Greetings from Ghana

It had been an interesting travel day on Saturday, May 26, first motoring from southeastern Germany to Zurich Airport after having had the opportunity to visit Alfred Ritter several days earlier in Waldenbuch , Germany.

My flight was leaving from Zurich at 11 a.m. and I had roared out of Karlsruhe , Germany early, about 5:45 , a bit anxious about the 280-plus kilometer drive and the time needed to drop off the car and pass through security.

Even though this coming weekend featured Monday as a holiday, traffic wasn't heavy although I could see the early-bird campers, hikers, bikers and tourists in their packed mini-vans and crossover sports utility vehicles joining me in the race to the border (or wherever they were headed).

During the drive I had remembered that crossing the Swiss border and traveling on their highways mandated getting a toll sticker, but decided I could simply do so on arrival. Naturally, the absence of a sticker at the crossing forced the customs official to waive me over for an inspection. Luckily, after a few questions, one of which was what was my final destination point, I was kindly told where I could purchase my 30-euro sticker and pass through.

“I'm going to Ghana ,” I recalled telling him. It really does sound cool, exotic. I tried to be as nonchalant as possible tossing out the destination, but heck, I was excited as well.

A brief explanation here may be in order if you haven't been reading the magazine (For shame, you slackers!)

The World Cocoa Foundation, in conjunction with the Ghana Cocoa Board/Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana; the National Program for the Elimination of Worst Forms of Child Labor in Ghana/Ministry of Manpower, Youth and Employment; the Sustainable Tree Crops Program/International Institute of Tropical Agriculture; the Participatory Development Associates Ltd. (implementing partner of the International Cocoa Initiatives pilot); and the International foundation for Education & Self Help had organized a six-day tour in Ghana that was to feature visits to cocoa farmers, processing facilities and shipping docks as a way of exposing delegates to what it takes to cultivate, harvest, process and transport cocoa beans.

The list of delegates contains a who's who in the chocolate industry (yours truly, of course, excluded). So here I was, the Polish-American boy from Chicago going to Ghana , my first visit to Africa , to visit cocoa farms.
But I had to get there first. And getting there, actually getting anywhere today, takes time, a bit of luck and patience.

This time, things seemed to click. The Zurich to London to Accra connection really wasn't bad, although I have to say that flying into and out of Heathrow is not on my top 10 list of travel highlights. Suffice it to say I managed to get on the British Airways flight without too much trouble, the plane thoroughly full.

The six-and-a-half hour flight went smoothly enough, the only hiccup being the malfunction of the new entertainment system that boasted a slew of new and classic movies. The crew eventually resolved the problem and set about scanning the selection.

To get myself into an African mood, I selected two flicks I had read reviews about but hadn't seen: “Blood Diamond” and the “Last King of Scotland.”

After viewing them, I realized that these really weren't the proper mood-setting films appropriate for Ghana , but heck, give Hollywood its due, they still were entertaining.

My fellow passenger, a young Ghanaian studying in New York at Columbia University , was going home to visit his grandparents. The charming young man told me that most of his family resided in the States and that about finishing his studies he was looking to settle there as well, but probably in a place with less hustle and bustle than the Big Apple.

Oh yes, he was also traveling with six pieces of luggage, for which he paid an extra $880. As he explained it, one doesn't often travel to visit family and friends in Ghana ; it's a time-consuming and expensive outing. Custom and tradition require, however, a bit of gift-giving whenever the occasion arises. Hence, the extra luggage. Hey, Christmas in May, I remarked. Indeed, we both understood the notion that one can't come from the States empty-handed when visiting relatives.

When the pilot announced our arrival to Kotoka International Airport , the pulse picked up a bit. In de-planing (don't you love that word), it became evident that I was in the tropics, a toasty 27 C and high humidity.

Typically, I choose the wrong line in getting through passport control. By the time I was waived through, nearly everyone had been processed. I was thinking that hopefully Tracey Duffey, the WCF's tour organizer and point woman, hadn't given up hope of my arrival and would still be there to greet me.

Sure enough, a smiling Tracey was there to greet me and three other delegates who were on the same flight.

Tracey introduced me to Sue D'Arcy, corporate affairs – global projects, Mars. Inc./Masterfoods; Saurabh Mehra, trader – Olam International Ltd., and Steven Genzoli, director of quality assurance/R&D who were already at the baggage claim area.

I had met Steven before and we quickly exchanged travel stories while waiting for our luggage. D'Arcy and Mehra had already gotten theirs. During the wait, Genzoli mentioned how he had lost his luggage en route to Hershey , Pa. , to attend the PMCA Production Conference last month; his bags somehow finding their way to Toronto before reaching U.S. 's chocolate capitol three days later.

He told me about having to buy new clothes, which prompted me to remark whether the Amish look was now all the rage in San Francisco . Unfortunately, our joking proved ominous since Genzoli's luggage had somehow missed the flight.

As a result, Duffey remained at the airport to try to sort things out while the rest of us jumped into the hotel shuttle and zipped off to the Labadi Beach Hotel. The airport is just on the outskirts of town, so it wasn't a terribly long ride. Moreover, it being dark, I only caught glimpses of Ghana 's capitol city.

But as Mehra explained, for a first visit to the African continent, Ghana is definitely “a soft landing.” There's a friendliness and openness in the Ghanaian people that quickly makes itself evident.

And as D'Arcy pointed out in my comment about the weather being akin to Brazil , “ Ghana 's better, and I love Brazil .”

After checking into the Labadi, a resort hotel that has all the amenities one could ask for, I heard the lobby bar calling and forced myself – in the name of fact-finding – to see who else I could meet on the first night. Of course, Bill Guyton, president of the WCF who had greeted us upon arrival, was there, chatting with fellow delegates, Arto Almer, purchasing director – Cloetta Fazer; Paivi Ranta-Ropo, group quality manager – purchasing, and Peter Johnson, chief executive officer of Euromar Commodities GmbH.

As I waited to sample the local brew – it's called Star and had originally been established by Germans Johnson told me – D'Arcy joined us and a lively conversation began, ranging from national holidays and traceability to GMOs and personnel hiring.

By 11 p.m. , it was time to call it a night for this new visitor to Ghana and I bid my remaining colleagues good night. And, of course, good night to my readers, wherever you are.