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.
Lunch was really excellent: Okonghobong, which is made of chopped greens cooked with the insides of pumpkin seeds, dried fish, and dried beef. The starch accompaniment was boiled African yam.
I woke to the water working! We enjoyed an omelet breakfast as well as fresh pineapple, and while we ate, we also enjoyed the view. In this picture, we are staring at Equatorial Guinea, the next country south.
View of Limbe Bay, complete with oil platform. Yuck.
We needed to be in Buea in time for a meeting with Dr. George Chuyong. On the way, we passed by extensive tea plantations.
After our meeting, we drove around the volcano to Munyenge. This involved driving for 2 hours on kidney-ripping volcanic road. We arrived in Munyenge at around 4 PM, spent an hour talking to the chief about the cocoa study center and our plans to train the farmers in his village in chocolate production. He was very supportive. This is our third time donating tools to the village. The chief is fourth from the right.
Thursday, August 28
We started out at 6 AM as our destination was Bamenda. We were to join Marcie Alvarez, who works for Plan International, an NGO founded to improve the lives of children in Third World countries. She is interested in building a chocolate business to be run by HIV-positive women in the village of Esu, located about 4 hours over bad road (redundancy) from Bamenda.
Friday, August 29
We shared glasses of palm wine. Note the name on the bottle: Casanova, which means Neuhaus in Italian. :=) Next to the bottle is a plate of kola nuts, traditionally shared when people visit each other. They are extremely bitter, but tradition dies hard. They are more tolerable if you take them with a sip of palm wine, which is sweet, refreshing and about the alcohol content of a pilsner.
It was getting dark and we needed to drive on to Yaounde, our final destination. We removed our donations from the car and arranged them on a table that had been set up for a sumptuous repast. The picture is really bad because of the low light; I had to crank brightness up to 100% in Photoshop. The meal included at least 20 dishes; one was grilled "mackerel", a freshwater fish. It was in the top 5 of grilled fish tasted during my past 64 years. Worth a Michelin star. There were also gumbo, s soup made both with the okra and its leaves. Gumbo in the U.S., made by escaped slaves married to Native Americans, is an African American food: made with okra but thickened with the leaves of the American tree, sassafras (aka file).