Rice is a common female task in cocoa farming villages. Cocoa is mostly the purview of males. So, a center that focuses on both would be very balanced.
Mathurin our driver, Kone, picked me up at the hotel and we started by changing $2,000 in $100 bills into FCFA (Franc Communauté Financière Africaine). I asked him whether we’d do it on the black market but he said, “No, that’s not serious”. Two very common Ivoirisms are: “Il faut faire un effort” (make an effort—usually about giving someone money) and “Il faut être serieux” (you have to be serious) which means different things in different contexts, but generally it means to be conservative and not take chances.
Anyway, my stack of bills was ¼ inch thick. She handed back a 3-inch stack in four denominations: 5,000 CFA notes ($10 each), 2,000 CFA notes ($4 each), 1,000 CFA notes ($2 each), and 500 CFA notes ($1 each). All in mint condition.
Once we got the money changed, we went to a shopping center to purchase some tools. I had brought a $700 chocolate machine in my bright yellow suitcase. This is a machine with pieces of granite and it weighs over 40 lbs. Fortunately the upper limit for baggage is 50 lbs. Besides the chocolate machine, I needed to purchase a microwave oven because no chocolate kitchen can be without one. And with it we bought glass bowls, stirring spoons, and voltage protectors as Ivoirian electricity kills small motors.
By noon, we were on the road to Yamoussoukro. In the past, we had taken the road to Gagnoa, a big city, but it is in very bad shape. A note about sub-Saharan Africa… the rule is bad roads. It’s the number one problem. Also, people drive like maniacs (making Italian drivers look like German old ladies).
For the first hour, the road was good. Kone took advantage by driving our non-aligned, non-balanced tires at 90 MPH. I’m of course cowering in the back seat sans seat belt. Of course, I have images of flying through the windshield. But I’ve learned to face danger with calm. The best phrase on such occasions is Inch Allah (God Willing). And Kone being a Muslim, it’s appropriate.
The next morning, Saturday, we drove to Daloa—an hour north. There we entered two Lebanese businesses. Incidentally, most of the home appliance business in Côte d’Ivoire is Lebanese-owned. There are over 40,000 Lebanese living in Côte d’Ivoire, many in the cocoa business but many also in other retail businesses.
Lots of people came to share with us the joy of having built such a structure. And of course, they were fascinated with the idea of making chocolate and dying to taste some.
I melted and separated the margarine, added it and the sugar to the machine. Then David, who is in charge of the project, and I started to roast the cocoa beans. We went to the nearest kitchen (they are always separate from the living quarters). Pictured below, right is one of the prettier kitchens I've seen.
David (left) spent 45 minutes stirring the beans. I sat on the bench next to him and pulled out blazing handfuls, pinching off the shells and dropping the dried, roasted beans into a winnowing basket.
We had maybe a dozen people helping us, including some very enthusiastic children (uh-oh--child labor!) The children's fingers were so much more nimble than ours and they made a game of it. We probably processed close to 1,000 beans. David poured them into a clean, dry mortar and pounded them for about 30 minutes, reducing them to a powder. He sieved off a bunch which I then added to the chocolate melangeur. He poured the rest into a bowl and I slowly added the crushed beans to the melangeur, which was very happily spinning away. I gave out samples, and everyone was so amazed and happy. We let the machine turn all night and went back to the hotel.
Sunday, September 8
This was to be the ceremony day. But, as with all things West African, time marches slowly. I couldn't rush off to the village to check the chocolate machine because it would have been impolitic for me to enter the village without seeing the chief, but fortunately Jules Beka, the chief's spokesman, was adding chocolate powder for me. By noon, the chief had assembled ever 75 people, including representatives of 5 villages and their chiefs. We had a ceremony where we exchanged histories--what had happened since we last seen each other--and I was dressed in chiefly garb.
After the ceremony, we quickly adjourned to the rice hulling and chocolate making center, where dozens of people stood around and watched while the rice huller spat out its hulls into the mouths of waiting chickens and ants. (see right)
I stood in the chocolate kitchen giving out spoonfuls of chocolate to standing room only audience (as well as people clustered outside the window). One of the chocolate committee members stood next to me, wrapping chocolate.
Monday, September 9
This was the day of my departure, so we had arranged to visit three villages. We started by sitting with the chief of Depa and exchanging news and drinking beverages. David sat there dividing up the disks into piles to take with us to the different villages.
It was threatening to rain, so we piled into the car and drove 1 km to Tetia. By this time, it was pouring, and the car couldn't negotiate the uphill climb on slippery mud, so we climbed out and ran through the pouring rain to the chief's meeting house. We met with village officials, briefly exchanged news, and presented chocolate to our very appreciative hosts. We wanted to know whether they thought the chocolate was smooth enough and if it had enough sugar. They thought it was smooth enough, but not sweet enough.
We then drove to Pezoan, which is where we had built a public toilet, donated a scale and a dryness meter. The chief had just lost his wife, so he was unable to meet with us. However, I recognized old friends and we enjoyed each other's company. We then told them that Pezoan is the site of the next rice hulling and chocolate making center and everyone shouted with joy. We drove to the site, which is right next to an electrical pole.
Next, we drove to Zereguhe, which is located between Depa and Tetia. Like Pezoan, we have built a public toilet here, donated a scale and a dryness meter. Since they do not have electricity, we will not be able to build a rice hulling and chocolate making center there. But they gave us a chicken anyway, which we tied up and put in the trunk.
We left the Issia area at noon and drove NE to Yamoussoukro, where we stopped and had lunch on the outskirts of town. Street food is "fast" food in Côte d'Ivoire. Stopping in a restaurant usually means a minimum of 2 hours. Kone bought us three sheep liver sandwiches in tomato sauce with hard-boiled egg and onions and fresh tomatoes. Excellent!
We drove another 4 hours south. On the way, we saw three accidents. The first was a beer truck that had turned over and crashed thousands of full beer bottles onto the road. Both lanes were covered in glass, so we had to drive in the grass (no pun intended). We then came across a semi that had overturned, spilling thousands of bags of sugar which children were busily carrying away. Finally, about half an hour before arriving in Abidjan, we came upon a bus that had crashed into the median strip. There were hundreds of rubber-neckers milling about and I chose not to walk back because I don't want to see blood and guts. There were many bodies lying about in the grass. Mathurin said he doubted whether anyone had died, but I just hate that kind of thing. I've already been involved in two accidents in Africa in the past and I've already seen enough dead bodies.
We drove another 5 minutes, and suddenly there was a loud pounding. I immediately said, "back tire!". Kone and Mathurin got out and concluded the noise was the chicken pounding away in the trunk. We drove another 5 minutes and the loud pounding started again. I immediately repeated, "back tire!" and Kone peered under the car and noticed that the tread was peeling away from the tire's inside surface. Kone took everything out of the trunk. I held the chicken, who flapped his wings so I turned him upside down, which generally has a calming influence on chickens. The spare turned out to be a little sketchy, but Kone had it on in no time and we thankfully drove at only 100 KPH into Abidjan.
They dropped me off at the Golden Hotel where I rented a room for 3.5 hours. I enjoyed a fabulous dinner of Capitaine Grille a l'Abidjanaise. Capitaine, or grouper, is a fabulous fish, better actually than any halibut, and the Abidjanaise method of preparation is about the best way I know of to prepare grilled fish.
Kone drove us to the airport at 11 PM. I met Mathurin's three sons. The plane left Abidjan at 2 AM, arrived in Casablanca at 7 AM and I took a second plane for Paris that left at noon. The flight was eventless, and I arrived in Paris at 5 PM. Great to be in Paris again. But I miss Côte d'Ivoire already; despite the dirt and the danger, I love the people and the ways they treat each other.