Archive | August 2012

How much for 65 kilos of coco beans?

(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.

Fufu is not for meme…

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.

Village Can-Opener

Wonder (13 years old) opening a can of tomato puree with a knife.

Maybe next time I come, I’ll bring a can opener…

The “Ant Hill”

(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!

Making Bricks

(Mon. July 16th)

Like Mafi Tsati, this village is building a new school and we spent the morning mixing sand with cement and water, making brinks, carrying water, and carrying dirt to fill the school foundation. Some of the highlights of the morning included one of the teenage boys being offered to marry one of the worker’s twin two-year old daughters and another man was christened the village cheerleader as he’d clap and yell, “Nice one!!! Nice one!!! Congratulations!” for every one of the 80 bricks we made before lunch.

Why so slow you ask? All materials are mixed by hand. There were only 3 shovels, two brick molds and one wheelbarrow for the entire brick-making group. A cement mixer would be an absolute game-changer here, though we may have to settle for simply buying and donating a couple more shovels and brick molds.

The Villages of Abuti-Tegbleve

(Sun. July 15th)

It was raining a good, solid rain as we pulled into the new village. I couldn’t help thinking it was the sky crying for me and how much I miss “my village.” All will be good, however, as I’ve been joined by two freshmen–Lisa and Aleia–from Alma College in Michigan who’ve also been in another village for two weeks. It’s fun sharing and comparing stories of “our” villages. By lunch, we were joined by a group of 12 volunteers from Outlook Expedition in England and it’s great to have a larger group to experience everything with. Having nine16 year old boys here is a blast for the village kids; lots of running, lifting, and roughhousing…

Friends for Life

(Sat. July 14th)

I’ve made many friends here during my two-week stay, and some of the families are near and dear to my heart. I’m already looking forward to returning, so I can see how Portia has grown and how Grace and Lorita are doing in Junior High School. David has been asking me every day for the past few days if he can come with me to California. Augustina (Grace and David’s mom), the amazing woman who has cooked all of my delicious meals, tells me she and the kids will miss me. I will most definitely miss them, too, as well as the flurry of village activity each morning, the kids flocking to me in the afternoon when school is over, the beautiful women in the village with their huge, curious smiles, asking “Afoi?” and laughing a heartfelt laugh when I’m able to respond “Eeeee, mefon” in Ewe. Though the 4 a.m. roosters were not my favorite, it will take a while to adjust to my quiet neighborhood at home where the occasional plane landing or departing accounts for most of the neighborhood noise. Kids screaming, mothers yelling, roosters crowing, birds competing for air-time all at once, will be ingrained in the sound-files of my memory forever.

Village Comedy Theater

(Fri. July 13th)

The best farewell gift one can ever receive: the village thespians (half a dozen teens and young adults) performed a comedy by the light of the bonfire. If it had been possible to videotape, I would have, but the light cast from the flickering flames was not enough to light the black faces in the black night. Even though I don’t understand but a handful of words in Ewe, it was one of the funniest pieces of impromptu theater I’ve ever seen; a hilarious comedy spoof about the clash of traditional polytheism with modern Christianity. Expertly translated by my friend Maxwell. The end—bittersweet–marked the end of my two weeks here. I feel so happy and filled at and the same time as very sad that it’s time to leave my friends here.

Adorable side-note: The chief’s son, Nukunu, is a really good boy and cool kid. During the comedy theatre, he leaned against my legs (along with 4 others) and played with my feet and toes the whole time. He’s 12.

Maxwell

It’s rare that I meet a person I respect, admire, and love within a week of being introduced to them. Maxwell is the most amazing person I’ve met on this journey. Not only is he a teacher, a minister, a father of 5, the coordinator of the Bankless Bank, a farmer, and a good friend to many, but he’s also an impeccable host, village tour-guide, and friend. If it weren’t for Maxwell, my two-week village experience in Mafi Tsati wouldn’t have been as rich and joy-filled. Maxwell has boundless energy and is an “everything to everyone” type, and was invaluable in helping with translations between Ewe and English. I really appreciated Maxwell’s curious and gracious nature, his sense of humor, and interest in people. He accompanied me on his motorcycle to the market, the multi-village water reservoir, and the palm-wine tapping field trip. Amidst everything, he had to deal with the police because his brother had been assaulted (everything turned out OK in the end and his brother is fine)—he handled it all with poise, grace, and clarity. What a lovely person. I owe a great deal to Maxwell, and I know I want to be involved in improving life in his village…

Village Farewell Ceremony

(Fri. July 13th)

When the village Chief shares that I have changed the village for the better and that the kids will miss me, I wonder if he’ll ever know how mutual the sentiments are… At the beginning of this journey, I hoped to have questions answered I never knew to ask. I now know that I will return here again soon, that I have many projects to accomplish, that I know where to begin, and that the blessings of this cultural exchange of one “yevoo” spending time to learn the ways of the village are far-reaching. Perhaps one of those exponential benefits that know no bounds and cannot me measured, nor adequately put into words.