(Thurs. July 19th)
Hundreds of years ago, the Mona Monkeys in this part of Ghana were considered sacred after a special shrine was built Tafi Atome and the monkeys arrived. The locals started hunting them, and they became endangered. In 1993, John Mason, a Canadian, convinced locals to stop hunting this species and create an eco-tourism business to benefit the local community. Families of the Mona monkeys who now roam free in this sanctuary without being hunted and tourists pay a fee to hand-feed the Mona Monkeys bananas. Mona Monkeys live in families of 20-50, and there are currently 5 families in the Tafi Atome Sanctuary.
(Wed. July 18th)
We visited a cocoa plantation today, had a tour and learned a great deal of interesting information. Chocolate lovers: have you ever wondered where your sensuous treat begins? In Africa, in a “cocoa ball” or pod.
Cocoa beans in the pod are not brown, like you’d expect, but snowy white surrounded by a slimy mucous. When the cocoa pods are ripe (they turn yellow or red depending on the type), they’re split open, the beans hand-mixed with the mucous, then left under a banana leaf to “ferment” for a few days. After the fermentation process, the beans are scooped out and dried in the sun, which is when they turn brown.
Ghana has two seasons; the wet season and the dry season. As you can imagine, most of the cocoa crop is harvested in the wet season, when the plantation is fertile. This particular plantation produces, on average, 10 bags of cocoa beans in the high season. A bag holds 65 kilograms of beans and each bag is sold for 200 GH (Ghanaian cedi), which amounts to approximately $100. Have you done the math in your head yet? This $1000 per season income supports the owner and crew of workers. Cocoa farmers sell their crop to the government, which sets this fixed price of 200 GH for a 65 kg bag. “Organic farms” get approximately $50 more per bag, and ironically, though this particular farm didn’t have the “organic” status, they can’t afford to buy pesticides so essentially they’re organic, they just don’t get to collect organic prices.
If all of the cocoa plantations in Ghana could unite into a coalition, they could perhaps negotiate a better price from the government. DIVOG has been trying to talk to farmers about this prospect, but Robert says it’ll take, perhaps, years to convince farmers that this is “safe” and a plausible “way out” of poverty.
I was left wondering how much the Ghanaian government gets from cocoa traders for each bag, and if there is a middleman who makes a huge cut. What about Fair Trade? I’ll have to do more research to learn how Fair Trade is fair in Ghana—at this particular plantation; there was no evidence of fair trade. Like coffee and roses from Africa, I wish the profits of this export would benefit the people who work the land and struggle to support their families.
Everyone in our group of 15 had a cooking lesson this afternoon. After walking a mile to harvest some cassava root, one of the village grandmothers was gracious enough to teach me how to make traditional “Fufu,” which is boiled cassava root pounded mercilessly into gooey, slimy “dough.” The texture is just not something I can do. The boiled cassava root is DELICIOUS, and I sat there watching it all be pounded and “slimed” with water into something I can’t swallow.
Everyone brought their newly created dishes to a group “pot luck” dinner. Luckily for me, I was the only one who made Fufu. Luckily for the British boys (who didn’t like any local food), the kitchen staff helped us out with additional dishes. As it turns out, Lisa loves Fufu, and I’m in awe.
(Tues. July 17)
The project site looks a bit like an ant hill this morning, with what I’m guessing is close to a hundred people shoveling and hauling dirt in pans on their heads and dumping it in to fill in the foundation for the future school site. Then repeat. Some of the women are singing and playing pranks on each other to keep it fun.
Today I really earned my breakfast, lunch and dinner making bricks like a good little worker-ant. I have a new-found respect for construction workers who work in the sun, heat, dirt, and sweat all day. My shirt was soaked by lunch and I go through waves of being tired of being filthy, then feeling completely ridiculous about it since I’ll be leaving in less than a week to go back to my cushy western life…
It’ so hot today that during my after-lunch siesta, I’m lying in my bed naked and still can’t cool down. As a group, we’re fantasizing quite a lot about ice cream and swimming at the waterfall we’ll visit on Thursday. No matter how cold it is (and I’ve heard it’s cooodold), I’m jumping in!