wasn't there, as he had just been released from a hospital in Accra, but we sat in his living room and met his wife, his sons, their wives and children.

The walls were covered with portraits, and along one end of the room sat a large liquor cabinet. In this picture, Pastor Sampson is presenting a gift of boots, cutlass, Project Hope and Fairness bandana, and chocolate. You never visit a chief or a subchief without bringing gifts--often of liquor, which gets put on the cabinet shelves.

We visited the chief's palm oil factory, located in the front yard. About 10 people were busy at work, most of them picking the palm kernels out of the pressed fibers. The palm fruit are boiled in a large cauldron over a wood fire. They break down into fibers which are then pressed. Here's a picture of two workers pushing the bar to extract the palm oil. It is red due to its high vitamin A content. Palm oil is commonly used in European margarines and shortenings.

While we visited the subchief's house, Alex drove off to Cape Coast to pick up the remaining 10 boxes of boots. We took a taxi back to Ebekawopa. Since Alex would be gone for a while, I thought it a good time to teach Garrett and Lisa about cocoa. We enjoyed the contents of an entire ripe pod, which Reverend Sampson busted open on a tree trunk. As we walked back, I took this wholly unposed picture of Garrett and Lisa.

We walked back to the Pastor's house and peeked in the kitchen, which is a separate building. This young man was chopping up palm fruit clusters with a hatchet. They are very wooden and require considerable effort to remove the fruit. He seemed to be enjoying the job, however.

Alex arrived about 12:30 with the rest of the boots, so we were able to start the ceremony. We donated 40 pairs of boots ($10 each), 22 cutlasses ($6.50 each), 20 Project Hope and Fairness scarves, and a box of chocolate leaves from Sweet Earth. In this picture, the chief is accepting boots which we donated in 6 different sizes.

After the donation ceremony at which I discussed my hopes for a cocoa study center located somewhere in that area and solicited their ideas as well, we piled stuff in the car and drove off to Mmaniaye. When we arrived, there was almost no one in the village; they were all at someone's house in another village giving sympathy to a recent widow.

While we waited, Soledad, a beautiful young woman who wants to become a nurse, gave us a walking tour of the village. I took these pictures...

Woman pounding fufu. The pestle has a flattened tip. When you cook a starchy food, then pound it, you bus open the starch granules, releasing the amylopectin fraction that is normally retained inside the starch granule walls. The result is a gluey paste called fufu or foutou in Cote d'Ivoire.

Woman removing corn from cobs.

Woman pounding cooked palm fruit to separate the kernels from the fiber. This I presume is the old-fashioned method, before the palm oil press.

Man stirring his just fermented cocoa, distributing the sun's heat to speed up drying. While he's doing that, he removes bits of placental tissue that would otherwise drop the per-pound price.

Have sewing machine will travel.

After about an hour of waiting, Alex took the car to the next village and came back with a Yale Fraternity's worth of people. Eventually, we had at least 30 people participating. We donated the same number and kind of items as for Ebekawopa.

In the picture, I am handing boots to the Chief of the Young Folks and the Old Chief (of everyone).

We had a really good discussion with the elders of Mmaniaye. We could have stayed longer, talking, but we had one more village to visit. I really regretting not having had the time to spend with them.

We had one more village to visit, Adiyaw. After eating dinner at Pastor Sampson's house, we drove back to Adiyaw. We arrived after nightfall, so the entire ceremony was conducted by flashlight. We donated the customary 40 pairs of boots, 22 cutlasses, 20 Project Hope and Fairness scarves, and a big box of chocolates made by Sweet Earth.

Thursday, August 18

We began the day with an excellent breakfast of corn porridge and stewed cowpeas (black-eyed peas).

As we needed to be in Kumasi (5 hours to the north) for an interview with the Business Head of Armajaro--Ghana, we were in a hurry to leave by 8 AM. We dropped Lisa at the bus stop so she could return to Accra, and drove north, arriving in the Kumasi area just after noon. We immediately drove to the offices of Armajaro where we met with Goran Colaric, the Business Head. We had lunch together and talked about the possible involvement of Armajaro in the organization and mission of a Ghanaian Cocoa Study Center to be located in the Kakum area, where we visit every year. He was very positive and said that the London office was also interested in becoming involved. As I understand it, Armajaro, which is a large cocoa trading company that specializes in developing databases to ensure traceability of cocoa, can offer assistance in issues relating to exportation. I have yet to really put together a detailed description of the center, so it is difficult at this point to determine the extent of their involvement. But the fact that they were so positive is a good sign.

Friday, August 19

We drove to Manso Nkwanta, leaving Kumasi at about 8 AM. We arrived right after 9:00 AM, and we had a very good discussion about the Millennium Villages Project. A few interesting facts: There are 13 MVP projects in 12 African countries. MVP—Ghana is a partnership of the UNDP, the Japanese Government, The Earth Institute (Columbia), and Millenium Promise, a group of large-scale funders such as Bill Gates and George Soros.

After the discussion, we drove south on dirt roads to Akyerekyerekrom, which means “Town of Many Squirrels.” It took 1 hour and 40 minutes, and every aperture of the car filled with dust as did our mouths. We met with about 20 farmers, including two cocoa buying agents. We had a spirited discussion about trust between farmers and agents and how distributing scales and dryness meters could greatly reduce tension between the two parties.

I was especially hopeful to learn about MVP, because it is considered to be the best of the best in terms of international development, especially because it attempts to tackle poverty at many levels: distribution of inputs and products, maternal nutrition and health, reasonable prices for products, and access to credit.

MVP—Ghana is comprised of 30 contiguous communities including over 30,000 inhabitants and the offices are based in Manso Nkwanta, located about an hour north of the cluster.

We drove back north over the same painfully dusty and bumpy road to Datano to meet with a manager at the Opportunity International Saving and Loans Limited, which contracts with the MVP to provide inexpensive credit. The typical loan is $350, the farmer has 4 minutes grace period with no repayment and then 8 months (total of 1 year) to pay the loan back. Interest charged is 3.5% per month.

We continued north to Mim and then turned east to rejoin the highway going south. On the way, we passed this gold field, where miners man sluices and wash bits of gold out of the dirt. This does extensive environmental damage but apparently many men have become rich standing in water for hour after hour, day after day.

We drove south to Cape Coast, ate dinner on the beach near the castle (we all ate goat with okro soup with banku—excellent), then drove back north to Ebekawopa.

Saturday, August 20

This morning, we ate breakfast—corn porridge with condensed milk and white bread spread with margarine. Before it was ready, I sorted all the boots and we loaded them into the car. Then, I took these pictures of interest around Rev. Sampson’s compound…

Chicken cage built by one of Rev. Sampson’s grandsons.

Grinding stone used to prepare “soups”, the liquids that contain hunks of meat or fish, served over fufu, banku, kenkey, or rice.

Young boy scooping out cooked palm fruit that will be pounded in the mortar, the nuts separated out, and the oil pressed out.

Boys showing their capacity to dancing skills and gracious movements.

Young boy chopping away at the oil palm fruit clusters, liberating the palm fruit.

Kitchen where our grasscutter was prepared.

Reverend Sampson's son gives him a haircut.

Garrett pounds fufu.

We drove to Kakum National Park and I sat around reading, sipping tea while Garrett did the canopy walk.

We then drove to Gyaware, which is off the main road by about 5 km. The dirt road is extremely rutted but because it hadn’t rained recently, we were able to negotiate the challenges. I later told the chief that I would send money to Alex to purchase 2 wheelbarrows, shovels, pickaxes, and rakes so they can repair the road, which is so critical to their economic vitality.

When we arrived, it was obvious that everyone was out in the field. Only a few adults were in the village, caring for the smaller children. Someone went out in the bush with the “gong-gong” to bring village members, especially the chief, back. We sat around, drinking green coconut juice, provided by a young man who chopped off the pithy outsides and whacked a hole in the top. Coconut water is both refreshing and filling, so the fact that it was well past lunch time did not bother me much.

Once the chief and his spokesman had arrived, we began the ceremony, apologizing first for arriving on a Saturday rather than a Thursday. Turns out they had prepared a meal (including local crab!) for us, so I felt a special pang of remorse in my palate and stomach.

Garrett hands out pieces of Sweet Earth chocolate.

We donated 40 pairs of boots, 22 cutlasses, 20 scarves, and bamboo pens for the schoolchildren.

One of our scarves already put to use.

Gyaware was a very happy village as we drove off and returned to Ebekawopa, where we had a delicious lunch of grasscutter in light sauce.

We bade the Reverend and his family good-bye until next year and drove the 2 km back to the paved road. His wife and friend give us parting bunches of bananas.

We passed this amazing oven. I learned from Alex, the driver, that all the fluffy breads (butter bread, sugar bread, tea bread) that are enjoyed in villages are baked in ovens exactly like this one! Butter bread has a square top and is flavored with nutmeg or mace. Sugar bread has a rounded top, and tea bread is made more or less like a baguette. Alex explained that a fire is burned for two hours, the cinders and coals are removed, the breads placed inside, and the door closed. The heating is apparently very even so the breads do not scorch.

We drove south to Jukwah, about 20 minutes. This is a large town located along the road, chosen five years ago because it contrasts with the others. People are obviously better off, and the main factor here is proximity to transportation. Without question, the poorest villages are the farthest from the road. The man we usually work with was not there, but we found the big chief, who owns thousands of square miles of Fante land, sitting in a chair by himself, enjoying the sun while sitting in the shade of a carport.

We donated the usual number of boots, cutlasses, chocolate, pens, and scarves to his assistant. While we were there, his son and wife dropped by; they live in New Jersey.

It didn't take long to unload the car. The old man was very appreciative. Although severely incapacitated by diabetes, his mind was still sharp, and he very much knew what was going on. I have no doubt that he remembers me from the past four years of stopping by his house.

The next stop was the Hans Cottage Botel, a hotel built over a large pond full of over 100 crocodiles. As you approach the hotel, you hear birds chirping--a lot. These are weaver birds that built nests in the trees and weave a sphere from the top down.

Garrett fondles one of the crocodiles. They are easy to avoid when on land, but don't go swimming! You won't last long!

It was getting late, so we drove to Cape Coast and checked into a hotel. It was dark because the hotel hadn't paid its electric bill and was relying on a generator. Unfortunately, the battery had died, so all was dark. So, we walked down to the beach and walked along it, enjoying the sunset. In this area, the waves break in really close because the beach is slanted at an angle of close to 15 degrees.

Sunday, August 21

This was the day for us to return to Accra at a reasonable time so we could meet with officials of the Cocobod bright and early on Monday morning. The drive back, though, is only 3 hours in length, so we took the morning to visit the Elmina castle.

Elmina is a very charming fishing village about 10 miles to the west. The town gets its name from the original Portuguese name referring to the mines nearby. But when the Portuguese arrived in the lates 1400's there was a charming fishing village here, and there still is.

This is what the Dutch retained of the original St. Georges Church, built in the late 1400's. It was, at the time, the largest European building in sub-Saharan Africa. The Dutch turned it into a trading building--for slaves, tools, etc.

View of the ocean from Elmina Castle.

Our tour guide was a retired professor. His verbiage, as you might expect, was precise and focussed. He knew his material so well, taking the tour was like walking through a book. It was as good a tour as any I've experienced in Europe.

After the castle, we set out for Cape Coast and arrived in the evening. We decided that I should stay in a hotel near the Cocobod, as we had a meeting at 9 AM on Monday morning. As we approached the hotel area, we were forced to take a circuitous route due to a large fire that gutted an entire building.

Monday, August 22

Today featured two events--a meeting at the Cocobod in the morning and a seminar that I delivered at the university in the afternoon. At 9 AM, we met the Cocobod's Director of Research and the Deputy Director. The central question I posed was: will the Cocobod work with us in the development of a cocoa study center? Both were enthusiastic about the idea. They had no problem with the cocoa study center itself, with university students staying there and working with cocoa farmers. The only problem is the idea of making chocolate inside the village. Since the Cocobod's charter is Ghanaian laws passed in the late 1950's, it would take consider political will to make changes. However, the feeling was that if they can persuade the CEO to take up this idea, the legislature might be willing to make an exception to the idea of state control over the movement, grading, sales, and export of cocoa.

We finished after an hour and then went to visit Alex the driver's manufacturer of luggage trailers. This picture is taken in a mini junkyard just a block away from the hotel.

Because we still had some time to kill, Lisa directed us to Global Mama's, a Fair Trade business. This is the brainchild of a woman in Accra who now counts over 600 workers, many based in Cape Coast.

Lisa looks at one of the bags made of reused packaging, in this case, spent water bags.

It was 11 AM, time to head to the university. We arrived with 45 minutes to spare, so we walked around for a while, coming back at 12:30 to give the seminar. The topic concerned the advantages of a Cocoa Study Center. About 20 students and 5 faculty attended the seminar. Afterwards, we enjoyed a very Ghanaian lunch. I had Okro Soup with Crab, Snail, and Banku. Exquisite!

Finally, we dropped Garrett and Lisa off at the orphanage where Lisa has lived all summer.

Tuesday, August 23

Today, I am flyiing to Douala at 11:30 AM.

I flew from Accra to Lome, Togo. Seemed a bit spooky to me. Everything seemed neat and efficient (that alone is spooky) but the people seemed really restrained. We then flew to Cotonou, Benin, and that felt quite different. More relaxed and more messy. And then a 1 hour 20 minute flight to Douala. I passed through passport check, bags were on the baggage belt, and voila, I met Kila, my contact, and we drove off to the hotel, which is located very close to the port.

The room is only $30 per night (breakfast included), there is a swimming pool, a wonderful outdoor area, AC, but no wireless.

We went to dinner right at the edge of the ocean (wonderful breeze) and ate grilled shrimp and grilled fish.

I spent about 3 hours rewriting the proposal for the cocoa study center.

Wednesday, August 24

This morning I started by taking a picture of the port, then ate breakfast. You can just make out the Wouri Bay.

Kila arrived at 8 AM and we sat around, editing a document that we will be presenting to several organizations. We then started out walking. The first destination was CICC, which stands for "Conseil Interprofessionel du Cafe et Cacao"; we met the president, Apollinaire NGWE. We just popped in and said "Hi" to a couple of people, including and we met the president. It's a governmental agency that we have yet to determine its function.

We continued down the street to GEX, "Groupement des Exportateurs Cacao & Dafe" where we met Jean Dikoume, whose position is "Secretaire Permanent". He expressed a lot of support for the cocoa center idea.

Then, we took a taxi to another part of the city, where we visited Centre Renforce de Ressources AGOA, specifically the "Chef de Centre", Olivier Dimala. Similarly to GEX, we exchanged ideas, and the meeting was quite productive. This picture is of Kila standing out front.

This is a picture of Olivier, me, and his assistant out front.

We took another taxi downtown. This picture shows a monument to fallen soldiers. The French, British, and Belgians fought the Germans in "Kamerun" in 1914. Cameroon became French property after WWI.

Across the way was a museum, "doual'art". The exhibit was comprised of washed charcoal drawings. Outside, I found this marvelous sculpture.

And I found this very whimsical bunch of wire figures adhering to a picnic table.

Leaving the museum, I took this picture of a rather interesting old German building that is unfortunately stuck in the middle of a lot of stuff that detracts.

It was time for lunch, so we stopped for lunch in a chop house. I enjoyed a very tasty vegetable stew (made of cooked greens mixed with chopped pumpkin seeds), served with cow skin (yum!), cow stomach, and cow meat. It was accompanied by a Comeroonian corn fufu that was quite light and airy.

Thursday, August 25

Our driver met us with a miniature 4X4 because the big one, a Toyota Prado, was being cleaned. Later in the morning, we learned that the owner had sold the Prado that morning, so we were left in the lurch. Naturally, Kila was very upset about people not keeping their word. A friend of his joined us and brokered another deal, but this time the Prado would be $70 a day instead of $50.

It took two hours to arrange the deal. We had to go to the rental agency’s “home office”, which was a bar-restaurant. After reading the contract, I asked that the agency supply a driver, because, if we had an accident, that way I wouldn’t be liable.
Before all this brouhaha, which ended at 3 PM, we drove around, purchasing tools. Naturally, all the businesses except the paper workbooks are Lebanese-owned.

We also stopped by the Total (French oil company) Cameroon office, where Kila had worked, trying to persuade decision-makers to mount a campaign to pitch the solar lanterns available in every station. The young woman who met us snippily informed us that the lanterns are not available wholesale, but that “every station has two cases.”

This turned out to be totally false, as the first three stations were totally out , the last one informing us that all Cameroonian Total stations were “totally out.” So, we gave up on the total idea.

However, while picking up the handles, we happened on a fourth Total station that had a dozen, and, since they totally have a monopoly in Cameroon, an employee walked up the block and brought back 3 cases of solar lanterns. Totally rad. Totally sorry for the totally bad puns. ☺ ☺

We purchased:
6 pickaxe heads
6 shovel heads
6 hammers
120 machetes
36 rubber boots (6 different sizes)
5 boxes of 12 of machete sharpeners
2 bunches handles
3 cases of childrens’ blank workbooks.

Kila inspects the solar lanterns.

While we waited for the car deal to come through, we sat in a bar, drinking beer. I needed to change $3,000, so Kila’s car broker called a friend, who popped over. He was a Muslim, bout 6 foot 5, 300 pounds, wearing loose-fitting Arab clothing gandura or boubou. He sported a long, black beard and the traditional cap, and he held one cellphone in each hand, dialing two numbers and communicating with two people at once. I ate this grilled fish and the manioc batons, waiting for him to say something. Finally, he told me what the rate was, and we exchanged currencies.

We drove west from Douala to Limbe, a seaside resort. This picture is of Kila and the driver, David, posing in front of a memorial to Alfred Saker (no relation to the torte), a missionary who named Limbe after Queen Victoria. It was called Limbe after independence.

A view of the bay.

We drove a little farther—to the beach where the fishing boats are based. The fishermen are hauling in a net, putting it neatly in the bottom of the boat. An oil platform looms not far away.

At the top of the beach is this structure where the fishermens’ wives sell the day’s catch.

A boatbuilder works on a new boat. Note that the planks, which are quite thick, are sewn together with wire.

We checked into a hotel called “Autograph”. The owner/mnanager is an old school chum of Kila. He moved back to Cameroon from the UK after about 10 years, and built this beautiful hotel.

Later in the evening, we had dinner with two of Kila’s uncles.

Friday, August 26

Today, we drove to Dschang, a town in the central highlands that is home to a large agricultural university. We began the day by driving to Buea (sic). On the way, I took a picture of a cocoa seedling nursery that still shows signs of the heavy rains the night before.

This is one of the prime minister’s residences, an old German building.

We stopped by the Southwest Development Authority, an organization that may be a partner in developing the cocoa study center.

The entire area is basically just part of Mount Cameroon, which is almost 15,000 feet high and whose last eruption was just 12 years ago. The entire volcano is often so thickly shrouded in moisture that it’s a rare day that one can see the top.

This is an important Southwestern Cameroon university. We stopped along the road and met one of Kila’s friends, a faculty member at the university who focuses on research about the incidence of malaria in communities. The name of the town, Buea, is pronounced "Boy-ya".

A sign about the university’s efforts to reduce the incidence of HIV.

A troop of zebu cattle shares the road with us.

Our next stop—to visit one of IRAD’s research centers and to share with the director our plans for a cocoa study center. This center was mostly built by money from USAID. Much of it is dilapidated, probably because insufficient funds have been made available to hire the staff required to run it. More than one person mentioned that USAID had cut funding because of a problem with misappropriation.

A room for growing out tissue cultures. So far, tissue culture techniques have not been applied to cocoa-growing, although that would greatly simplify things, as farmers usually don’t know what seeds they’re buying.

These seedlings are of a tree that provides leaves for consumption, as the Cameroonian diet includes several greens that are typically consumed in larger quantities than meat. The leaves have been cut to reduce transpiration and moisture loss.

A species of Pleurotus can be grown by villages to add mushrooms to the Cameroonian diet.

One of the center’s greenhouses.

We left IRAD and drove around Mount Cameroon. The village of Munyenge is in Cameroon’s highest cocoa yielding region. The very heavy rainfall associated with living on a volcano that traps moisture coming off the Atlantic produces high yields but inhibits drying, which is mostly done by burning wood to generate heat. This puts tremendous pressure on the forest trees which are being cut down rapidly.

We drove for about 45 minutes on a very bumpy road. Volcanic rock certainly makes a tough road, unlike the usual laterite that ruts quickly and is slippery. But it’s hard on your internal organs, which tend to vibrate for hours afterward.

The chief of Munyenge is an unassuming young man. In this picture, the chief is wearing the yellow t-shirt and the green hat. While many chiefs tend to build palaces to their ego’s, he demonstrates a democratic trend.

The chief does have a throne, which he had someone carve several years ago out of ebony. This is the end of the chair's arm. On the seat are the horse's tail and whisk broom that the chief holds. It's interesting that kings in whatever culture hold tools in their hands that represent power.

A house of Munyenge

We drove on to Kumba, where we found another IRAD research center, with several research projects. It’s interesting that research gets started but then there’s little evidence of it making its way into the field. The project of planting cocoa and plantains together at specified spacings to maximize yield is great, but you don’t see the results on the farm. Sane with the ovens. They build the ovens but so many are leaky and produce smoky beans.

A project to develop varieties of Robusta coffee. Cameroon’s number one coffee is actually made of 70% Robusta and 30% Arabica. Robusta is more acidic, with a beany/twiggy flavor

Another of the research projects, this one supported by IITA (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture) and the USDA and MINEPAT (Ministry of Economy, Planning, and Regional Development).

A field of young Robusta coffee plants. In the 1980s, Cameroon exported over 110,000 tons of coffee. This has declined to less than 35,000 tons.

A now-discontinued project to develop cocoa drying ovens, funded by the European Union.

Top view of a drying oven complete with mat for holding the beans. The driers each held 7 bags of cocoa and took 24 hours to bring the beans to a 7% moisture level.

A rotating drum dryer. Hot air is generated in a wood-burning fire box, then piped into the dryer. This was never uw3e.

Another never-used rotating drum dryer.

Co-planting of plantains with cocoa. 1.5 meter spacing. The plantains provide shade for the sensitive young cocoa trees. Leaving tall rainforest trees has the advantage of preserving a small amount of the original forest and although the shade reduces yield a little, it also reduces stress from direct sun, which makes the plants more vulnerable to insect attack and therefore reducing the need for pesticides and fungicides.

We drove until 10 PM over a dirt road. A few times we passed trucks that had slipped off the road, which was coated with a foot of mud. The road was once again hard on the old kidneys but finally we reached Lum, the first town on a paved road.
The hotel in Lum had no hot water and lots of mosquitoes. The walls and celings were covered in black mold. But the hotel had a courtyard, which is good, as one should never leave a car exposed at night, especially one carrying precious cargo.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

We needed to be in Dshang by 9:30 AM in order to meet with Dr. Mbono Samba, the Associate Dean of FASA. He is very interested in making the cocoa study center a reality.

After 20 minutes of driving, we were stopped by a traffic pile-up. We walked to the front to find the reason; three vehicles lay at crazy angles, their fronts smashed in by the collisions. I did not take a picture. Apparently, there were wounded but no fatalities. Lucky.

But on the way back to the car, I took this picture of the surrounding hills, which are all volcanic.

We drove for several hours until we reached the main geological dividing line between Southwestern and Western regions. Called the “falaise” which means cliff (although there is no cliff), when you climb up it and come back down, you are in a sort of central highlands, which are cooler and drier than the Southwestern region, which is fully tropical and very wet.

View from the top.

We drove down the other side into Dschang, which spreads out over the valley floor. We entered the university and drove to the FASA building that houses the administrative offices of the Agriculture School. We arrived about 9:30 AM and waited around for Dr. Mbono Samba, who is the Associate Dean. The facade is made of mudbrck: laterite mixed with cement powder, pressed, dried, and painted. Lasts forever.

David, the driver, went into town to have the exhaust system repaired and Kila and I walked down the hill and into another part of the university. As we descended the hill, I snapped this shot of School of Agricuture research buildings and fields.

We spent an hour talking to Dr. Avana Tientcheu Marie Louise of the department of Forestry, Agroforestry, and Plant Biotechnology about the importance of asking cocoa farmers what trees to co-plant with cocoa. Otherwise, the experience has been that the cocoa farmers tear out the other trees, as they occupy badly needed space. There is a variety of shading trees that also contribute value—such as wild mango, moringa (a medicinal tree that drops blood sugar).

Dr. _____ specializes in soil, plant, and water chemical analyses, particularly of mineral and trace minerals. He showed us a map detailing dozens of projects where they have performed such services in the Central African sub-region.

This is Dr. Julius K. Tangka, a charming man who really loves his job. I was totally blown away by the variety of projects he was engaged in, all having to do with Appropriate Technologies. These included: a variety of windmills with recycled parts, a biogas generator using cow dung, jatropha oil burned in diesel engines, a solar drier, a bitterleaf washer and spinner, a concentrating solar dish, a bee hive, smelting aluminum beverage containers into all sorts of useful objects, and so many others too numerous to remember.

We drove to the Museum of Culture, a fabulous collection of Cameroonian civilizations and their habitations, clothing, and other artifacts. You could spend easily a day here just trying to absorb the details. The sheer beauty of what people did with fabric and wood is mind-boggling.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Today, we drove toward Yaounde. We had to reach it by the evening, as I was going to be interviewed on the radio the following morning at 5:00 AM and so the day would have to begin at 4:00 AM. On the way to Yaounde, we stopped at Kila’s step-mother’s house for breakfast, which his junior sister Bébé prepared for us.

While we waited, we went for a stroll in the neighborhood. This is a picture of “bitter leaves” drying.

Two children played on a sandpile outside the shack where Kila bought CDs of Cameroonian music.

Our breakfast. In the upper left is “African plums” or Saffour; they have a purple skin, large pits, a flour texture and slightly sour taste. I love them stuffed with meat.. We also had omelet and avocado. Very tasty.

After breakfast, we drove to Bandjoun, where we visited a cathedral built by the wealthiest man in Cameroon. This picture is of the front of the older, traditional church made of bamboo.

Two members of the congregation—obviously good friends!

The cathedral’s inside. The altar is held up by the globe, with Africa facing the congregation. Fotso Victor, one of the richest men in the country, built the cathedral.

The wood ceiling

A closeup of the altar.

Reverend Father Serge Tchinda poses with Kila.

The Sanaga bridge, the longest bridge in Cameroon.

The Sanaga River is quite wide, as the bridge itself is 1200 meters in length.

Bafia is the second village to which we brought equipment. Located in the central region, the administrative and political capital of Cameroon. After driving about 5 km into the bush on dirt road, we reached the village and started a little walk-through of a cocoa farm. This picture is of our guides and Kila standing next to a hybrid, which has very handsome pods compared to the diseased pods of surrounding old Forastero trees.

A colony of termites on a fallen log.

Standing next to an extremely large tree, which I was told is “a baby.” It was easily 120 feet (40 meters) high.

An example of what happens when you don’t treat the trees with myricide (an insecticide that kills pod-sucking myrids) in a timely manner. I do not know how organic farmers in DR, Peru, and Ecuador, do it. I know that detergent is a good organic insecticide but the problem is in seeing the bugs.

We met with a group of farmers and talked about some of their concerns, one of which was whether I would ever reappear in the future or, would I “be like a crow in the flood”. I didn't ask for clarification.

David, our driver, shows off the solar lights.

Pens that were donated by Ernie Roide, of Project Hope and Fairness.

Equipment we bought to help them better maintain the road as well as to prepare soil for gardens and to construct buildings.

Two women of Bafia model their Project Hope and Fairness scarves.

Children display their pens and notebooks.

A young girl shows how well the solar light works.

Wall construction of Bafia.

Trinitario growing behind a house.

Young cocoa pods are referred to as “cherelles”. Only 1% of cocoa flowers make it to adulthood. The flowers might fall off without being fertilized or the plant might decide to cut off water and nutrients, causing the cherelles to turn black. Sorry about the lack of focus.

Young porker. Obviously a 100% Christian village; I doubt if Muslims would even live in a village that has pigs.

Local farmer shows off part of his cotton crop.

Garden eggs, a variety of eggplant.

We continued to Obala and visited a warehouse of the largest cocoa buyer in Cameroon, Telcar Cocoa, Ltd. According to Kila, it is owned by a woman.

Stacking the truck.

Weighing bags before bringing them out to the truck. The workers were vociferously complaining that I was taking a picture without compensating them. The boss just looked on and smiled.

We reached Yaounde around 10 and found an affordable hotel., called “The Independent” (English article but French spelling).

Monday, August 29, 2011

I got up at 3:30 AM and we drove to the radio station, about 5 minutes from the hotel. We arrived at 4:30. The host(ess) proceeded to yell at us for not reconfirming. She let us on, anyway. This is a picture of the control room.

Afterwards, a reporter for a South African radio network interviewed me outside in the parking lot.

We had some time to kill, as it was too early to eat breakfast. So we drove around, looking at the sights. This is the Ministry of Transport

A statue to a Cameroonian general killed by the Germans.

A cathedral made out of local hardwoods. It was surrounded by murals made of clay tiles.

Outside the old German Catholic church.

Inside the old German Catholic church.

The original priest with the inscription Ego servus tuus, meaning “I am your servant”

Cameroon’s version of the Statue of Liberty.

We drove up a hill to survey the capital. Yaounde means “seven hills.”

Yaounde’s convention center

Locals hamming it up on a flat rock perched over empty space and certain death.

We spent the afternoon at Pa Godey’s place. Pa Godey is the senior brother of Kila’s deceased father. Pa is 84; his father lived to 114. Pa is an excellent conversationalist. Between the two of us, we spent at least 2 hours in solid conversation, a lot about American politics, before dinner was ready.

Pa's wife cooked this magnificent repast, a blend of European and local dishes. I loved the freshwater fish cooked in a tomato broth with many other flavors. In the very back is a cowpea fufu, made yellow by the addition of palm oil. In the foreground is the customary "Crudites", added to the Cameroonian repertoire during years of colonial rule. I have seen no evidence of German influence, which of course ended in 1916.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday is a complete blank. We did go for a walk in the afternoon, looking for a place to eat, as I was famished and whiny due to low blood sugar. Dr. Mbono, Kila, and I walked around near the hotel, looking for a place to eat.

We passed the social security building, which seems to be suffering from a possibly malignant tumor.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Today, Jean-Claude, a friend of Kila's picked us up early in order to drive south to Ebalowa, where Jean-Claude owns a large piece of land of which he has promised 4-10 hectares for a cocoa study center. Ebalowa is the capital of Southern Cameroon, and is about an hour's drive from Equatorial Guinea. It is situated right on the edge of the Congo Basin, a vast system of tributaries of the Congo that is rich in tropical hardwoods and still has the incredible biological diversity of an unexploited wilderness.

We passed the School of Forestry, aptly and perhaps ominously situated, given that the Congo Basin and the Amazon Basin represent the last hope for survival of Homo sapiens, since they are truly the "Lungs of the Planet".

On the way, we passed this truck carrying cocoa seedlings. Note the black cloud of smoke--a common sight and, cough cough, smell. Finely divided particulates from diesel vehicles pose a real threat to lung function. I saw an even worse example spewing from a Guinness truck but didn't have a fast enough trigger finger to record the crime against humanity. There oughta be a law...

After an hour and a half, we reached the outskirts of Ebalowa. This is part of a large fence adorned with portraits of various notable Cameroonians. To the left is the President, Paul Biya, who has retained his position for over 30 years; the same may be true of the lion on the right.

After arriving, we ate breakfast and then drove toward the parcel of land that Jean Claude has promised us. On the way, we passed this example of heroism (or foolishness?) So here you go: it is a trait of our species to recognize valour (growing on a rock) and treat it with respect.

We purchased this lizard for dinner that night.

We parked and walked through about 1/4 mile of semi-disturbed jungle with lots of cocoa trees planted under the less commercially useful overstory trees (i.e., those remaining after the big ones have been removed). I took a picture of a couple epiphytes.

This is the area near where our land is located. The 4-10 hectares Jean Claude is giving us have been cut down completely, and are covered with 8 foot tall grasses and the beginnings of the re-establishment of a new forest. It takes about 60 years for a forest to go from completely chopped until establishment of young primary species.

We drove farther down the road, about 1/4 mile, to visit a tourist resort. It features two caverns complete with stalagmites and stalactites, an extensive series of fish farms, restaurant, bar, and cute houses for rent. All is surrounded by hills like these. So, students from the cocoa study center can come and visit this breath-takingly beautiful area.

We returned to Ebalowa and enjoyed a delicious lunch--beef in a peanut broth with boiled cassava. African peanuts are very delicate in flavor and make an excellent sauce because they are not oily.

And then we returned to the university research center, which is called an "Antenne" or antenna, meaning that it is an offshoot of the original agriculture school in Dschang. We visited a pepiniere or nursery where they are growing jungle tree species that can be planted on a cocoa farm to provide shade while preserving some of the rare plants that have been lost in the headlong rush to exploit West African forests.

We took the bus back to Yaounde and arrived around 10 PM. At midnight, we enjoyed dinner at Jean Claude's house; it included the lizard, which Jean Claude's wife had cleaned and prepared as a stew.

With happy bellies, we returned to the hotel around 2 AM.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Today consisted of one really important event: having lunch with the Minister of Higher Education's wife and with the wife of the mayor of Ebalowa. The former manages the tourist center that belongs to the minister, so it is in their interest to help us fund the cocoa study center. And of course, the mayor and his wife are for anything that helps improve the lives of the residents of Ebalowa!

In the late afternoon we took a bus south and arrived back in Douala at 9:30 PM.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Today was punctuated by two important events. The first was a meeting with the CEO, Bart Willem, of Barry Callebaut, the third largest chocolate company in the world. We talked about some of the realities of running a chocolate production business as well as potential shared interests in the establishment of a cocoa study center.

Afterward, we spent an hour with Pierre Etoa of the National Cocoa and Coffee Board. He conveyed an important message to us regarding our plans to develop a chocolate production laboratory. And that is the advisability of adding a cocoa powder production facility for the production of beverages. He stated that in Cameroon, hot and cold cocoa beverages are a more natural fit than chocolate. Cocoa does not melt. And a beverage is flexible: it can be served at meetings (instead of palm wine) and it can be served along with a meal.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I began the long trip back, arriving in New York that afternoon. I stayed the night in my son's apartment and his partner, Lennon, served a superb meal. Our bellies ecstatic, we retired to the roof, 41 stories about the Hudson and sipped Margaritas while enjoying Manhattan rooftops la nuit. An excellent end to an excellent trip!