Thursday, May 29, 2008

Benin, Togo & Ghana

Off to Ghana for the weekend! Unfortunately Bob is in Houston and can not make this trip but we will go there together in the future. Niyi, our driver, has never been out of Nigeria so I am really excited that we are providing him the opportunity to travel and see more of Africa. Since he has not traveled out of Nigeria, he did not have a passport, so we bought him one. I think it is real! ; ) I say that because Niyi's friend bought a passport in the past and found out at the Benin border that is was a fake and he had to pay his way through! Everything here can be bought for a price and any normal process can be expedited for a price. Niyi got his passport in less than a week and the normal process could take up to 3 months. The extra money was worth it (~$80) to ensure he had it in time to travel. Nigeria is one of the 15 Economic Community Of West African States or ECOWAS states and visas are not required to travel between ECOWAS states.

To get to Ghana, we could have flown both ways (we are flying home) but we decided to drive for a few reasons. First, we wanted the experience or adventure associated with border crossings. This will be my first one in the car in Africa. The primary language in Benin is French and I have never studied French. It is to our benefit that Daniel, our steward/cook, will be with us at the border crossing as he can negotiate for us. That brings me to the second reason for driving. I get to meet Daniel's family. Daniel's nineteen year old son was recently in the hospital for a "broken pancreas" (I interpret the word broken to mean ruptured.). He was climbing in a mango tree, to get a mango, and the branch he was standing on broke. He is now home after a few weeks in the hospital. While he was in the hospital Daniel went home twice to be with his son David and to take care of the financial situation (pay as you go). We had given Daniel a mosquito net in the past and Daniel used it to cover his son's bed in the hospital as he said the mosquitoes were terrible. I look forward to meeting his family but am extremely bummed Bob will not be there this time. We will go back again.

To a great trip! / À un grand voyage!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Football - The Geologists V. The Drillers

Today, The Rockers (geologists) defeated The Drillers in a game of football (1-0), or soccer to the folks in the US. It was a great day and it made me want to play football more and acquire the skills to move the ball around with my feet as if I was using my hands. Both teams consisted of players that either have not played in a while or have never really played but were fit enough to get in the opponents way out on the field (me). Much of the game was spent defending our goal but our defense was strong, so strong that the opposing team never made a goal. Our team made one goal and it was with a kick from far across the field right into the goal! Go Rockers!
The Winning Team - The Rockers!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

CERCOPAN and the nearby Village of Iko Esai

We took advantage of the Labor Day holiday (May 1) to take a four day trip, organized by the Nigerian Field Society, out of Lagos. The trip started with a flight from Lagos to Calabar in Nigeria's Cross River State where we checked in to our hotel and headed off the Calabar Museum for a picnic lunch and then to see CERCOPAN's Calabar facility. CERCOPAN is a UK registered charity that is working to conserve Nigeria’s primates through sustainable rainforest conservation, community partnerships, education, primate rehabilitation and research. Many monkeys in Nigeria are orphaned when their mothers are killed by hunters to make money in the sale of the bushmeat. Many of the surviving orphans often become pets in local villages or are sold on the street in larger cities like Lagos. CERCOPAN focuses on rehabilitating two main species of monkeys, the Guenons (Mona, Red-eared, Putty-nosed, Sclater's, and Preuss's) and the Red Capped Mangabeys. CERCOPAN is located closer to Calabar then our recent trip to see the rehabilitation of Drill monkeys at the Afi Drill Ranch.
The CERCOPAN facility in Calabar (some , not all, and the Education Center).

A Mona Guenon

A baby Putty Nosed Guenon - Isn't he cute!

The Preuss's Guenon - The bright blue objects between his legs are just what you think they are!After leaving CERCOPAN, we went to the Calabar Marina Beach Resort, a very nice location on the river leading into Calabar (same river we took flying boat up on April trip) with a Slave Museum, not yet complete, that has a lot of potential if they continue with the quality work they have done so far. The museum documents, through the use of dioramas, the experiences of the slaves from capture to freedom and it is thought that 30% of the slaves from the West Coast of Africa were taken from the shores of Calabar.

Here is just a snapshot of the three dimensional pictorial along the outside wall of the museum.

Sunset on the river

We spent the rest of the weekend in CERCOPAN's location in the rainforest where they have a hectare size enclosure with Mangabeys.

Our accomodations in the rain forest

An hour hike through the rain forest, in the pouring rain, took us to the Rhoko river where we took a swim. The surrounding area was so peaceful, until you got out of the water and were attacked by sand files or bees were collecting on a few packs or clothing items. No stings!

Here (below) are some other pictures of people in and around the village of Iko Esai, the village we drove through to get to CERCOPAN's rain forest location.

First we had to meet the Chief (pictured on left below) and a few of the village elders. It is tradition to meet them when travelling through their village and to share a bottle of Kai Kai (distilled palm wine; see below). Shots for all!In Lagos white people are called Oyibo but in Iko Easi we were called Ikara (or something like that). When the kids would see you coming in the car or on a bike (which a few of us did, me included) they would some out the to road smiling, waving and screaming "Ikara". It is great!

I had to take a picture of myself with some of the kids. They are so cute.
Here are two kids playing on a home made cart. The front of the cart had a chain gear or cog that was in contact with the ground and allowed the cart, carrying weight, to be pushed along the ground.

View within the village

I love this picture of a woman and her baby. Beautiful!

Two women carrying plantains on their heads. I am not sure what is in the white bag. Picture taken from the car as we were driving to the village.

The African Oil Palm tree originated in the tropical rain forest region of West Africa. Nigeria used to be the biggest exporter of palm oil in the 1930's but was passed up by Malaysia where it appears to have thrived better. The products of the oil palm tree are palm oil, extracted from the fleshy part of the fruit, palm kernel oil, extracted from the palm kernels and palm wine (distilled product is called Kai Kai) made from the the sap of the tree. Palm wine is a staple in every Nigerian's diet. It contains a high amount of saturated fat but is probably one of the only sources of fat in their diet. There are not a lot of fat Nigerians!! It is red in color due to its high beta-carotene content.

The MAKING OF PALM OIL, as done in the villiages is very strenuous work extracting the oil from the fruit of the palm. I believe, with the help of this article, that this is how it is done and I have a few pictures to show the process.

The men cut the fruit from the palm trees growing in their fields. The pulp of the fruit is separated from the kernels as the processing for oil is different. I am not sure of the specifics on how to make palm kernel oil so this explanation is for making oil from the pulp of the fruit. The pulp is pounded with a mortar and pestel and then heated with water. Once heated for a few hours, the oil is skimmed off of the top and then fluids are squeezed out of the pulp.
Here is a picture of the African Palm Tree in the plantation we visited. The fruits, although hard to see in this picture, are at the base of the palm fronds.

Just to the left of this women is the fleshy pulp of the palm fruit and the kernels are in the pot behind her. The kernels were heated in water to soften them so that the outer layer (fleshy part) could be removed.

A pile of kernels laid out in the sun to dry so the nut inside can be easily removed and used to make palm kernel oil.Bob is helping the women and kids pound the palm fruit pulp with a pestel in a large mortar.

The strenuous work continues as the mashed pulp is then placed in a bag so that the liquids can be extracted. The woman doing the work was in her late 50's or older. Of course there are machines that can also do this work but none in the small villages.

The MAKING OF PALM WINE and KAI KAI (distilled palm wine). Palm wine is an milky white alcoholic drink made from the sap of the palm tree and there are two types of palm wine, up wine, sap daken from the top of the tree and down wine, sap taken from the tree once it is cut down. The distillery we went to was making down wine. In the picture below, the sap is draining from the tree into a plastic bag and this goes on for over a month.
Once the sap is removed from the tree it starts to ferment. Fresh palm wine has an nice flavor and is slightly sweet. The barrel in the picture below is full of the palm wine (white milky sap) and had been fermenting for a few days. Just before distilling the wine, the oily palm fruit pulp is added to the wine to keep it from boiling once put on the fire.
A specified amount of wine (if more is added, the alcohol is stronger as the alcohol vaporizes first) is added to the black steel pot and placed on the fire. Once hot, the alcohol vaporizes and travels down the steel tube inside the bamboo. It condenses in the tube as cool river inside the bamboo water is reducing the temperature of the steel. The clear liquid then runs out of the steel pipe and down a thin piece of wood into the bottle. Once the bottle is filled, the distilling is complete and the kai-kai is ready to drink.

A young boy working at the distillery has dumped out the warm water in the bamboo and has just filled it up with cool river water for the next batch.
Bob is sampling the kai-kai. It is a stong clear hard alcohol that has a high alcohol content. They make special batches that are pink in color using a piece of a local tree.

On Sunday morning we had to pack up to go home. We (10 of us) were all in one of CERCOPAN's dual cab pickup truck (inside and in the bed of the truck) on the dirt road from CERCOPAN, through the village and back to the main road in the town of Ibogo. From there we met up with another vehicle (a Mercedes with a fuel smell inside, so bad, it made your eyes water) to take us to the Calabar airport. A few minutes on the road and the pick up truck's rear differential locked up and we skidded (safely) to a stop. From there, some of us had to hitch a ride and hope that we made it to the airport in time to catch our flight. Bob and I were two of the lucky six that got to ride about 40 minutes in the back of an empty gravel truck. It was a lot of fun and we had and excellent view of the surrounding area and of the villages adjacent to the road. Many folks were walking on the road to church and I think it was quite a shock for them to see white folks in the back of this big truck!