Ghana – Tuesday

The alarm went at 5.20; a shock to the system! We had breakfast at 6.30, then hit the road. I say ‘road’ but the further we travelled north, the les like a road it became and the more it resembled a footpath. The vegetation closed in on both sides, gras started sprouting in the middle and the potholes got even bigger. At times we passed small oil palm plantations and then suddenly we came out of the undergrowth and laid out before us was a Palm plantation stretching away into the distance. Row after row of palms, the only trees visible confined to gullies or steep slopes. The palms then gave way to serried ranks of rubber trees. All these must have been planted in the last couple of years by some large agri-company. Then, thankfully, the vegetation closed in again and the road resembled a path once more.image

After about an hour we came to a T junction and had to ask the way. We turned onto a wide dirt road, made treacherous by the recent rains. Deep muddy gullies formed the sides of the road so most vehicles drove in the middle. Obviously this created ‘challenges’ when two vehicles converged, both in the middle. I have to say that Dominic, our driver, seemed to win in most cases, even though some decisions were left rather late!image

We were now in gold country and signs for gold dealers appeared in the towns we passed through. Other signs pointed to mines or gave the times when blasting was likely to occur. We arrived in New Koforidua, the first Fairtrade producer town in the world 3.5 hours after leaving Asuom. We pulled off the road and bumped over a rough track to the Cooperative House. There we met some local farmers all members of the local co-op, including the Treasurer, Patricia, the President, Emmanuel and Farida, the Vice President. We all had to introduce ourselves to the group and tell them why we were there.image

In 2007 Garstang partnered Koforidua and they began taki ng a real interest in Fairtrade activities. In 2011 Koforidua became the first FT producer town in Ghana and indeed the world. It is also linked toA Japanese FT town in a triangular partnership which one of the group likened to the old triangular slave trade, but for good not evil. They are now looking at new ways forward to raise funding for the community, including :

1. Plantation tourism – bringing visitors to home stay in the community. This would mean additional revenue and more jobs for people as guides and hosts. Their tag line would be ‘From bean to bar’.

2. A vast craft market in August of each year which may bring in people from other parts of the world as well as locals.

The farmers told us that the average farm size was about 3 acres. They said that in the past, before FT they were often cheated by buyers and their payments were delayed. Now it is much fairer. An extension officer trains them in hope to run a good farm and they have increased yields.

However they are noticing the effects of climate change.mthere have been two very dry years and the sun has scorched the cocoa trees.image

We said our goodbyes after a group photo in front of the House and then we headed on to Kumasi. We stopped at a very smart hotel for lunch, which include ice cream for dessert – luxury! Kumasi was about another hour and so we arrived quite early in the afternoon. Our hotel looked attractive on the outside, but we knew that was no guarantee of what was behind the mirror glassed doors. However Christine and I were shown into a palatial suite with a large entrance lobby and a massive bedroom with a gigantic bed. We are so far away from each other it is easier to text rather than shout across its snowy sheets. O.K. I exaggerate, but not by much. The bathroom is equally large and for some reason has a serving hatch between it and the bedroom. Strange. There is a bath, a toilet and a wash basin, all in working order of sorts, and acres of tiled floor where one can practise yoga, go for a run, learn to waltz, hold a FT Meeting, or invite in a small orchestra to serenade your while you wallow in the bath.

Of course there are still sockets that leave the wall at the slightest provocation and the shower has no fittings, a couple of the lights don’t work and  the toilet roll holder has disappeared, but hey this is definitely an improvement on our last hotel. There is even  a pool.

We decided to go for a walk , but again the heavens opened and an even more violent storm than yesterday ensued. When we finally did get out we walked about a mile along a very busy road, being tooted at by taxis desperate for our business. Once back We relaxed, swam  and slept and went for dinner in the restaurant at 7.00. This clearly put the kitchen in to a start of panic, even though they had been warned beforehand. A lot of things were ‘off’ so as veggies we  were left with a choice of salad or rice or noodles and vegetables. We settled fo rice and vegetables. Over an hour later our order finally arrived. Others waited longer. We tentatively asked for dessert, but apparently the chef had gone home by then. It was 9.00 by then and the restaurant was due to close at 10.00 , so presumably frightened by the prospect of serving 11 portions of ice cream he had fled tthe premises.

Another early night then as tomorrow we leave at 7.00 again. Breakfast is at 6.30 …..assuming they can find the chef!

Ghana – Asuom on Monday

A surprisingly good sleep, a cold shower  and a decent breakfast set us up for the day. The latter included a very good chocolate spread. Ironically, on a Fairtrade holiday the only coffee available was a tin of Nestle instant!

I don’t wish to keep on about toilets but I also manged to pull the toilet roll holder off the wall this morning……only t.he cistern to go really!

We set off for Serendipalm at about 9.00 and arrived 10 minutes later. Serendipalm is a wonderful factory that processes locally produced Palm oil some of which is used in Traidcraft soap and cleaning products. The oil palms are organically grown and are brought in from about 430 small farms in the region. The peak season is from February to May so November is a relatively slack time. The bunches of fruit are stored for 2-3 days to soften; after 4-5 days they start to go off. When the bunches are taken from storage they are cut up into smaller pieces by men with axes. Then women extract the fruit from the fibre by hand. In many factories this is done by hand, but Serendipalm wants to give employment to the community. The women sit in groups to chat as they work. Any bad fruit are removed along with the fibres. The women are paid piece rates of 0.091 cedis a kilo. As each woman averages 120 kilos a day she can expect to take home 10.62 cedis a day – about £2. In addition they get a free meal, their social security paid, free health care, maternity leave and sick pay. They start at 7.00 and finish at 2.00 p.m. But at busy times there are 3 shifts keeping the factory going 24 hours a day. The women were delightful and were very happy for us to photograph them and even try our hand at extracting the fruit. About 140 women work there.image

imageThen we went out to a small Palm oil plantation and met a farmer. He was harvesting the bunches of fruit using a hooked knife on a long pole. The whole thing is called a ‘go to hell’. The bunches are very heavy and there is also the risk of snakes dropping out of the tree. The farmer spotted a green mamba in one tree, which we viewed with interest from a distance! They are very beautiful but deadly. Each Palm is most productive between its 7 th and 25 th year. After that they are usually dug up. He can harvest a bunch of fruit every 4 weeks from each tree. Fairtrade has meant a guaranteed market for his product plus some benefits in his local community. image

imageWe then went on to an experimental farm where they are trying to show farmers how the land can be productive over the seven years it takes for an oil palm to become commercially useful. Here they are growing bananas, aubergines, cocoa yams, chillies, maize and even keeping a flock of sheep. At present the farmer has little income over the 7 years.

Back in the town we visited a new library and computer room paid for by the Fairtrade premium. It was a lovely library apart from the lack of books. There are no books. The money didn’t stretch that far. They are hoping that a charity may donate some. There are five computers though, but no internet access. However it is a start, and while we are closing large numbers of libraries in the U.K. they are building them in Ghana. Now remind me, which country is meant to be developing?! The facility will be shared with the local primary and so we met the Head, a local pastor, and many of the 140 pupils all eager for a photo.

Then we went to see 4 houses built with the FT premium for nurses who work at the local clinic. Nurses tended not to stay as they had no house of their own. Now thanks to the FT premium they are staying.

Finally we visited a new wing on the maternity hospital again built by FT premium money. It was very smart with an outpatient clinic, counselling rooms, a labour room with 3 beds and a labour ward. There was also a lot of brand new maternity theatre equipment cluttering up the place. It was generously donated by a German charity who thought they did ceasarians here, but they don’t. There is no doctor! Perhaps they should have asked. In the ward was a new mother with her 1 hour old baby. We were told we were welcome to photograph her but it seemed a terrible intrusion.

Back at Serendipalm we had lunch in the workers’ canteen and very good it was too. Then we went around the plant to have the extracting process explained. The fruit is first steamed to soften it and then crushed to extract the liquid. The liquid is then put into large vats and heated to separate the oil from the water and sludge. The oil is symphonies off the top and stored in a massive tank until it is sent away to its various users. The sludge is sent to a tank and may then be heated again to get more oil out which is for local use. The liquid residue is sold to farmers for fertiliser. The fruit kernels are also sold on for further processing for oil. The whole operation is very labour intensive to ensure plenty of employment.

It was all very interesting, but we had had a good lunch and clearly some of us needed a post-prandial……so we started to get ready to leave.  I suggested we walk back to the hotel, but as I said it thunder rolled ominously overhead and we dashed to the coach. The storm actually broke about 20 minutes later and the rain hammered down. It lasted about 30 minutes and water poured off the guttering and washed down the drive. image

Once it was over we had our walk along the road and very pleasant it was. An early bed tonight as we have to be on the road by 7.00!

Ghana – Accra on Sunday

As you may have gathered, we have had no internet access for the past two days, but now we are in Kumasi city and we are back in touch with the world! So here is what has happened:

We awoke at dawn on Sunday, much to our annoyance, but felt refreshed. We hasian excellent breakfast and met the remaining member of our group, Louise. Two of the group have failed to materialise so there are only 11 of us.

We set off at 9.00 on a tour of Accra covering a range of residential and commercial areas. We began in ‘Cantonments ‘ a zone where the British built homes for themselves as well as a wide road leading directly to the castle in case the natives turned nasty. Today, the upper and middle class Ghanians live in these tree-lined streets. From there we made our way to the coast and parked outside the St James Castle, which the British built as a slave prison. From there a tunnel led out to sea, forming the harbour breakwater. The slaves were marched down the tunnel and onto the ships. By the time they came out into the light of day it must have seemed that they were already at sea and gave up all hope of returning.the castle remained a prison  post-slavery and several eminent Ghanians were imprisoned there prior to independence in 1957.

Lest we feel that the Brits were the only colonial power involved in slavery we also passed through the Dutch and Danish areas of the town, each with their castle , or slave prison. It was a truly European affair!

Near the prison is the Jamestown lighthouse which was built by the British and still works. Below it, on the beach is a shanty town of fishermen. Large wooden canoes bob on the waves or are hauled up on the land. Across the road is the home of a local chief, still active at 95!image

Following the sound of music we came upon a small side street which was the Sunday home of the ‘ Rejected Cornerstone Synagogue’ , a Christian church in spit of its name. The meeting was in full swing with singing and dancing and everyone seemed pleased to see us, even though we did not join in!

From there we went to Black Star Square, the second largest public square in the world after Tiemin Square in Beijing. It is certainly vast with a war memorial , seating all around and measurements on the ground to help the military organise their parades. We walked through it to the beach beyond and stood on a low cliff to watch young people playing football and bathing in the breakers. Against the bright sun and the waves the view was almost Lowryesque. the sea looked very tempting but there wasn’t time. As we walked back through the square an eagle flew overhead.image

As we left the coast we passed a traditional coffin makers displaying coffins in the shape of an aeroplane, a mobile phone, an eagle, a fridge and even a bottle of beer. The ‘tradition’ is actually not that old, but the idea has caught on amongst those who have the money for it, and not just in Ghana either. We were due to visit a coffin maker but unfortunately the visit had to be postponed.image

Similarly we arrived at a small craft exhibition to find that was closed as well, so instead we had to go to the main tourist trap I  a selection of large sheds. It was very quiet, it being Sunday, so the shopkeepers only had us to focus their full attention in. It was exhausting! Eventually we came away with a bracelet and a length of cloth for Christine. I haggled and got the price right down for both, but I suspect we were still fleeced……..the point is I’ll never know for sure!

We drove away past the Ghanian parliament and other important buildings to arrive at a hostel where we were to have lunch. And a very good lunch it was too, with some delicious fish, two types of rice, chips, salad and a green chilli sauce that was to die for! A star beer helped to wash the whole thing down and probably also helped many of us have a nap as we headed north towards Asuom.

The journey was not uneventful taking us out through the suburbs of Accra and then out into open scrubby country with the occasional tall tree as a reminder of the majestic rainforest that once was there. After a while we turned off the main road and headed north-west along dirt and tarmac ved sections of road. The Tarmac is worse as the potholes are enormous and Dominic, our driver had to lower ourselves into each one and the heave us out the other side. Progress was therefore slow, and after about 3 hours a ‘comfort’ break was called for.

Now I don’t want to go on about toilets, but in Ghana they have adopted the American term ‘washroom’ and I think I can see why. Entering the fetid cubicle at the petrol station we stopped at I realised that after using it I would need a thorough wash , and not just of my hands. There was at least water, but the cistern had to be flushed with a piece of bent wire and the tap produced nothing. Time to break out the gel!

Eventually we arrived at Asuom. Our hotel looked palatial, but we should never judge a book by its cover. Inside it was clearly in need of the skills of several craftsmen, particularly electricians.we had been warned that some hotels might provide ‘challenges’, not problems you understand, just ‘challenges’. This was certainly the case. Having electric sockets that come out of the wall as you pull out the plug is not a problem, but it is challenging not to be electrocuted. Having no hot water is not a problem but it is challenging taking a cold shower. Having a toilet seat that is not cap necked to the bowl beneath is not a problem but it is challenging to avoid sliding gracefully into the shower. Having only one light at the far end of the room from the bed is not a problem but itis challenging when you want to read a book in bed. Still dinner was very good and we were joined by a praying mantis so there were opportunities as well!image


Serendipalm tomorrow and perhaps some new challenges and opportunities……..