Friday, August 22, 2014

PH&F Trip--2014

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).
Hagia Sophia, built as a Christian church during the time of Justinian in the 6th century, has withstood earthquakes and politicalquakes, including the transition from the Byzantines to the Ottomans in the 15th century.  About 30,000 people visit what was the largest church in the world.  Workers are busy scraping plaster applied to hide the original Christian figures, as the Koran forbids the depiction of the human body.  Ataturk, who championed a secular revolution, had the building converted into a museum, so now the gold foil covered tiles that dominate the ceiling artwork are being exposed.

Afterwards, we visited the blue mosque, whose tiles fostered the coining of the word, "turquoise."  On the way out, we tried a little 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

We started the day with a marvelous Turkish breakfast, complete with olives tomatoes and cucumbers, yogurt with cucumbers and dill, clotted cream with honey, breads, 5 kinds of cheeses.  Refreshing and healthful.

We walked toward the Golden Horn, where our Bosporus tour boat was leaving from.  On the way, we passed this mosque, located two blocks from Juliet and Cem’s  apartment.  A tiny park borders the mosque, with a walkway from which you can admire the Bosporus glinting in the sun and the faraway buildings of “Asia”, the rest of Turkey. 

Another short walk brought us to this cathouse, where we found two cuties enjoying their time in the sun while hornets buzzed about, keeping us from approaching too close (us being me, obviously)

We took a 1.5 hour ride up the Bosporus past the fort, and then turned around.  While the heat was almost unbearable in the city, a stiff wind off the Marmara Sea kept the ride quite pleasant.

Our plane left at 5:30 PM.  It arrived in Libreville, Gabon at 11 PM, then took off for Douala.  Libreville, the capital of Gabon, is right on the equator and Douala is several degrees north.  I sat next to a Libyan national who was returning from a vacation with his family;  he works for a consortium of oil companies drilling and extracting in Central Africa.

We arrived during a downpour, and the plane hit the runway a little hard.  Apparently earlier in  the day, Douala had experienced strong winds and rain, causing trees to break and collapse all over the city.  This tree met its demise right across from the Planet Hotel and workers spent much of the following day cutting the smaller limbs with machetes. 

Monday,  August 25, 2014

We woke up to a grey sky and many mosquitoes.  The Baptist Guest House costs only $25 per night.  The rooms are spacious and functional.  This is a view of the Woure river, only a couple hundred feet from us but separated from the river by warehouses, docks, and ocean-going ships. 

After breakfast, Kila came to pick us up.  We started walking in the direction of Bonanjo, the location of the Manga Bell palace, constructed for the King by the German colonialist regime in the late 19th century.  Halfway there, we were called back by Amy Banda of S-TV, whom Kila had contacted to interview us.  She conducted a half hour interview of Bob and me.  I talked about the importance of building local economy in order to free farmers from enslavement by their own government and by multinational corporations.  Bob talked about the Native American experience and how that can be used to free pygmies from becoming victims of deforestation..  She’s quite a character and I anticipate to get a copy of the finished product.

The interview made us hungry, so we walked over to a French-African restaurant just blocks away from the guesthouse.  I enjoyed a plate of tripe cooked with beans.  Totally delicious, although the tripe could have been cooked longer. 

Later in the afternoon, we were visited by Ernest Ehabe, who lived in the U.S. for years but moved back to Cameroon about 20 years ago.  He is a perfect example of a social entrepreneur.  He runs businesses to generate capital to help others start their own businesses.  He runs CADAC (Community Awareness Development A___ Cameroon), established to help pygmies find ways to stay in the forest.  Apparently with the massive deforestation occurring in Central Africa, pygmies are finding it harder to survive.

Ernest also runs Bread for Life, which brings medical doctors from the U.S. to do free medical work.  He flies frequently to the U.S. to give talks, especially in churches.

In late evening, we visited the Bonanjo district.  This is a WWI monument commemorating the soldiers who died liberating Cameroon from the Germans and giving it instead to the French.

This monument commemorates the French sacrifice to keep Cameroon in the fold.

The Bell Palace was built for the Bell family by the Germans.

A half year later, the son was beheaded by the German administration.  About 6 paintings commemorate 6 beheadings of freedom fighters—1 by the Germans and another 5 by the French.  The painting on the left is of the young Bell.

Tuesday, August 25, 2014

Pictures soon!  Just need to get on the road at this point….

This morning, we set out to purchase the tools that will be distributed to villages.  This time, because we are visiting a pygmy village on Saturday, we have divided the tools into three piles.  We drove to the usual Lebanese store and purchased the following:

18 pairs of heavy duty boots ($17 each)
60 machetes
3 pickaxe heads
3 shovels
3 rolls of rope
3 hammers
3 rakes
1 case of notebooks for students

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. 

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.

We devoured our lunches, as we had to be in Ekona at the center for research for a meeting with Dr. Etchu Kingsley, who has promised to work with me on developing a Memorandum of Understanding so we can move the cocoa study center forward.  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.
This picture shows looking out into the bay, directly at a great eyesore, a drilling platform.  Next to the boats are a half dozen seafood restaurants.

We drove to the hotel, which is set on a hilltop, looking out over the ocean.  The road was extremely rutted, rocky, slippery and steep, a great combination for tired travelers to endure.  Also, I spent several hours working on the MOU and by the time I retired, the water had been turned off, so there was none for showering or flushing the toilet.  I suppose this would rank as a poor practice by the hospitality industry.

Wednesday, August 27

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.

We spent an hour with Dr. Chuyong.  Extremely productive.  We decided that the Cocoa Study Center would offer a week's classes to 30 students from an American university who spend 3 weeks at the university.  In one meeting,  we solved the problem of how to get students.  Next summer, I will set up the chocolate factory and train people in production.  The following year we will have 3 classes of 10 students along with 3 cocoa farmers per class.  The students will also visit the farms and spend at least a day working with a farmer.

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.

We drove about 5 hours to reach Dschang, located at the top of an escarpment.  The university of Dschang is an important agricultural research center.  We were fortunate to locate Dr. Julius Tanka,  with whom we have discussed the cocoa study center in the past.  Dr. Tanka is an expert in the development and use of appropriate technologies. We passed students making wooden blades for windmills and others making a windmill out of metal.  Dr. Tanka showed us a machine for making biogas out of wood as well as a hand-operated pump designed to lift water 60 feet and a 1,000 gallon tank to raise catfish.

This picture shows Dr. Tanka next to one of his cocoa dryers, designed to burn biogas and produce 80 degree air for drying cocoa.  The government of Cameroon is concerned about the low quality of its exports:  Cameroonian cocoa often has a smoky flavor caused by decrepit cocoa drying ovens.  Dr. Tanka's research has received much attention in government circles.

We continued our journey, arriving in Bamenda around 6 PM.  The last 4 hours of driving were over an extremely rough road, and our kidneys felt severely challenged by the vibrations.  Just outside Bamenda, at the top of the escarpment (another one!) we stopped at an old German military post.  Quite beautiful to look at.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t take a picture because I might get arrested and deported and have my camera confiscated.  It is verboten to take pictures of government property--just like in the U.S.

We continued into Bamenda, the capital of the Northwest region.  The road down the escarpment afforded this view of the valley below.  The city is quite beautiful from above.  To take this picture, we had to scramble up a slippery path.  Since my youth, I have devolved from mountain goat to slug;  it was easy to climb the hillock for the view, slightly less easy to tolerate vertigo, as the edge of the hill falls off several thousand feet, and virtually impossible to walk down.  While Kila and Bob scrambled down using their functional knees, I had to employ my best feature--my ass (not a donkey)--and I entered the hotel minutes later with a very red posterior.  Since people look at faces and not at rear ends, I maintained my good reputation until the room, where I washed out the laterite.

We arrived at the hotel at 6 PM and joined Marcie for dinner.  One of the women she has helped start a business had prepared the dinner.  This was a plantain soup with superb spicing.

Marcie, Bob, and I discussed a budget for building a chocolate business in the village of Esu   She feels confident that she can come up with the $9,000.  Marcie was born in Minnesota, but her parents are Honduran.  Her father is a university professor who does research in biotechnology;  because of her upbringing, she has traveled the world.  She told us at the very beginning of our meeting that she has lived out of a suitcase for the past 2 years. 

Friday, August 29

Today was spent driving, driving, driving.  We had to go about 350 km on bad roads.  George, behind the steering wheel, did a great job of going fast while avoiding potholes and oncoming traffic.  An amusing stop was at a series of roadside farm stands, where Kila bought cabbages and other vegetables to bring to his mother in the evening.  This man, carrying a fake musical instrument,  approached our car and began to sing in a very off-tune voice.  His voice was as real as his instrument!  But what a picture!

We arrived at Monatele around 4 PM.  As I climbed creakingly out of the car and stretched my cramped legs, I saw this platform of cocoa beans drying in the short periods of sun--between rainstorms. 

About 30 villagers awaited us, sitting in a horseshoe-shaped formation with our chairs at the top along with a table for beverages.  We started with an exchange of news since our last meeting.  Mr. Jean Nke Ange, Secretary of the Farmers’ Cooperative read a speech.  He stated, “It has been two years and eleven days since you last visited, accompanied by your aged mother (88—see 2012 blog).  He actually called her "our" mother.”  He read off a list of their needs, including the bridge that is so important to their local economy as well as a list of their agricultural output.

After the speech, the skies opened up and we fled indoors, where a lively discussion ensued about a possible chocolate production facility.  

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).

We also donated three lights to three children—to help them study at night.  These children attend Ecole Publique de Kougoudai and College d’Enseignment Scolaire de Kougoudai. 

Saturday, August 30