It is my third trip to Cote d’Ivoire, and this time I am going to shoot a couple of documentaries, one on the police and one on the cocoa industry, and the fairly new chocolate manufacturing plant in Abidjan. I enjoy coming here. It gives me a chance to bone up on my French, and see how the city is developing.
Ivorians are friendly and welcoming, like most Africans, and I am ready for a good experience once again.
Our fixer, Toure, is an excitable guy. He always meets me at the airport…this time I am traveling with cameraman Collins, and Toure is right there when we arrive, taking us to change money and then catch a cab to the hotel.
Previously I stayed in Cocody Vallons, a tony neighborhood near the state broadcaster and national university, full of nice shops, restaurants and NGO headquarters. This time we’re nearby, in Cocody Angre, not quite as nice, but still close to where Toure lives.
We bunk for a couple nights in a non-descript hotel before moving to the Seven Residence, which is more homely and has a swimming pool.
We perform a lot of administrative functions on our arrival, and don’t get much shooting done. I am starting to get a little itchy. I am here to work, and many friends and current and former colleagues will tell you, I get antsy if I am not getting a lot of work done.
Sunday, though, we head to the cocoa fields. It’s a long drive, and after 3 hours to the nearest village, it’s a good hour and a half off-road through the forest to get to our intended destination. There we meet our subject, Thomas. Late ‘40’s, wiry, a little grey in his short cropped hair. He has some other farmers with him – we find out later it’s his extended family.
There’s a simple living structure there, with a porch and a hammock, and another structure for storing tools and the fruits of their labor. We shoot around the compound, and then it’s time to see the cocoa. So, we head out of the compound, and after 45 minutes of hiking we are at Thomas’s patch.
It’s hot, the jungle fairly thick. I am not in the greatest or worse shape of my life, but it was pretty tiring. I am worried about Collins, who appears to have put on a few pounds lately, but he seems okay with the trek. Toure, as usual, is bubbling with energy. Thomas and his crew seem no worse for wear.
So, the harvest is on. For those who don’t know cocoa, parts of it are bean, seed and fruit. For those who are interested in the difference, Google it, like I did. For the rest, lets’ tell you that it comes in a green pod, comes out white, kind of like a banana, but closer to a mangosteen.
Then, when it’s dried, and we saw dried ones back at the compound, they harden and turn brown.
So, the farmers cut the pods off the trees from all around the 3 ½ hectare plantation, then come together to pull the cacao out of the pod. There they can yak together, and it makes a good scene for the program. Thomas has taken his shirt off at one point, and puts it back on when he sees the camera. I tell the guys to get shots of him with the shirt off. He looks well-muscled from his work – makes him more heroic, might be something to keep the ladies interested…
Back at the compound we prepare to re-create a well-known scene that I’ve viewed on-line, where cocoa farmers eat chocolate for the first time.
These guys tell us they haven’t had chocolate, but I have my suspicions. When we stopped in the village, I could see some candy on sale. Yeah, it might be new to these guys, but as a journalist I am always a little skeptical. They ate the chocolate and played up like it was a wonderful first experience.
Thomas’s infant son Jean-Marc certainly enjoyed it and I would bet it was DEFINITELY his first taste!