Monday, May 20, 2013

Ndawara Tea Plantation

Until recently, I had no idea that within a couple hour's drive from our house there is an amazing tea plantation enterprise. We live in the "interior" of Cameroon (as some have been known to refer to it).  Booming businesses are not generally what you think of when traveling through the tiny villages and towns in the area where we live.  In fact, beyond Ndop (which is about an hour from our home), the main road is not even paved. I would have never thought it possible to travel beyond the tar road and find a massive and successful tea plantation.  Our friend and fellow missionary, Rosemary, offered to take us up there this past February to tour the Ndawara Plantation. I thought it would be the perfect educational field trip!  

After traveling to the end of the paved road I previously mentioned, we continued on for about 10 more minutes until we came to a faded and dilapidated sign board announcing the entrance to the plantation. If you weren't actually looking for the sign it could easily be missed. In fact, we thought we'd passed it and almost turned around at one point. We took a left at the sign and traveled a very rough and rocky road up the mountain for about 20 minutes or so.  The view was gorgeous as we seemed to climb to the top of the world. I can only imagine what it would have looked like in the rainy season. 

We arrived and set up a tour of the entire operation.  Our guide came out and began to lead us through the factory.  Beyond the buildings full of machines are lush hills, green with the growth of tea leaves. They hire locals to hand pick each tea leaf. They toss the leaves into the handwoven baskets strapped to their backs. The work is incredibly tedious, but I can't help but think of all the jobs it creates for people. I doubt they mind the monotony so long as it puts food on the tables to feed their families.

They collect bags upon bags of tea leaves. The strong tea fragrance fills the factory. By the end of the tour we all smelled of the aroma of tea and had tea dust somewhere on our body!

After they spend their day collecting,  a new set of workers then put the leaves on conveyor belts. The leaves travel slowly around the factory as they are chopped, processed, and dried. Following the belts you can see the leaves change color right before your eyes from a bright green to dark brown.

Once the tea has been thoroughly processed, they package it. They fill large sacks full of loose tea to ship to customers worldwide who will then package it with their own company labels. They also package the tea with the Ndawara company name to be sold right here in Cameroon and possibly other parts of Africa.  I was amazed at the high quality machinery they had here to package and seal their tea. They can fill small bags with loose tea, and we also watched a machine fill individual tea bags for just a cup of tea.
There were a handful of ladies there boxing and packaging the individual tea bags as well as boxing up packages of loose tea. The entire process was really fascinating and we all walked away with a box of Ndawara Tea!

The next part of our tea plantation tour was the kid's absolute favorite. It seems that the owner has been trying to build a small menagerie of animals for his guests to see. This isn't like any ordinary zoo. We are in Africa, and there aren't any strict safety regulations like you would find at a zoo in the states!  We were led to the animals and this is what we saw!
Oh my he not cute!?  These little guys were just roaming around. We were all a little timid actually. At the back of my mind was the story of the lady that had her face ripped off by a chimp.  I wanted to go home with all of my body parts on this day. We were told to walk on by them for now as we were led to the back of a large field where all the birds were held.  Gorgeous peacocks and huge Ostriches were wandering around behind a fence.  We were careful of the ostriches too!  They were looking for something to eat and I didn't want it to be our fingers!
This picture just needs a caption!

After the birds, there were a couple of caged monkeys. They were both chained and sitting in the darkness. I felt bad for the little things. I don't think they see the light of day very often.
Then the Boa Constrictors were the last thing in this section of the "zoo". They were very large and very ugly, and I don't think it is even necessary to post a photo. :)  We were all pretty anxious at this point to get back to the adorable Chimps!  

By this point we were kinda warming up to the chimps (all but Faith Ann and Daddy). Kate, Emma and I really wanted to hold one. Daddy said no, however and I can understand his decision. Wild animals are wild and unpredictable. I'd rather go home with my face in tact than say that I was able to hold a chimp for the first time.  We were able to shake Billy's hand at least, and he was trained to make kissing noises when greeting people. It was really cute. The smaller ones were wild and crazy. They kept fighting with each other like a couple of toddlers. It was so funny to watch. 
We stood around and watched these little guys for probably an hour. This was the end of our visit to the Tea Plantation and it was such a full day! We definitely made some wonderful memories and plan to go back again. We now have two incredible places to take our guests when they come to visit us here in Cameroon. I plan on bringing my Mom here when she comes out in October. We also love taking our visitors to the PresPot, which is a pottery place where you can watch them form pieces from scratch out of clay. They explain the entire process of forming and firing the pottery. One day I'll do a post on that - it is pretty amazing!  

So, if you want to see how pottery or tea is made...we are your one stop shop! Come and visit us here in Cameroon! 
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