This is the 10th annual trip to West Africa. As you may know, I am the president of Project Hope &Fairness, established to 1), distribute tools to West African cocoa farmers; 2), disseminate information about the plight of the cocoa farmer; and 3), build a series of cocoa study centers where university students can work with cocoa farmers to solve some of their issues with economic and environmental sustainability.
July 19, 2012
I drove to LAX with three suitcases full of 300 PH&F scarves, 12 cases of chocolate, and 100 solar lights--in addition to the usual travel paraphernalia.
July 20, 2012
I took a plane to JFK, picked up my mother, Dorothy, in Terminal 2, then proceeded to Terminal 1 where we met Dr. Deanna Pucciarelli of Ball State University. She and I are presenting at a mini-conference at the University of Buea, which is to be the beginning of the cocoa study center--we hope.
July 21, 2012
After lunch, we went to a souk to purchase spices. I bought some argan oil for cooking and some for Eve. Argan is a tree that thrives in Morocco. The fruits are pressed to extract a flavorful oil that also serves as an emollient for the skin.
We visited a bakery where everyone was cramming into the small space underground to purchase pastries for breaking that evening's Ramadan fast.
My mother, Dorothy, who is 88, was rightfully tired, so we called it a day and drove back to the airport. We sat around, reading, from 4:30 PM until 10 PM, then boarded the plane for Douala, Cameroon. The flight was eventless except for the last half hour when the plane behaved like a bucking bronco, although still not as bad as the time years ago when we were flying into NYC from Austria, and Queens had been hit by a small tornado.
July 22, 2012
We arrived in Douala at 4:30 AM, having slept not a wink. We stood by the luggage belt for 90 minutes, and our luggage (4 pieces) never appeared!
Kila Balon met us at the airport and we drove to the hotel, actually, the Baptist Guesthouse, where Kila found out that they had not reserved rooms for us. We ended up going to another hotel and managed to get to sleep around 9 AM. We rose at about 2 PM and drove to Kila's aunt's house in a suburb of Douala. She served us a fabulous meal--two kinds of chicken stew, corn fufu, rice, two kinds of ndole or steamed vegetables. His aunt, who was mayor of the community for years and who lives in a modest concrete block house, takes care of 22 orphans on the premises! What a great role model!
She and my mother got along famously.
We retired at 9 PM, and I slept 9 straight hours. Toward the end, I dreamt that I was in charge of a nuclear reactor located inside a chocolate brown cylinder. My job was to keep the water levels high enough to avoid the fuel rods going critical. But I was inattentive, the water level fell, and cesium and strontium were filling the bathroom where it was located. At that point of hysteria, my mother knocked on the door to wake me up.
July 23, 2012
The rest of the evening sitting under the cupola at the Baptist Guest House where we talked about the cocoa study center.
July 24, 2012
Joy of joys, our luggage arrived! We picked it up after paying a customs official $40 for the privilege of bringing four suitcases into the country. Our next job was to purchase the tools for the two villages we plan to visit. I spent $1,000 for boots, machetes, sharpeners, shovels, picks, school books, and rain gear.
Still, the underfunded botanical garden remains truly remarkable for the maturity and variety of its specimens: including the plants mentioned above as well as many different spice trees and bushes. This should be a world heritage site. This map gives a feeling for the incredible richness of the garden.
My mother Dorothy admires a liana, one of thousands draping out of a single tree. Our guide called it a type of philodendron ("likes branches").
Between the garden and ocean is this charming vacation cove with gorgeous views, even when it's raining heavily.
We drove into Limbé and visited the fishing community. West African fishing boats are amazingly sturdy and heavy, and take maybe a dozen men to haul up on the beach.
Fishermen's wives collecting the catch.
Fishermen's wives grilling the fish, which smelled divine. We bought two bass as well as grilled Cameroonian plums and plantains.
Friday, July 27
We got up early and drove to Bafoussam to have breakfast with Kila's stepmother. Also pictured is his step sister, who is wearing a pullover or some such article of clothing.
We had a most delicious breakfast, which included grilled fish, crudités, and banana fritters. The banana fritters are made by frying small bananas in oil, letting them cool, then pinching them and then refrying. They are quite excellent. The fish was delicious.
After breakfast, we drove south to the village of Bandjoun, where we visited a most extraordinary church.
If I were a Christian, I would totally agree with this statement: "all faith begins with charity."
We continued to Monatele, a town about 30 minutes from the country's capital, Yaounde. We
turned off the road and drove for half an hour on dirt road. Fortunately for us, in this region, they hadn't seen rain for 6 weeks (in the middle of the rainy season no less: take that, global warming deniers!) and the road was quite negotiable.
One of the farmers who had led us to the fallen bridge stands on his porch. He is currently building an extension to his house. This man’s financial success is clearly well above average.
As we returned to the starting point, I saw a small collection of cocoa beans, drying. My companions explained that they belonged to an old woman, who was no longer able to harvest a lot of beans. Also, she had not properly fermented the beans, and this is reflected in the purple color, present because few of the purple anthocyanins had been degraded.
We donated the usual machetes, boots, scarves, books, solar lights, etc.
Sunday, July 29
This day was spent visiting people around town.
We were supposed to be at the TV station at noon, but we got there at 1 PM, as our meeting with the minister took a little while. They rushed us into the makeup room where we were all dusted in order to eliminate glare.
We were on a live show. They asked us about what we hoped to accomplish in Cameroon and the interview lasted about 3 minutes. There were no questions from the audience, so we left the set and walked outside, where we had a second, longer interview under the mango trees. This interview aired this morning, Tuesday.
We spent the morning attempting to visit two ministries. The Minister of Small and Medium Enterprises was not there, but Kila was able to secure a meeting with him for Wednesday of this week. We also visited the advisor to the Minister of Tourism. Deanna expressed her concerns about Cameroon’s real commitment to tourism because: 1), Cameroon taxes each passenger with $750 landing fees; 2), Hotels are not available on the Internet, so you cannot reserve rooms in advance; 3), running hot and cold water, functioning AC, toilets that work are sadly lacking.
In the morning, we ate breakfast and checked into Hotel Planete, which is about 100 meters from the guesthouse (which is full for the night). It costs $120 per night (with tax), but I have in-room internet and everything works! Expensive but I don't have an alternative. And, I've done my wash and am busily allowing it to dry.
We made it to Ghana! There were still some adventures along the way. Got to the airport at 8 AM, spent another $120 to get our new tickets, waited forever for the plane that was late, made it to Lome, Togo, then started to board the next plane. Turns out our lovely personnel in Cameroon didn't bother to put us on the passenger list, so we fretted and fretted. Imagine how my mother felt! I tried to remain calm.
We crammed ourselves into an old propjob and we tootled over Togo and Ghana at 14,000 feet. I felt like a WWI passenger.
We arrived in Accra at 2 PM, had no problems through customs, met Alex, then drove to a fast-food (actually slow food) joint that does burgers and fries and fried chicken. Quite good, but extremely slow. I begged 4 times for the Coke so we could sip it while waiting for a slow food. Turns out you can't have part of your order while waiting.
We changed $2000 into 4006 cedis (the cedi has lost 45% of its value just in 12 months). We drove (actually, crawled) to Agrimat and purchased 60 pairs of boots at $8 each (half the price of the boots in Cameroon). Agrimat doesn't believe in maintaining stock, so we had to find another way to purchase $1500 of machetes. This we did in a very clever way. Alex's step-mother's sister is married to a man who sells farm implements. Since if we had attempted to drive to center Accra during rush hour, we would have arrived 90 minutes after the store's clothing, Alex asked her to contact the man and ask him to bring 300 machetes home with him, as he lives down the street.
So we drove to Alex's mother-in-law's house to wait.
On the way back to Cape Coast, we passed a field of stones graded by size. People crack these granitic rocks by hand. This woman consented to have her photograph taken in exchange for 50 cents—probably what she earns in a day.
August 4, 2012
The following day, we drove to Gyaware, a town located about 5 km off the main road. Because of the distance, most of the children have no opportunity for an education. It's hard enough to get the product to market. Gyaware is beautifully situation, backed up to one of the only remaining tracts of virgin rainforest. And, as you may know, rainforest gets its name from the propensity of trees to retain moisture in the local atmosphere and perpetuate rainfall. Gyaware, by the way, means "too far to come marry you."
Home of Gyaware.
House for drying gari (dried cassava). Goat has taken up residence.
African shower in Gyaware.
Bicycles are rare but extremely useful in a village that is so far away from the main road.
The man in the middle was introduced in my 2007 blog. He is 5 years older now and has aged markedly. The life of a cocoa farmer is extremely hard. He told me that his left eye bothered him because a cobra spat in it.
We donated the usual items.
After Gyaware, we drove to the village where I am Development Chief, or Nkorsorhene. I am also called "Nana Edim II". I am hoping to build a small cocoa study center in the village where we would study the potential smallscale chocolate production in a cocoa growing village. This will require paying for the running of electrical wires from the main road to the village. Reverend Sampson is a leader of the village and with whom I have had regular contact since 2006.
Somehow all of the images about the donations ceremony were corrupted. My mother and I followed the Reverend Sampson into his grove of cocoa trees, which occupies 5 hectares of land.
My mother poses next to a cocoa tree.
My mother with the Reverend Sampson, who is a leader in the village.
Rev. Sampson showed us the traditional West African method of fermenting cocoa beans_ to arrange banana leaves on the ground, then to pile the beans on it and finally to place banana leaves on top. The cocoa beans were quite warm: maybe 120 °F.
Our donations were gratefully accepted.
August 5, 2012
Our job is finished in Ghana. We spent the night in Cape Coast and then drove back to Accra. On the way to the airport, Soledad, who used to live in Mmaniaye, joined us at a traffic light. She needs 150 ghana cedis for her education. I told her to write me an email explaining what she has studied, what she plans to study in the future, and how well she's doing. I told her I would send her the money before the beginning of high school.
At the airport, we met Peter's brother. Peter Sewornoo set up the village tour in 2006. He is now working as an economist for the British Commonwealth. I gave Peter's brother an IBook that I had received as a reward for installing a solar system on our house.
The flight to Abidjan was eventless, and we met Albert Kouassi Konan at the Hotel Golden, where I have stayed since 2005. We also met Kelsey Timmerman, who is writing a book about where food comes from: coffee, bananas, tomatoes, cocoa, and two others.
We started by getting money from the ATM, then driving to St. Paul Cathedral, one of the most beautiful churches that I have ever seen. Designed by an architect, it was begun in 1983 and finished in 1985. It is a totally non-rectilinear building; the floor follows the line of the hill while the roof soars to heaven.
Surrounding the grounds of the cathedral are the government buildings. This one is much the worse for wear because during the mini-civil war of 2010-2011 (after the presidential elections) there was a lot of fighting between pro-Ouattara and pro-Gbagbo forces.
In the evening, we ate the truly excellent dish, grilled fish Abidjanese-style at Le Baron Restaurant in Port Bouet (next to the ocean). We enjoyed the sounds of ocean waves crashing.
August 6, 2012
This was going to be a big day: 5 or more villages to visit! We started by picking up the rest of the equipment that we had purchased.
We started by visiting a popular tourist site, Le Village des Singes. The story goes that a doctor turned his entire family into monkies when he heard that the French were coming to get slaves. He succeeded but then forgot to make a reverse potion. As a result, this village is populated with monkeys who are directly descended from the doctor and his family.
This is a rubber pepiniere (nursery) that was off to the side of the nursery. Everyone is dumping cocoa and planting rubber because they are sick of the way they have been treated by their government, the large chocolate companies, and the sellers of cocoa.
We drove south toward Issia. This is a rubber tree. Latex flows into the cup which, when filled, sets into rubber, an extremely stinky product. Cocoa farmers are rapidly replacing cocoa with rubber because the price of cocoa remains too low to support cocoa farming as an occupation.
Trees have to be carefully scored to maintain a healthy flow. Rubber trees are "milked" 9 months out of 12. Three months of down time allow the tree to recover.
We drove through Issia to the turn-off to Tetie and Djahakro. Tetie greeted us with some wonderful drumming and dancing. We enjoyed each other's company and made the usual speeches.
Afterwards, we continued down the road to Djahakro, which is about 5 km into the forest. We sat down and enjoyed cocoa drink, made from the juice that forms as the cocoa beans ferment. The flavor rivals the best fruit flavors. I could drink it every day.
After a brief chat, we left Kelsey with several farmers so he could acquire the information for the cocoa chapter in his upcoming book, "Where Are We Eating?"
We drove back to the road and continued our visit to the villages of Zereguhe and Depa. I have been visiting these villages since 2005.
Donations to Zereguhe.
Donations to Depa
My mother was feeling dizzy and faint, due to the sun and to the exertion of walking across the village. We took her to a hotel to relax for 5 hours while we completely the mission.
We returned to Djahakro to pick up Kelsey and to enjoy the lunch that they had provided. Afterwards, we presented the tools and they dressed me up as a chief in order to show their appreciation for our gifts.
By the time we left, it was mid-afternoon and we had one more village to go as well as a visit to a cooperative. We drove back toward Issia and stopped at Pezoan, one of the first villages that PH&F has assisted. Everyone had given up on our showing up and had gone on with their day. The chief wasn't far away, so after half an hour of waiting, we had a quorum.
The chief, as is his custom, started by welcoming us with a chicken. This consists of passing a live, squawking chicken around you. He did this twice, as we hadn't visited Pezoan last year.
August 9, 2012
Today, we visited the last village, Abekro, which is located like the 5 others near Issia. This is the village where Eugenie used to live--the woman who has graced our cocoa labels (although we do not use African chocolate yet!)
We exited the car and, lo and behold, the chief's house has gone solar! For $500, he has enough electricity to light two homes and to run a TV. In all the villages we visited, we were told that having a TV to watch was considered to be a quality of life issue.
12-volt battery plus controller.
We walked through the village to the appatam, a roof constructed for the meeting of groups. On the way, we saw these twins and their proud mother. According to Chinua Achebe, twins used to be considered bad luck and were buried in the Forbidden Forest.
There didn't used to be trash in a village. People just threw things on the ground and they decayed into the soil Batteries, containing cadmium, beryllium and other highly toxic heavy metals, now join the environment and threaten the health of the villagers.
We sat under the appatam and waited for Abekro-ites to accumulate. The bell-ringer banged on an old auto wheel (sic?) to summon anyone available.
Before we did the donations, Kelsey asked a bunch of questions. One was to the children: "How many of you went to school last year?" Parents try very hard to send their children to school. Certain villages, however, are too far away and most children in those villages have no chance at an education.
Our donations are much appreciated...
On the way back to the car, I talked to this group of women who were brewing up the West African recipe for anti-malarial tea. Malaria medication is extremely expensive and not affordable by most cocoa farmers, who make so little money thanks to the unjust system that works against them. I tasted the medicine and found it bitter. It would be better with a shot of rum.
After Abekro, we set out for Albert's land, 37 hectares located about 40 km over rutted dirt road. It took a little over two hours of bone shattering ruts and engine-drowning lakes to get to his village, KonanKuameKro, named after his father, Kuame Konan. Lousy roads mean lousy prices for cocoa. A village located near a major highway is much wealthier than a village that is 40 km up a road that takes 2 hours to reach because of the road's condition.
When we emerged from the car, we were greeted by about 100 villagers, singing and dancing.
While things were still a little chaotic, I had a moment to take this picture of an unknown bush.
The chefs prepare our lunch.
Our lunch included fruit bat. It was mostly bones and skin. The sauce was black because it was based on dried okra.
After lunch, we presented our donations and then followed this with a question and answer session.
The houses facing the village's square are draped in "pagnes" or colorful fabrics.
Albert took us to the town's school, which consists of two classrooms made of local materials. The government has so far ignored this community of about 200.
Every village has its women's groups that wear the same clothes to show solidarity. In one village in Cameroon, all the Methodist women had the same outfit. I do not know what united these ladies.
We left at 4:30, which meant we were able to regain the pavement before the sun had set. I would not like to negotiate such a road at night!
August 10, 2012
Today was spent mostly driving but it was capped by a very important event--visit of Saf Cacao, the fourth largest cocoa buyer in Cote d'Ivoire. We dropped Kelsey off at Djahakro so he could spend the day tromping through the bush. On the way to Djahakro, we ran across the chef of Depa, who was waiting for us so he could give us a price quote for a rice decorticator. This removes the brown skin on the outside of the rice grain, a culinary activity that takes too much time in a woman's day.
The chief of Depa with Kelsey and Albert.
We drove south about 3 hours to San Pedro, the port from which most of the country's cocoa leaves. I have visited Saf Cacao since 2005, when I poked my head over the wall and the CEO yelled out, "You can come in!" Ever since then, I've been visiting this company, which is owned by the Lakiss family, based in Southern Lebanon.
We toured the cocoa drying and cleaning facility, the new coffee facility, and the grinding plant.
Trucks arrive from the country, laden with these bags full of moist, poorly fermented, dirty cocoa. Ali said in a recent article that sometimes they reject 90% of what they receive. The bags stay in piles in this central area while the laboratory tests the beans.
This is done by sampling in five places from each bag, mixing the samples, then doing a pH test to determine acidity. Excess means either excess fermentation or poor storage. A cut test in a second lab determines: purple (insufficiently fermented), slatiness (young beans), moldiness, and presence of insects.
The poor quality of cocoa that Saf Cacao brings demonstrates the essential problem: poor education at the village level. This is what we at PH&F, cooperatives, and the World Cocoa Foundation are working for. The problem is, there are thousands of villages and all efforts are dwarfed by this.
Once the beans have been accepted they are organized by dryness and the drying conditions are programmed into the computer that runs these ovens. The beans are heated to 60 to 80 °C depending on their moistness.
After drying, the beans are run through these machines that remove foreign objects such as sticks, pieces of plastic, and metal.
The beans are bagged up and stacked on pallets, ready for shipment. Note the "sacs de brousse" or country bags in the foreground. These are waiting to be processed.
We walked next-door to see the new coffee processing facility. The coffee they receive is 100% Robusta. Cote d'Ivoire is the fourth largest producer of coffee in the world. Most of it is Robusta, not Arabica.
Here we see the three grades of beans. At the top is the sorter that selects according to size. At the left is the German machine (Germans have the reputation of making the best machinery in the world) that sorts black beans from green by optical methods. Black beans have been picked underripe and produce an inferior coffee. Some farmers, instead of picking the red beans only, just strip the whole branch.
Green coffee beans: picked ripe
Black coffee beans: picked unripe.
After inspecting the coffee cleaning and sorting facility, we drove around back to see the new grinding plant. If you are interested in seeing its construction, please see the blogs from 2009 and 2010.
We entered the dirty part of the plant: that is, where the still unclean beans enter. This machine removes some of the garbage that is still in the beans despite having been dried and cleaned once in the other facility.
Beans are removed from bags and blown into the sorter to remove undesirable objects.
I forget the name for clumped beans in French, but these happen when the farmer doesn't break the beans apart sufficiently before fermenting them. The placental tissue is still holding them together. Judging from reports and from my own experience, small farmers are more careful than this. Clumping happens when large operations use "hired" help--a euphemism of course for a form of slavery that still exists in Côte d'Ivoire.
Boys who work for several years with no payment until the very end are hardly likely to do a good job. This system, as documented in the book "Bitter Chocolate" by Carol Off, is still alive and well in Côte d'Ivoire.
Ali Lakiss is planning on incorporating certifications into his operations. As you probably know, the U.S. currently lags behind Northern Europe in terms of social awareness concerning child slavery in West Africa. For example, Fair Trade chocolate accounts for about 0.2% of the market in the U.S. whereas in Great Britain, it is around 8%. These numbers may be low, but I have yet to find ANY published data on this. Fair Traders, please help! And of course, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ do almost nothing for the farmer.
Another form of undesirable objects: a piece of rubber and a string from a bag.
Some of the beans are flat and therefore underdeveloped and lacking in flavor. Other beans break apart during shipment. The material that results is removed, bagged up, and sold as fertilizer back to some farmers.
After cleaning, the beans are blown into this machine which cracks them apart so the nibs or pieces of bean can be separated from the shell.
The shell is removed from the nibs in this machine, called a "winnower".
The nibs are then blown into the roaster.
Conditions of roasting are controlled by computer.
Grinding is achieved by three ball mills that have very rapid throughput. The ultimate particle size is 50 microns.
Boxes are filled with molten chocolate, then allowed to cool in this room, which is quite cool.
Every batch is tasted for organoleptic quality. I tasted it and found it to have a very mild flavor--typical of Forastero beans which are used as the base of a fine chocolate in combination with South American criollo beans, or 100% in 75% of American chocolate, which is quite mild in flavor--aka bland.
We left the facility and drove North to Soubre, where we spent the night.
August 11 & 12, 2012
The 11th was spent driving from Soubre to Abidjan. The only picture I took of any value is this one of latex balls lying by the side of the road, waiting to be picked up and taken to the rubber plant.
In the morning of the 12th, I took my mother to St Paul Cathedral. There were about 600 in attendance.
This is the stained glass widow over the altar that represents Saul on the road to Damascus.
In the afternoon, we ate at a lovely restaurant close to the hotel that also has rooms and a pool. The architecture was that of the savannah houses--mud and sticks. The food was also quite good. Unfortunately, I forgot to put the chip in my camera. Oh well.
Well, that's the end of my blog. The adventure is not quite over. We still have to drive to the airport at 11 PM. We still have to get on the plane. Hopefully, there's no pilot slowdon as there was in 2009, when we had to stand for 3 hours and we missed all our flights after that.
So, keeping my fingers crossed, end of Adventure 2012!! Thanks for reading.