This year, Bob Peak and I are traveling to three West African countries: Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, and Ghana. Bob, who is retired and has focussed much of his free time on rescuing wildlife for Pacific Wildlife Care, has met with me weekly during the past year to develop awareness of the difficulties cocoa farmers face eking out a living. This spring, Bob decided to accompany me on this year's trip so he can sensitize himself to the issues and actually witness the plight of the cocoa farmers firsthand.
Earlier in the year, I had contracted with SanthaUSA to ship two Spectra40 melangeurs from the factory in southern India via Mumbai-Joahnnisberg-Lagos and finally to their destinations, Accra and Abidjan. The Accra machine was picked up by an assistant who is storing it until I arrive on Sept. 10. The Abidjan machine is happily ensconced in David's factory in Depa, Cote d'Ivoire, located near the city of Issia (if that tells you anything!)
This trip is divided into four parts:
1. Los Angeles/Istanbul. We will fly nonstop from LA to Istanbul, Turkey, where we will stay two nights with my daughter, Juliet Layik and her husband, Cem.
2. Week in Cameroon--August 24 to Sept. 2. We will be meeting with interested parties regarding the establishment of a cocoa study center. University students would come to the center and learn to make and market chocolate as well as to attend lectures on economics, history, and chocolate production at the nearby University of Buea.
3. Week in Cote d'Ivoire--Sept. 2 to Sept. 10. Bob and I are carrying more chocolate molds, chocolate wrapping foils, a used laptop and a camera in order to help expand the Depa business. You can read about the Depa effort by clicking on last year's post.
4. Week+ in Ebekawopa, Ghana--Sept. 10 to ~Sept. 21. We are going to set up and use a mini-factory in Ebekawopa, Ghana. The long-term goal is to set up a local chocolate economy while providing an internship experience for university students. We are hoping to link to ProWorld, which has several internships established in the Cape Coast region.
5. Conclusion of trip. Bob will leave from Accra on Sept. 15 to fly to South Africa to visit a friend. I will stay in Ebekawopa until the factory is up and running and we are producing our first chocolate.
PART ONE--48 hours in Istanbul
I think of Istanbul as my second favorite world city--after Paris. It's beautiful, it's full of history, and Istanbul is full of people of numerous religions and cultures. On the taxi ride from the airport, one first becomes aware of the city's rich past, passing remnants of the great Byzantine stone walls that dominate the shoreline.
From the 5th century (marking the collapse of the Western Roman Empire) to the 15th century (the rise of the Ottoman Empire), Istanbul was a crossroads of trade between the East and the West. The Byzantines, literally the sequels to the Eastern Roman Empire, dominated the Eastern Mediterranean culturally, economically, and militarily.
Constantinople became Istanbul in 1453 when Mehmet II successfully lay siege to a city that smugly sat behind what it thought were impregnable defenses (Maginot Line, Great Wall of China). But after a period of unsuccessful bombardment, Mehmet II had his forces lay greasy logs over the giant chains that spanned the Golden Horn and during the night, his ships entered the horn and bombarded the city until surrender.
The subsequent Ottoman empire was extensive and powerful and ruled this part of the Mediterranean until after WWI, when Ataturk converted the destroyed empire into modern, secular Turkey. Today, the country is once again at a historical crossroads, appearing as a sparkling example of multiculturalism while also showing signs of radical Islamization. Meanwhile, the government has engaged in brutal repression of those who want to maintain a secular society while raiding the coffers of government and disappearing billions of dollars.
Despite all this, Hagia Sophia still remains a museum, no longer a mosque, and much of Ataturk's transition remains intact. Istanbul is reminiscent of Spain's Andalusian period, when three Abrahamic religions coexisted in peace and the sciences and arts flourished.
Saturday, August 23
After enjoying a breakfast of Menemen, a soupy scrambled eggs with cheese and spicy sausage, we walked the length of Istiklal, past the famous stone tower, Galata, which was built by the Byzantines to watch for fires. The first tower burned down as it was made of wood (the medium is the message).
Macun, a sugar syrup originally developed as a medicine but then ended up as a saccharine treat.
In the evening, we inspected the city from 38 floors up while sipping cocktails. We then drove to the Asitane Ottoman Cuisine restaurant, located next to one of the few intact Byzantine churches, the Chora Church (which we did not have time to visit). I particularly enjoyed lamb shank served in smoky eggplant puree in a crispy crust. For dessert, I had a fruit salad with cubes of mastic custard, flavored with rose water and crunchy almonds and pistachios. The lamb shank entree is in my top 5 most memorable lamb shank dishes. Ditto the fruit salad, truly a symphony of flavors and textures.
Sunday, August 24
The Bell Palace was built for the Bell family by the Germans.
We loaded the car with these items and set off toward Buea. It took about an hour of 10 mph driving to get out of the congested suburban areas and we arrived in Buea at the foot of the volcano at about 3 PM. We ate lunch in a hotel built to serve governmental employees. Because of the heavy cloud-cover, this is the best photo I was able to make of the volcano.
Pictured is Dr. Kingsley and one of his collaborators, Njukeng Jetro Nkengufac.
We left Dr. Kingsley and drove into Limbe where we quickly visited the beach where the fishermen keep their boats. There are a number of restaurants on the beach selling grilled freshly caught fish.
We had breakfast overlooking Limbe bay…
We drove to the University of Buea, where we had an appointment with Dr. Chuyong. We had a very pleasant discussion. Dr. Chuyong informed me of a joint agreement between Bloomsburg University, PA and the University of Buea. Every April, 30 students spend 2 weeks at the University of Buea. We agreed that I would write up a Memorandum of Understanding, that PH&F would build a chocolate production facility at the Ekona Research Center in summer, 2015, and that the first use of the facility would be in April, 2016.
Dr. Tanka shows off his cocoa dryer. He has built and installed 22 of them in 22 villages. The Cameroonian government is particularly concerned about the reputation of Cameroonian cocoa, and wants to end the practice of drying beans using rainforest wood.
We ate lunch near the Museum of Civilizations, which is a Smithsonian quality museum of southern and northern civilizations in Cameroon. Truly awe-inspiring!
Saturday, August 30
In the morning, we drove to Ernest Ehabe’s house to join in the birthday celebration of his son. They sang at least four verses of the HB song. One of them includes his child singing, with no trace of embarrassment whatsoever, a verse that proclaimed his age. It was so-o-o charming. There was absolutely no trace of self-consciousness. Very impressive.
Using Ernest's car, we drove several hundred miles to the capital of the Eastern Region, Bertoua. The hotel we stayed in had a very nice assortment of ebony furniture, including this throne with extensive inlays of shells.
Sunday, August 31
We drove East toward the border to visit the village of the Pygmies. We turned off the pavement and drove into the bush. As we approached our destination and came across this initial encampment of pygmies.
The fire structure, built to keep rain off the cooking fire.
This tire was hanging on a stick. They light it toward evening to create a noxious smoke that chases away mosquitoes.
We continued down the road and reached a pygmy and non-pygmy encampment. The main source of income here is cutting down the jungle. The pygmies emerge because they are drawn to some of the amenities of civilization and also because their natural environment is being destroyed by those who are profiting from its destruction. This pygmy house, made of sticks, leaves, an some of scrap wood left by the sawmill is open and you can see people inside cooking over a fire.
I walked around the encampment and found this house had been closed for privacy.
Here's a pygmy grandmother watching the younger generations. Gorgeous.
Donation of Solar Lights to pygmy children by The Mermaid Islands Corporation.
Bob stands next to a young pygmy mother, who has a child on her back.
This young pygmy man shows us how to call certain animals.
Girl with bags of dried corn. I suspect these were donated.
This is the germination area for tomato plants growing on Ernest Ehabe's 100 hectare farm. It sits right next to the forest. It's so exciting to stand among the tomato plants, listening to the animals of the forest.
We drove back to Yaounde, where we were to spend the night. On the way, we had a little dinner, which consisted of grilled meat--topped with onions and grilled plantain.
Monday, September 1
We spent the morning at the Muna Foundation. Kila, who knows everybody who is anybody, wanted us to discuss the possibility of the Muna Foundation putting together a little jingle promoting the cocoa study center. Kila is ALWAYS thinking.
The foundation was started by Solomon Tandeng Muna. This is the logo that is imprinted on the wall of the large, airy atrium.
The foundation director, grandson of Solomon Muna.
The foundation has the second largest collection of Cameroonian artifacts.
We drove back to Douala in the afternoon, arriving at the Baptist Guest House before dark.
Here is a map of Cameroon. You can see the places we visited: Douala, Buea, Dschang, Bamenda, Yaounde, Monatele, and Bertoua.
Tuesday, September 2
Mathurin and driver Sami arrived at 9 AM and we went downtown to change money with the black market folks. The bank wanted a copy of my passport AND my visa. We changed the money, like most crooks, in the stairwell of a building. This and a trip to Novotel for croissant, coffee, and Internet (that works) took the entire morning. After lunch, we set out to purchase tools. This all took most of the afternoon.
We put all the boots on the roof of the car—all 75 pairs.
The inside holds 18.000. It’s like standing inside an enormous gem.
The cathedral is called Notre Dame de la Paix, so the symbol of peace is symbolized by the dove in the operculum.
We returned to the car repair place; forsooth, they hadn’t finished yet. So we walked across the street to the Grand Mosque, which is attractive but not so grand as the basilica.
And here he is, exerting his chiefly power. As usual, Bob talked about being an Osage and Cherokee and he told people that his name is Meeteeyonka, for “He who follows the sacred sun.”
The $3500 machine that I shipped in June. It cost another $3500 to get it out of the airport, as there were 8 sets of hands to be lined with silver. Some people call that corruption. According to the internet, Côte d’Ivoire’s tariffs are supposed to be 15% of value, not 100%; math is an inexact science, at least for some.
We gave David a Mac laptop in order to write his reports and email them to me.
While there, a Green Mamba, the reason cocoa farmers wear boots, made an appearance, crawling across the rice hulls in search of a tasty reptile that was crawling up the wall.. David quickly killed it. Its bite is often lethal.
Initial, frosty reception.
After assuring the chief of Pezoan that he will get something next year, we bade farewell to the chief and to the village.
As we drove back into Issia, I took this picture of palm oil waiting to be shipped to the port.
The chief of Zereguhe.
As we left, I took this picture of a farmer lighting the “weeds” on fire. This keeps the snakes away by depriving them of habitat. The farmer obliged by dancing for my photos.
Bob feeding one of the monkeys. I kept eating mine, as I love West African bananas. They are much sweeter and smoother than the bananas we purchase from Central America (the so-called Cavendish).
One of the village women showed us how they gather rice before drying.
We drove to Broguhe, a village we have been visiting since 2006. This is the sewing room we built several years ago. It’s part of the chief’s home; the chief’s main wife teaches young women how to sew.
Donation of tools to the village of Broguhe
Monday, September 8
Our first village visit was Djahakro, located about 5 miles on mucky dirt road pitted with mudholes. At one point, our van bottomed out on the mid ridge between two puddles, the wheels spinning uselessly in the water. We tried pushing the car backwards, but that didn’t work. Fortunately, forwards worked. From then on, we insisted that the driver speed up before each depression; we never got stuck again.
Cocoa beans fermenting. This is a particularly bad job, as the beans have not been pulled apart, so there’s a lot of placental tissue connected to them.
The young man who is crouched in front of it was extremely precise in performing the customary ritual.
Our donation to Tetia
Before we set out, we visited the one supermarket (Lebanese owned) and I took this picture of Obama Whiskey. Whiskey, rum, soft drinks, palm wine, palm liquor, and water are the beverages most commonly served when you visit a village.
Front desk of the Hotel Ivoire.
The cathedral was getting a total facelift, so we couldn’t enter it. My mother and I attended a service there in 2012. Designed by an Italian architect, there isn’t a straight line on the entire property.
The large structure at the back represents Christ holding out his arms to welcome new believers.