Closing remarks

Cooperative ECASO in Ivory Coast

This picture epitomizes my Cote d’Ivoire trip… Beautiful, happy children welcoming me and enjoying chocolate – some for the first time.

Cooperative ECASO  in SoubrŽ

I tried to do my part to help… This is a 70kg (150lb) bag of cocoa. The guys at the cooperative gave me a round of applause. What was really impressive is that there were guys half my size doing this all day long!

Petit BouakŽ , Ivory Coast

One of many shade tree talks in a village, in this caase Petit Bouak. Now we are just drinking water – earlier we had palm oil alcohol.

UTZ Round Trip Ivory Coast

This is most of the crew (from left to right) Nabil Zorkot, photographer, Chris Cuello (author), Siriki Diakite (UTZ field representative for West Africa) and Herma Hulst (Director of Communications for UTZ, based in Amsterdam). Not pictured are Mounzer (Nabil’s assistant) and Oussman (driver).

My first night here my hotel reservation was not booked as planned and I spent the first night in a hotel Gant travel, my corporate travel agency, had never heard of and couldn’t recommend. I pushed a chair against the door and barely slept. I was afraid of the unknown.  Now, I can’t wait to come back to this incredible country of Côte d’Ivoire!

It’s interesting that people living in America and Europe refer to countries like Côte d’Ivoire as “developing.”  It seems to be that in the process of “development” we’ve lost many of the things that are free in life. The ability to smile easily, take the time to always greet people genuinely and to give first, before you seek to receive. I think the essence of life is somewhere in between….

This incredible country has so much to offer.  From the miles of sandy nearly deserted sandy beaches to the incredible French cuisine. But most of all, a people with an incredible spirit.

Côte d’Ivoire means Ivory Coast, a literal translation based on the ivory trade that was once so rich here.  Now the elephants are all but gone. The forest is disappearing here and malaria is a constant threat. I truly hope, as the country develops, the things that have touched my heart this week don’t vanish with the elephants.

I have had this opportunity because two amazing organizations, UTZ Certified and Mars Chocolate North America believe in making a difference in the lives of cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and around the world. In addition to the millions of dollars these organizations have already invested over the last decade, they have also made a significant investment in me.  Words cannot describe my gratitude.

The hole in my soul caused by the boy in Soubre has been healed by the gracious warmth of the people and customs.  I have many people to thank for this incredible opportunity.  First I have to thank my host, Siriki Diakite.  I couldn’t imagine it is possible to grow so close to someone in three weeks.  He is like a brother to me.  I have to thank my team that was here with me: Herma, Nabil, Ousmann and Mounzer – a gentleman that leaves a lasting impression on everyone he meets.  The Mars ambassador program is amazing! Thank you Annette! Thanks to Mike Tolkowsky, Randall Rodriguez, Beth Beasley, Paul Myler and many other Mars associates that increased their workload to allow me to fully immerse in the experience.  Thanks to Sandra and Mira-Bai at UTZ for coordinating everything and preparing me for the trip.  Thanks to Joost for a wonderful blog platform!

Finally, I have to thank my wife, Sarah Beth, and my sons, Lewis and Grayson for supporting me in this journey.
I will publish more pictures soon. The network here is too slow to upload.

À bientôt!

9 thoughts on “Closing remarks

  1. Mira Bai

    Dear Chris, thank you for communicating your experience to the world. Thank you for sharing your insights with so much honesty. Through your words the voice of the farmer gets to our ears.

  2. Han de Groot

    Dear Chris, so good to read that the journey you undertook as really been a journey of body and soul. Experiencing the cocoa supply chain seems to have left a trail of more than good memories, but really deeper understanding what this part of the world, , the origin of cocoa, has to offer.
    Thanks enormous for sharing this Chris, safe travels, hope to seen you back soon healthy, and enriched. Han

  3. Angelo Tramonte

    Dear Chris, it has been amazing following you on this blog. You could feel the whole range of emotions you experienced. I’m / we’re looking forward to hear even more stories from you, once you return to The Netherlands.

  4. Guillaume

    Dear Chris,
    Thanks a lot for sharing your adventures! I love the way you told your stories and emotions, it made me feel a bit like I experienced the situations myself… have you thought of going into writing? 🙂
    It is also very interesting to read about how people from very different cultures can really connect and share with each other. Have a safe trip home!

  5. Herma Hulst

    Thank you so much, dear Chris, first of all for being such a great company during the part of the trip that I joined. Secondly for the wonderful way in which you worded these Once In A Lifetime experiences. And thirdly, but perhaps most importantly, for the amazing way in which you connected with all the people you met on your way. Surely they did not only change our lives, you most certainly changed their’s too. Many blessings and looking forward to more!

  6. Inge

    Dear Chris,
    Thanks for sharing your stories with us. I’m sure all your readers – like me – have been able to almost feel what you have felt during your trip. It’s great to hear that the trip has given you a better picture of what cocoa farming entails and enriched you in many ways. I hope you will keep telling your stories back in the US and by doing so inspire people to contribute to better farming & a better future. Safe trip!

  7. Sandra Duifhuizen

    Dear Chris, it was our pleasure to have you here in the Netherlands and help make your trip in Côte d’Ivoire as enriching as possible. Thank you for all your hard work and for sharing your adventures with us, it has been great to have you on board!

  8. bart van der linden

    Dear Chris, together with my family I have been reading your inspiring words on your trip in Ivory Coast. Your inspiration will help all of us to keep the spirit up in bringing better farming and a better future to the Ivorian farmers. Good to have you back in Amsterdam and have a safe flight home!

  9. Siriki Diakité

    Yes, Chris we did it!
    I received a Mars Ambassador and made ​​more than a friend, a brother.
    I am still moved against your determination, your openness and your flexibility.
    These 12 days passed as an arrow!
    I know more than anyone that the anxiety of the first night in Grand-Bassam has finally given way to your desire to come back again to Côte d’Ivoire for other nights at the African Qeen Lodge…Right?
    Thank you for the good times together!


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