Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Coconut Queen Learns how to Make Copra

The new buzz word these days is coconut oil. Biofuel. Everybody and their dog is talking about it. Everybody and their dog is aflutter with its possibilities. “Oooh Samoa has soooo many popo just lying on the ground everywhere…Think of all that oil…all that money!” Well-meaning knowitalls pontificate – Samoans should stop wasting the popo…they should make copra…they should make oil…blah blah. And why don’t they? Because its bloody hard work that’s why! And how does a mere creampuff know this?

Because we are now officially coconut farmers. Yup. I am a Coconut Queen. The Love of my Life (LOL) has an expeller for making coconut oil. But before you start putting us on the List of “Ten Richest People on Saleufi Street” wait up. To make oil one needs copra. To make that one needs coconuts. Tens of thousands of them. To get them one needs to get ones butt out there to pick them all up, load them and lug them. And then husk them. And sali them. And then stick them into a giant oven powered by a huge furnace. To dry coconut completely one must fire said oven for 3 days straight. 24 hours. To ensure said oven doesn’t burn the place down (thereby incinerating aforementioned coconut) one must monitor it closely. Once dried, copra must then be stored securely so mutant Samoan rats don’t eat it. Or wet season rains don’t infest it with mold. And then when you have several tons of the stuff - finally one can shove it all into a expeller and make oil. And then start the whole darn thing over again. In the past few weeks I have learnt several fascinating things I never knew before ( and must confess never cared about either.) Did you know....* that it takes 6 years for a coconut tree to produce nuts but FIFTEEN years before full yield capacity is reached? A tree has one ready to harvest bunch of nuts every month. And then they drop and germinate unless you get out there and pick them up. Now, collecting coconuts may sound (to the ignorant and uninitiated) like a delightful tropical pastime that involves wandering thru lush green rainforests serenaded by birdsong and sipping pineapple dacquiris. The truth is a harsh wakeup call. Trudging thru bush and overgrown nut plantations ain’t no picnic. Take a sapelu to hack your way thru. And to whack the mosquitos. Then the conundrum is of course - when you pick up the must then take them back with you. Over rocks and fallen logs. Thru grass growing over your head. The wizened old man who oversees 300 acres of coconut farm told the LOL confidently - "Oh its easy. The boys used to go out there everyday with donkeys to collect the nuts. Donkeys can make it thru the bush and carry lots of popo." So the LOL hires some eager nut collectors. They show up for their first day of collecting. Where are the donkeys they ask? "Oh we dont know. They were let loose years ago. You have to catch them. " Okaaaay. "Yes and then you have to train them to carry the popo because they’re wild donkeys. They don’t know how to la’u popo." ANYBODY OUT THERE KNOW HOW TO TRAIN WILD DONKEYS? I GOT A JOB GOING HERE FOR YOU.* When you’ve collected the nuts and opened them you have a 4 hour window to start drying them before they start forming mould. Some of this mold is poisonous for human consumption. And who is going to be silly enough to consume this stuff anyway you may ask? Well YOU. Because coconut oil is used in everything from baby formulas to margarine, cookies, cooking oil, animal feed and soap. Sounds simple enough. Open coconut - start drying process at once. HA. Once again not as easy as it sounds. Imagine if you will a veritable mountain of popo. It towers above you mockingly. You must husk it all. And then crack it. And the water runs out everywhere and the place is flooded with it. And the flies come for a feast. And the place starts to have a certain stench about it. And you are next to the huge dryer and you’re sweating. And then you have to stack and load the oven and all its 30 trays with half nuts. Oh and don’t forget the oven takes 10,000 nuts and you better fill every single tray or else you’re wasting money stoking the furnace....and once its all loaded you shut that door with a sigh of relief. Only its not over. Because the trays have to be rotated every so many hours. And after several hours, you have to pull out each tray and cut out the partially dried meat from the nut. And the shells are burning hot. And the day is hot. And the oven is hot. And the knives are sharp. And when its cut out you have to load it all back into the oven for another 2 days of drying. And then what do you do when your workers decide they don’t want to spend the nite looking after the furnace? Or your shift workers don’t show? Ha ha. Then its your job to look after the entire thing all damn nite ( after sweating over it all damn day) because its your precious money that bought those coconuts and if they all go up in smoke then basically(...excuse my french) you’re screwed. .....ANYBODY OUT THERE WHO IS A PRO COCONUT HUSKER OR SCRAPER? WE GOT A JOB HERE FOR YOU AND FIFTEEN OF YOUR FRIENDS!Now I confess that I myself am only speaking from second hand experience here. Its the LOL who’s doing all the collecting/husking/scraping/drying
/stressing/sweating. He comes home with hands cut from the sali knife, banged up leg from the husking, sunburnt from the collecting, hoarse from the yelling, red eyes from the smoke and generally exhausted. And we haven’t even made a drop of oil yet! So I want to salute all those coconut farmers out there and those copra makers because I sure as heck never knew how hard your job was and once again proves that being a lawyer or a corporate CEO is soooooo overpaid ... but I must stop here because me and the kids are heading out to look for the donkeys. Anybody seen Eeyore?

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