When we got back from Gabu we met with Richard and Matt at Francesca’s house. Richard and Matt are a story in-and-of themselves, but to be brief, Richard is a chemist who has his own chemical testing lab. Armindo, my step-dad’s best friend who is also from Bissau but lives in California, has been working for Richard for 20+ years. Last year Richard went with both Armindo and my family to visit Bissau for 3 weeks. Richard was really moved by his experience and saw there is dire need for access to clean drinking water. He came back for a week to start a water filtration project using clay pot filters.
Francesca, who is Armindo’s cousin, lives in Bissau and is very interested in Richards water project. I’m not exactly sure what her role in government is, but over her career she has moved from one upper level government position to another. Her Ex-husband was the Ambassador for Guinea-Bissau in countries like Cuba and Portugal. Anyways, she wanted a chance to chat with Richard before he returned to the states, so she invited everyone over for lunch.
|Opened and roasted cashew shells with cashew|
Two days later we arrived at Francesca’s factory.
|Cashew nut machine|
Before I get into any more detail, there are a couple things you have to understand about cashews. First thing is that they also come in a shell. Not like a peanut shell where you can crack it with your hands, but like a walnut shell where you need some tool to help you open it. But before you can even crack it, the shell has to be hardened. To do this the shell is usually roasted. Presto, you’ve got your harden shell and now all you need to do is crack it to get the cashew nut right? Unfortunately it’s not that simple. The oil from the cashew shell is actually toxic to humans. And since by hand (with a tool or machine) is the only way to de-shell the nuts, the most common solution to the problem has been to provide the workers with oil for their hands to prevent direct contact to the nuts. Even with the oil, most workers (who work directly with the shells) hands looked like they had been bleached at the fingers. Despite its toxicity, cashew nut oil is very valuable and is the best known natural wood preservative. Potential market? I think so.
|Women sorting and touching up the cashews|
The process is exhausting and not at all what I had imagined. It got me thinking. If this is the process for a cashew, something I eat pretty regularly with raisins or in trail-mix, then literally every nut (or even other food products) has a multi-step factory process similar (or not) to this. Then scale that to how many cities, states, and countries are involved in food processing and have food processing factories. That's alot! The US has unions that fight for workers rights. But when you see that the nut or product is imported from another country, you can never be sure what the factory atmosphere is in terms of cleanliness, worker rights, or the source of the product. Unions don't exist here.
|The final stage of screening and processing the cashews.|