Saturday, December 28, 2019

Tropical produce and saved souls

Visiting Abengourou
If our 'safari' in Senegal with Moussa was all about wildlife, this trip has been about people and farm produce. And it's been even more profound and insightful.

Kouame (and Kouame) and more produce
In the words of Chloe Grant, our hostess at The Elephant's Nest in Grand-Bassam and now our guide and driver in rural Côte d'Ivoire, this is cocoa country. Angelika and I spent a fascinating few hours yesterday in Kodjinom, a medium-sized village, and I was taken on a three-hour tour of the plantations by Kouame, a farmer there.

To reach our destination I swapped my erstwhile role and became pillion riding on the rear of the motorcycle - a Chinese single-cylinder 125cc affair - piloted by another Kouame. He is the outreach worker for Chloe's NGO charity and was the link between us and the villagers.

Haojin 125 - in Kodjinom
Beforehand, however, we visited the 'reinsertion' centre for 'street and trafficked children' that Chloe founded and runs in Abengourou. Its title is an acronym for the French description of its objectives.

House pet
It is a spartan breeze-block building in a 60x60 mtr compound with no running water and a pet mongoose to keep the cobras away. For the children who pass through it, it's the best chance they've ever had for a decent future and a happy adulthood.

Some of those who are brought here have been sold into servitude in the cocoa industry. Their parents, perhaps unable to afford the basics of life, may believe their offspring will be better off working on a farm or as a domestic servant. They rarely are. Others in the centre are street children.

There are two youngsters there at the moment. They are both around 12 years old. One, Grace, was being regularly beaten by her grandmother, the other, Kouakou - a boy, has developmental problems, a mental age far below his actual and had been abandoned by his family. In the centre they are cared for by Francine, a warm, energetic lady. They are fed regularly and experience kindness, calm and security, perhaps for the first time in their short lives.

They're clearly happy there. We received enthusiastic hugs from them when we arrived.

The existence of the place is a testament to Chloe's humanity and energy. As I've commented before, she is a remarkable woman.

We sat in the car with her yesterday while she engaged with a gaggle of young boys in the town, quizzing them about which attended school. She eventually bought a pair of live cockerel from one, telling him she'd be checking on his school attendance when she next encountered him. They were a little in awe of her. We all are.

Fruit and vegetables
I followed the two Kouames single-file along narrow paths through groves, low-growing meadows, past paddy fields. We were aways within sight of the remnants of the rain forest that originally occupied the land.

Kouame's rubber trees
The richness of the crop diversity is impressive. I saw produce I'd never seen growing before.

There were pineapple (ananas), peanuts (groundnuts), cocoa, rubber trees, manioc, mango, bananas, rice, okra (gumbo), maize, aubergine and guava - and many others.

Seeing the neatly-aligned, tapped rubber trees was exciting. Kouame was rightly proud of his groves.

Cocoa trees
Peanuts, fresh from the ground
Freshly-pulled peanuts have a moist flesh similar in texture to apple. They are delicious.

A lady and her son were working with machetes clearing a patch of ignam, or yam, of weeds. It looked like hard work. With a twinkle in her eye, she offered me her heavy hoe implying the opportunity for me to help. I thanked her politely and refused her kind offer. She laughed.

I was apprehensive about biting things, especially when we walked through the waist-high undergrowth surrounding the banana and guava trees. If there were any there, my repellant worked.

Cocoa-tree nursery

Rice harvest
One of the two young men working in the paddy fields had a sturdy catapult. He uses it to scare off the birds that eat his crop. He had a supply of stones nearby, carefully selected for size.

Cocoa beans before drying
How did someone figure out that the white beans covered in pulpy, cream-coloured goo could be alchemised into chocolate? Anyway, they did, and it's provided this country with a living ever since.

A village visit
This was the kind of day I hoped for at the beginning of our adventure. I'm very happy to have had this opportunity. Angelika was intrigued by our insight into the village life.

Sadly, we saw another dimension to it. A young teenage girl was presented to us with extremely swollen cheeks. It seems that for four or so years she has been suffering from a gradually worsening abscess in her jaw. The cost of treatment is beyond her family. Both Cloe and we are wondering if we can help.

Some days are a privilege.


  1. Fascinating and enlightening post. Sounds like great, practical work is being done. The mongoose was bugging me - doesn't look like any mongoose I recognise - but I think I've cracked it. I think it's a common kusimanse which is a type of dwarf mongoose. Keep the posts coming, and the exotic fauna! X

  2. Chloe Grant sounds like an incredible human being. People like her help us to put some perspective on our aspirations and endeavours. Happy New Year to you both! xx


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