WHEN PLACED IN A BOOK OF WHATEVER FORMAT
(Self-indulgence And Subsequent Insight)
When a brother meets me and asks “how is that cricket book doing,” I know he has not really read through An Unassuming Love: Black Memory, A Traveloguer And Cricket. The 2011 publication is still relevant, even unvisited by those seeking answers to the structure and fluidity so intrinsic to West Indian cricket. Yes, the book’s back cover is a photograph of the island’s Windsor Stadium which serves today as sports center, calypso and queen competition site, cultural gala ground, venue for seminars, exhibitions and marketing workshops. Thing is, everything leaps from itself in Dominica. Must be the island’s fecundity!
Essentially, An Unassuming Love leaps from its non-pretence about knowing cricket to play with context as West Indies cricket defaults, falls, wins, loses, stabilizes and just crumbles sorely at times. It is those contexts that engage me even as writer. A change in context may well lead to a change in fortunes, who knows!
Let’s take the appearance of “cocoa” as a point of discussion in An Unassuming Love. I had heard Dominica’s Prime Minister saying — in his justification for importing coffee into Dominica to service a coffee plant funded by Venezuela — that Switzerland does not produce cocoa, but manufactures some of the world’s better chocolate. Dominica could therefore import coffee pods to manufacture the world’s better-tasting coffee. I thought of drawing out my reflection on cocoa written in 2011, but hesitated. That would seem reactionary, self-indulgent and out of synch with the import substitution matter.
. Then in March 2014, I heard CNN’s Richard Quest coin a word. The word is “coconomics.” Don’t know whether he carried an ‘a’ in its spelling. He did not mention Ghana as impacting his research platform in any way, but went to Ivory Coast which I had referred to in chapter 36 of An Unassuming Love, my “cricket” book.
I felt ‘eagerer’ to write this with an extract from that 2011 publication when Quest in his sonorous tone mentioned Nestle. Quest made no overt reference to corporations, outsourcing, capitalism, raw material export etc., though importantly, he chose to identify child labour.
This all caught my attention having written a book touching “cricket” and coming upon a context as far-fetched as Ghana and cocoa. Here was my take from out of Georgia’s November ice.
“Wrapping my favorite cotton blanket around my waist, I felt like liming down the Net. I needed to set up a warming meditation with a hot cup of cocoa; those
sticks rolled from yellow-red pods picked from hardy trees standing for decades in our well-swept country yards, broken open, sucked, dried in the sun, roasted,
grounded in a hand-turned mill hooked on the edge of the kitchen table, then rolled and left to harden into aroma. This cold had me returning, reaching for a
hot cup of that blood-purifying chocolate.
“While remembering that we sucked the beans’ mucilaginous pulp before placing them out to dry on plastic in the sun, I had this flash, you know, stories clinging to stories over time and distance. As children, we saw many pictures in our primary school of children of Ghana standing next to cocoa trees, holding cocoa pods. Never did we realize, hear of a 1937 Cocoa Research Institute and later in our years of a Cocoa Board of Ghana—an institute and a board would be too heavy to contemplate, especially when the latter was followed by “of control.”
“I’m getting warmer now and take to time travelling a bit, coming upon a report on world cocoa production from the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS),
an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture operating in some 130 countries and employing then about 420 people covering food and agricultural production
and trade issues. Also—and this is crucial for drinkers of cocoa varieties—FAS keeps an unblinking eye on global consumer trends. “The western region of
Ghana continues to lead the country in cocoa production, accounting for more than 45 percent of the total output. The overall policy of the Ghana Cocoa Board
(Cocobod) is to increase Ghana’s cocoa production to five hundred thousand tons by the year 2010.”
“Five hundred thousand tons by 2010 was quite a departure from my brown photograph of a barefoot child holding a yellow to pink cocoa pod in the 1960s,
or us sucking with ecstasy the sweet-sour pulp of cocoa into our intestinal walls, or this fall’s desires so embedded in my tongue’s memory. Amazing, isn’t it, that
it’s possible to move from thoughts of cocoa tea out in cold November weather, connect to the neuron that finds chemistry to rings of a tree that produced
a kitchen table, its edges, the mill, cocoa aroma, a student in a photograph thumb-tacked against a wooden partition on a stage of a government-owned
school where we sang “God Save the Queen” more than forty years ago far from this spot on which I write! It’s a matter of method of entry.
“Let’s move on. Let’s zoom in the Economist of August 27, 2009, to find an acrid global scene quite different from my cocoa-pod-carrying Ghanaian boy,
brown and handsome with no background to his frame. His photograph has no context, no village, no other, no sense of trade. His present city is strangely
peopled by those born in and to it, yet alien to its profits. “Carefully stepping round another heap of fetid refuse in Sodom and Gomorrah, it is easy to despair
of Africa’s future. Accra’s notorious slum is aptly named. Here, about thirty thousand families (no one knows for sure how many) crowd into a warren of hastily thrown-together shacks on the fringes of Ghana’s capital. There is no power, sewerage, or running water; diarrhea and other diseases
are rife, and deadly fires rapidly take hold. It seems to contain all that is wrong with modern Africa—too many people, deep poverty, and the failure of inept or
corrupt governments to do anything to help. Yet Sodom and Gomorrah also has a more hopeful story to tell.”
“The hopeful story is population control—people are having fewer children. Accra is capital to Ghana, an African state rich in oil and cocoa; the latter has
been exported to United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands for decades.
“Thoughts of cocoa tea, grated by some, cut, broken by others and dropped into water and boiled and sweetened on our island’s November morning when
temperatures begin to cool with the rains—that memory warmed my chest and solar plexus. It was that thought in November’s Georgia cold that brought memories of one of Africa’s empires to flight, along with Mali and Songhai. Cocoa.
“So passingly I came to ask who’s Nestle, Cadbury, British Petroleum, Shell, Chevron, and this latter, BHP Billiton which state that they—Australia
and London—occupy “significant positions in major commodity businesses, including aluminum, energy coal and metallurgical coal, copper, manganese, iron ore, uranium, nickel, silver and titanium minerals, and have substantial interests in oil, gas, liquefied natural gas, and diamonds?”
“Surely, there are cocoa pods and cocoa leaps—considering the speed with which this desire in the tongue, this taste for warm, strong, pure chocolate led me
to that drink and to a recall, a find in memory of a primary photograph against a partition without context, pointing to an ancient empire so rich, yet falling too, to
modern-city slums and the horror of transnationals. That horror was before us: in photographs and poems excluding us, our songs and modes of dress, speech,
writing, and breathing. Truly, we were on this ball spinning in the sky—celestial actors in a play written by aliens in this life. Now, we pluck harvest, no longer
calling on God to save the gracious queen who thought that at the time when slavery was conducted, it was not illegal and Africans themselves were complicit in the sale!”
— That was Chapter 3 “in my cricket book” which took me right up to a reparation discourse – the Queen of England stating that Africans were complicit in the sale of Africans in her defence of Britain and its unwillingness to budge on matters regarding payments to a Global African Family.
I must end here. Fast forward to Chapter 36 in An Unassuming Love where I found traces to Richard Quest’s 2014 emergence. He’s talking about Nestle, coconomics and child labour in Ivory Coast. He does not mention that the issue of Ivory Coast cocoa production arose in the context of uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, neither does he cite Ghana. We need remind our readers, viewers and listeners of context. Here’s my closing section.
“Egypt explodes in riots after Tunisia and Alassane Oauttara, the man widely believed to have won elections in Ivory Coast, called for a ban on the exports of cocoa from his country to force the incumbent president to step down.
“Economist.com of January 27, 2011, which reported an invariable rise in cocoa prices after Ouattara’s call, noted that Cote D’Ivoire produces 34 percent of the world’s cocoa, and confectioners had an increased demand for the bean as they prepared for the Easter season. Mucilaginous cocoa. My Ghanaian boy’s photograph thumb-tacked against a partition in my primary school more than forty years ago finding reference and making meaning for me as I draw down this love and travelogue. I must’ve seen myself in him, but that’s another story set, hopefully, against another background of refreshing cornucopia.”
— Is there a 2014 West Indian cricketer who bats against exploitation of Africa’s natural resources just as Vivian Richards batted against apartheid? Is there sufficient knowledge in any West Indian cricketer to cause him or her to believe that Ivory Coast cocoa or Congo’s coltan is being exploited? Is there any one player who bats against child abuse, incest, rape, domestic violence, systemic low wages, fastfood chains, destruction of the West Indian male? It’s West Indies when we play cricket and Caribbean in every other matter!Is there one West Indian cricketer who stands in the name of reparation? Is there another rooting for the once-great empire of Ghana and batting in its defence? There must be one bowling in defence of its natural resources – its peoples dignity!
— That cocoa story is in my “cricket book” too but you have to read it to know it. An Unassuming Love is available at www.amazon.com and www.xlibris.com. Steinberg D. Henry!
Cocoa Research Institute
34% of the world’s cocoa