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 Frami, Ghana--Sept. 10 to ~Sept. 21. We are going to set up and use a mini-factory in Frami, 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 Frami 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).
Saturday, August 30
Sunday, August 31, 2014
This is a kitchen. A rudimentary structure has been erected over the fire to protect it from rain. The fireplace is just a few stones.
Pygmy mother stands next to Bob.
Tomato seedlings on Ernest's farm
We left the Bertua area around 2 PM. On the way, we got a bite to eat, which consisted of grilled goat and cow with onions and plantains.
Monday, September 1
Tuesday, Sept 2.
Wednesday, Sept 3
We spent the morning changing money on the black market, ate lunch, then set out to buy the tools. We wandered around trying to find the right store and hit upon a rather large establishment. We purchased 68 machetes, 75 pairs of boots, and 5 each of shovels and picks for a total of $1,500.
Donation of solar lights by The Mermaid Islands Corporation of Unite To Light solar lights to three children in Pezoan: Ziagou, Edwige, Korebolou, and Blewaetosoba. All three attend College Moderne Louis Pasteur in Pezoan.
We donated another three Unite to Light solar lights, again from the Mermaid Islands Corporation to Gbelia Kouri Fabrice, Yode Wabi Williams, and Gogoua Joachime. All three attend the Ecole Primaire Publique, Zereguhe.
Just before we got into the car, I noticed this man lighting brush. He obliged by doing a little dance. The scene became just a bit apocalyptic.
The village secretary called the chief and while we waited for him to come back, I took a picture of the sewing room we had built back in 2011 but which still lacked electricity.
We donated the usual boots, machetes, and other tools. Bob and I gave the chief $310 for him to add the electric meter so that the sewing room could be finally connected.
We donated another three Unite to Light solar lights, again on behalf of the Mermaid Islands Corporation to (from left) Logbo Ble, junior, a student at the Lycée LM Daloa, Sery Valencia Reine, College Anado Abidjan, Ble Nekpato Gildas, a student at Lycée Moderne in Daloa.
As we entered Depa, I stopped by the rice huller to watch it in action. Children were outside, tossing rice in the air to remove chaff.
The rice huller was busy, many children working to process hundreds of pounds of rice. In minutes, they were performing an operation that takes hours when done in a mortar.
As the evening light dwindled, we walked over to the chocolate building. David had molded a few bars and disks and I showed him how to wrap the bars with the foil we had brought.
David shows a wrapped bar to everyone.
We arrived in Djahakro, a Baoulé hamlet. Here we are, enjoying an interminable supply of palm wine with the chief.
We went through the entire ceremony, which consists of these steps. Most of the talking is done by spokespersons.
This chicken is helping to clean the beans, although I'm not too keen on what comes out her back end.
Left, people awaiting our arrival.
In the morning, we stopped by the Prefecture, essentially the office of the regional governor. The prefet expressed his support for our project and encouraged us not to get discouraged. He gave the example of COOPEC, an agricultural bank/cooperative that first started in Canada but that has expanded internationally. Pictured are from the left: yours truly, the prefer, Bob, and Chef Dédé (chief of Depa).
Before hitting the road, we picked up water at Issia's one and only supermarché. Waiting in the check-out, I noticed this bottle of Ivorian libation.
We arrived in Abidjan in the late afternoon.
Wednesday, September 10
We had three hours to kill in the morning before we went to the airport. Right after loading the car with the luggage, Bob took this picture of Mathurin (left), his youngest son, me, his daughter, and his oldest son.
We drove to the Plateau, which is the downtown of Abidjan and withdrew enough money to pay Mathurin. We then continued to the Hotel Ivoire, which is in the Cocody district of Abidjan. This is a picture of the landscaping outside the casino.
The hotel is now owned by Sofitel and has made a lot of improvements. This is the registration desk.
We drove back to the plateau to visit St. Paul's Cathedral. Because of heavy damage experienced during the 2010 civil war, the inside was closed. It has spectacular stained glass windows. The cathedral was designed by an Italian architect; there isn't a straight line in the place. The figure of Christ faces the lagoon. St. Paul's is one of Houphouët-Boigny's projects to make Côte d'Ivoire the jewel of sub-Saharan Africa.
Finally, we drove to the airport and took a 3:20 PM flight, arriving in Accra at 4:15 PM. Alex Mensah, my Ghanaian representative, met us at the airport. Within half an hour we had found a very reasonably priced hotel (Central Hotel).
Thursday, September 11. In the morning, we drove to Cape Coast, which is 3 hours west of Accra. Shawn Dillard, who works for Intrax, International in the Cape Coast area, called my phone. We agreed to meet for lunch at the Castle restaurant. Shawn is interested in adding a chocolate production and marketing experience to the list of projects available for university students to participate in.
We discussed the political issues associated with the location of the chocolate production facility. On Friday, we will meet with the chiefs of four villages to discuss location.
Bob and I spent the afternoon visiting the two slave castles in this part of Ghana--Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle. During the almost 400 years of slaving--from 1482 to the 1830s when the British banned slaving, Cape Coast Castle was an important trading center. It held approximately 1,000 captives at a time. The British prayed to God in their Anglican church, located directly above one of the dungeons with a capacity of 300. Any captive who became sick was promptly dumped over the ramparts.
Next to the castle is a beach used by a fishing fleet.
We drove 20 minutes west to Elmina Castle, named by the Portuguese after the nearby gold mines. Before the Spaniards massacred the Aztecs in Central America, most of the world's gold came from West Africa. Christopher Columbus stopped at Elmina Castle on his way to the New World in 1492.
For many years, Elmina Castle was the largest and oldest colonial edifice in sub-Saharan Africa. Contrasting with the immense beauty of this place is the horror of people worshipping Jesus while treating other humans in the most cruel ways. At Elmina, for over 300 years, the Portuguese and then the Dutch governors slept with female prisoners, impregnating many and adding numerous mulattoes to the surrounding towns. If a female refused, she was chained to 8 cannon balls and allowed to starve in front of other prisoners.
Friday, September 12. This morning, we picked up Shawn and Kofi from ProWorld. They have a number of internships going in the Cape Coast area. A division of Intrax, International, ProWorld represents a window to American academia. It's the connection with American universities that I have no experience with. It's far easier for me to schlepp equipment halfway across the world, make friends with West African village chiefs, suffer the inanities of corrupt and bothersome police, recover from bouts of malaria, and stop periodic dysentery caused by poor sanitation than it is to find American university officials or for that matter students who are interested in anything African, in any kind of African experience. The fact that ProWorld has demonstrated success in this is critical to our success establishing undergraduate cocoa study centers.
Home of ProWorld in Ghana.
We drove to Ebekawopa, where the chiefs of four villages were to meet. These are: Ebekawopa, Gyaware, Mmaniaye, and Adiyaw. We have visited them regularly since 2007 (see previous blogs). About 30 people were in attendance.
Three members of the ProWorld staff attended in order to show their support. From the left: Isaac (in charge of working with villages); Kofi (looks after students); and Shawn, director of ProWorld, Ghana.
Reverend Sampson addresses the chiefs. I spent about 30 minutes discussing first the history of Project Hope and Fairness and then the positives and negatives associated with locating the chocolate production facility either on the road or in the village. In short, to make the facility available to all four villages, it's smartest to locate it on the road, where the electricity is available. The reasons for locating the facility in Ebekawopa is the fact that I am Omanhene (development chief--I have my own stool) and the village would provide extra security.
After about two hours, the chiefs had come to consensus. It was decided that the nearby town of Frangin (sic?) would serve as the site. Furthermore, the chiefs decided they would discuss the matter with members of their villages, then visit the chief of Frangin in order to find the best and most secure room in the village.
Before we left, we donated the remaining solar lights, children's' toys, and pens to the chiefs of the four villages.
After the meeting, the ProWorld folks and we drove to Kakum National Park (5 minutes away) and enjoyed lunch together. I ate Fufu with Goat in Light Soup. When my dish arrived, I discovered that my goat had turned into beef, but no worries. It was still very good.
Shawn, Kofi, and Isaac took a taxi South, and Bob and I did the canopy walk--a 0.8 Km walk on air (with the intervention of a few planks of wood, metal cable, and rope. We let the bouncy kids go first, and I was last. Agnes, the guide, a lovely person, walked backward in front of me, engaging me in conversation so I wouldn't think about the 110 feet of empty space between us and the forest floor. I did pause also to revel in the scenery--a virgin tropical rainforest stretching uninterrupted for miles.
This was my third time, and I'm glad I did it. Being an atheist, it's illogical to credit God with this incredible beauty, but you have to have a heart of stone not to glory in the great beauty of nature. It also makes one extremely sad to think how stupid and selfish we humans are, that we could despoil this planet with no consideration for our own survival or that of the countless species of plants and animals that share the Blue Planet with us (thanks, Carl Sagan). I equate this experience to sitting in Chartres Cathedral listening to the organ. It's so overwhelming I can only cry in happiness knowing that there is such beauty on this planet.
Drenched in sweat, we returned to the starting point. We drove south to the Hans Botel, as I wanted to show Bob a crocodile. Of course, it brought out the poem: How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail… And pour the waters of the Nile on every golden scale… How cheerfully he seems to grin, how neatly spreads his claws… And welcome little fishes in with gently shining jaws.
Saturday, September 13
Today, we drove back to Accra, checked into Central Hotel, ate a Chinese lunch, and then drove to four different businesses to purchase a refrigerator, a microwave, and a lot of smaller stuff. We found a glass door refrigerator, Samsung (good brand), for 1400 Ghana CDs but didn't pick it up right away due to its bulk. Instead, we drove to one of the really large malls in Accra where we purchased the following:
1 Microwave-convection oven
4 cotton towels
1 rubber spatula
1 set of wooden spoons
3 glass bowls
3 glass oven dishes (for roasting the beans)
2 sheet pans (for cooling the beans)
1 strainer (to make chocolate dust for the machine)
1 electric filter (to prevent damage to expensive machinery caused by brownouts)
Bob Peak purchased it all--for about $900.
We returned to the place with the refrigerator, but they had closed. Alex and I will drive the chocolate machine plus all the paraphernalia tomorrow afternoon after dropping Bob at the airport. Then, on Monday, we will drive back to Accra to purchase the refrigerator.
The plan is that the chiefs will have found a place in Frame by Tuesday so we can move in. There are still many details to iron out before we can produce our first batch of chocolate.
In the late afternoon, we visited Alex's house, which is under construction. Alex owns 13 4X4s and 3 buses, all of which he rents out. He conducts his business by cellphone as he drives. Alex also is into real estate investment and also purchases large quantities of materiel for various businesses. In addition, he is in inspector for KFC! Bob and Alex inspect the construction.
Alex's house from the front.
Looking up to the roof, which is being covered with shingles manufactured in Switzerland.
Alex's house has been under construction for two years. Currently, 15 men work on it full time.
One of them lives on site along with his wife and two children. Chickens run around the construction site, and the family made a dinner of roast chicken over a fire burning construction scraps (lower righthand corner).
Sunday, September 14
After about 45 minutes of formalities, we all walked to the property that the chief of Frami is giving us for the Ghana Cocoa Study Center. We passed this mural, which commemorates an important battle when this village was taken away from somebody else. All the cocoa farmers have raised their machetes in a victory salute. No one knew the date that is being commemorated.
This is the building that has been allocated to the Ghana Cocoa Study Center--Frami. It has three rooms and electricity. We are going to install iron bars on the windows as well as a steel door--to protect the expensive machinery within.
We emptied the 4X4 and unpacked everything. Now the electrician has to connect the electrical stabilizer (prevents damage to motors caused by the frequent brownouts) and the carpenter has to make 3 tables and two shelving units.
Alex and I set out at 11 AM for Accra to purchase the refrigerator. To save time, we dined on roasted plantains and peanuts. On the way, I saw this German van. The German government gives people tax write-offs for donating their business vehicles after a couple years of use. All over West Africa, you see vans that used to belong to butchers, electronics dealers, you name it. In this case, it's a newspaper near my hometown of Trier.
We arrived in Accra about 2 PM. We stopped by the Cocobod, the Ghanian government's agency that controls exports of ALL Ghanaian cocoa beans (21% of the world's beans). We asked the guy at the reception desk for advice on where to purchase cocoa butter. He gave us the name of someone at the Golden Tree Processing Company in Tema (one of Kwame Nkrumah's few successful state-run enterprises). Unfortunately, the traffic to Tema at 3 PM would have prevented arrival before they closed, so we elected to purchase the refrigerator and spend the night in Accra.
Tuesday, September 16