People often work in the fields early in the morning in the forests of southern Cameroon, when it is cool and they can avoid the harsh sunshine. How much progress they make, however, depends greatly on motivation (they use this same word in French). Clearing the land is a particularly strenuous task for the robust men, as they must cut through secondary forests using only machetes. They can often be found calling on friends nearby to help get through the work quickly.
The men called upon to work early in the morning are grumpy. The person asking for help thus hands them small bags to provide “motivation.” The bags are like those sold in candy stores that contain powdered juice, but they hold something different. Each contains about 30 cc of whisky. The men do not hesitate to take the bag, and drink the whisky in one or two gulps. Most of the time, there is no breakfast, so the drink first thing in the morning warms the body in no time, and they are immediately enthusiastic, and remain this way as they head to work. There are, of course, some people who become too affected by the alcohol and run out of steam (myself in particular), but at the very least, the whiskey fosters motivation during the first stage of the job.
The region is strong in cacao production, and people nearby are called to join in the important work of extracting cacao beans during harvest season in the same way that they are when it is time to clear the forest. There is no distinction between whether people join in for the work or for the motivation, because they drink while they work. The scene of them drinking and singing presents another world from the hard work it takes to get to that point in harvesting the cacao. (*1)
A drink is also enjoyed at the end of a day’s work. The men often go hunting, and they all use the same method of traps. Some even set up over 100 traps deep in the forest, checking them two or three times a week. It can take several hours just to do this, so quite a few people set up places off the forest trail where palm wine can be enjoyed. Palm wine is a low-alcohol beverage made by the natural fermentation of sap from the oil palm. Oil palms grow in various places and its seed is collected to make cooking oil. When the time comes, it is cut to make palm wine and the sap trickling from it is collected and fermented. One oil palm can render two to three liters of palm wine a day. It is generally collected twice a day, in the mornings and evenings, but some people collect the morning’s portion in the evening, calculating their post-work drink into it. Indeed, palm wine after a walk in the forest is especially delicious, and definitely soothes one’s thirst. Palm wine is also popular among women, who have no problem accepting it even if it is a gift brought home after an unsuccessful hunting trip. Indeed, it would be more dangerous to forget to bring the wine home.
I myself often partake in palm wine during trap-checking trips with friends. Palm wine does not, however, always work to satiate thirst and cure fatigue. Once, while we were out checking traps, someone drank our wine without permission, and the drink we had been looking forward to enjoying at the end of the day’s work was no longer there. Our fatigue multiplied and anger welled up inside. Unable to contain this anger, I returned to the village and headed for a house selling cassava and corn liquor. This was our drink in times of desperation. Bringing motivation to work can be quite difficult.
This essay was supposed to be about work, but it has somehow managed to deviate. Perhaps the topics of work and the joys of motivation before and after it are inseparable. One should not look forward to motivation too much, but at the same time, one cannot work without having something to look forward to.
It’s almost time to have that well-earned drink, everyone!
- 1: We of course cannot ignore the reports of child labor being used to harvest cacao in places such as Cote d’Ivoire, and I do not intend to simplistically state that cacao harvesting is fun. Cacao is produced in southern Cameroon through family-run operations and in a different political and historical context to the various countries of West Africa such as Cote d’Ivoire. (For more about child labor, refer to publications such as Carol Off’s Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the dark side of the world's most seductive sweet (Random House of Canada, 2006).
- 2: Traps made of wire are banned in Cameroon, but as many people have no choice but to depend on meat as a source of protein and part of their cash income, I cannot advocate this completely.