I could have used another couple of hours of sleep, but my trusty Timex alarm watch wouldn't allow it. Five o'clock usually comes early any day of the week, but in Kumasi , Ghana , on Thursday, May 31 st , it seemed to have snuck up on this traveler terribly quick. (Our buses were scheduled to leave the hotel at 6:15 to take the 8:30 flight to Accra .)
No use complaining since the day's itinerary was once again packed with interesting events, including a visit to Barry Callebaut's recently built cocoa processing facility, a meeting with the president of Ghana , and a farewell dinner sponsored by the Ghana Cocoa Board.
Sounds like quite a lineup to me.
Remembering to turn on the water heater this time before taking a shower – it's just one of those quirks you find in Ghana – I began rearranging my suitcase. After two weeks of being on the road, it came down to adjusting the plastic bags containing dirty laundry and keeping what clean clothes I had on top.
Somehow the bag had gotten heavier during the week, although I hadn't really purchased anything. Could be that the accumulated hours of traveling on the bus were getting to me, but I shook it off. I also easily gave my bag to a porter who saw me coming out of the room instead of insisting on hauling it myself.
The ride to Kumasi Airport was relatively quick, so we had plenty of time to kill at the deserted airport. It was during this waiting period that John Long, chairman of the WCF and v.p. – corporate affairs for the Hershey Co., had, upon a general consensus from many other members of the delegation, began collecting donations to purchase a second generator for St. Joseph's Training College in Bechem.
There were 30 delegates, so some quick math tells you that donations in the range of $100-$200 could amount to a sizable gift. When Long approached me, he indicated they were just short a few hundred dollars to reach the four grand mark, the amount needed to purchase a generator.
I told him to count me in and before you know it, our goal was reached.
Our flight proved short and sweet, providing us with glimpses of the countryside through the clouds. Upon landing in Accra , we slowly gathered onto a large tour bus, dubbed the Egret Express because of the colorful curtains hanging throughout the interior.
Our drive to Tema didn't take long, about 45 minutes. During the ride, Willy Geeraerts, director of quality assurance and environmental issues, gave the group a short historical overview of Barry Callebaut, highlighting the merger of Belgium-based Callebaut and French-based Cacao Barry, the involvement of Klaus Jacobs, and its investment in Ghana .
As we turned into the industrial park we could see the Barry Callebaut cocoa pod logo painted on the building. As Geeraerts explained, Barry Callebaut was the first to establish itself in this industrial park, a park that now houses several different businesses.
Once on site, the group was ushered into a modern conference room where Geeraerts and then Gotzon de Aguirre, managing director for Barry Callebaut Ghana Ltd., provided a fairly in-depth overview of operations.
Briefly, the company has two cocoa processing lines. The Barth line focuses on producing roasted nibs while the Buhler line processes beans into 30-kilo cocoa liquor bars.
More than 100 people work in the facility, which was opened in 2001 and today operates 24/7. Last year, the plant processed 60,000 metric tons of cocoa beans. There's discussion about installing a third line, but energy requirements are an issue.
De Aguirre said the company has made housing affordable for its workers, partially subsidizing the price as well as offering employees a significantly lower interest rate on mortgages (14% versus prevailing rate of 23%). It also provides free medical care, hot meals and daily transport to the plant.
After our overview, the group was divided into three smaller segments to facilitate a close and personal visit. A main corridor, which featured wide viewing windows, enabled delegates to get a glimpse of how cocoa beans are processed.
The tour concluded its visit with lunch in the canteen, a bright and airy mess hall complete with some really good home cooking. Well-fed, the group lumbered back onto the Egret Express for the ride back to the Labadi Beach Resort hotel. There, delegates could check in, shower and get ready for our presidential visit.
Unfortunately, word spread that President John Agyekum Kufuor would not be able to meet with us, and that his vice president , Alhaji Aliu Mahama, would do the honors. That was still pretty cool with me; I mean how often does one get to be on Ghanaian national television with the country's v.p.?
The ride to The Castle (the Europeans actually build 27 castles or fortresses in Ghana) proved interesting in that the boulevard leading up to the president's residence and offices had armed military personnel lining the route. Established in 1652 by the Swedes, the Castle overlooks the Gulf of Guinea and has housed a garrison throughout most of its lifetime. Serving as the official residence of Ghana 's president, the Castle also houses several administrative offices and various support institutions.
Once off the bus, we walked to the reception area where we climbed several flights of stairs to a conference room. A narrow U-shaped table flanked by chairs awaited us. After a short wait, the vice president walked in and went about shaking everyone's hand.
He sat down and then listed as Bill Guyton, president of the WCF, provided a brief overview of “our mission” and what we've seen.
Saurabh Mehra, trader for Olam International and essentially our “go-to-man for all things Ghanaian” presented our gift to Mahama. (No schnapps were involved; I believe some crystal from London , but I'll get back to you on that).
Julie Sullivan, who was sitting next to me, also touched on the work that her organization, the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help, together with WCF and the Hershey Co., was doing in its efforts to help local Ghanaians.
It was then time to leave, so Mahama led the way out, although he made sure that we'd all get a group photo of the event. I thought it might be cool in front of the Castle, with the waves somewhere in the background, the Ghanaian flag waving over a parapet.
But this wasn't a Candy Industry cover shot I was reminded, so a group shot on the steps would do.
As we ambled back onto the bus, the thought occurred to me that the position of professional delegate could be appealing, sitting in on audiences with kings and presidents. Probably would need to get some lessons in suaveness, but hey, I'm a quick learner.
Well, enough musings. There still was a party to go to. And party it was. Getting onto the bus, we lumbered only a few hundred feet beyond our hotel to La Palm Beach Hotel. There, the Ghana Cocoa Board hosted a wonderful dinner, complete with a live band, wonderful food and a minimum of speeches.
Oh yea, there were some gift exchanges between the WCF and the Ghana Cocoa Board. The delegates also received goodies. First, the WCF gave each of us a wonderful kente stoll, handcrafted in Ghana with the words World Cocoa Foundation. Special thanks to Tracey Duffey on arranging that. Upon receiving the stole, I almost felt like it was confirmation again. (It's a Catholic thing, readers.)
The Ghana Cocoa Board then presented us with a huge bag, one that contained coffee mugs, a polo shirt or cap, chocolate, candy, calendar, scarf, coasters, cuff links, pins, pen, etc. There was so much stuff it proved challenging to cramp it into my suitcase. We even received a golf umbrella, a big golf umbrella. Getting that home was going to be interesting.
And then the band played on. Of course, those of you who know me – yes, I turned into a dancing fool. Quite a sweaty dancing fool at the end of the night, but it was a fantastic party.
Despite having a 7 a.m. departure tomorrow morning, 10:30 p.m. was a bit early to call it a night in Accra, my last night in Ghana. Geeraerts, who had regularly been taking dips in the pool or ocean during the tour whenever he had the opportunity, suggested I join him in the cooling waters.
Splash! It revived this editor immensely, capping off a wonderful day. My “Star” beer drinking buddy, Arto Almer, purchasing director from Cloetta Fazer, also joined us and we savored the mystery that is cocoa, chocolate and Ghana.