Wata Nabieu takes the chocolate bar and carefully unwraps the top. She giggles at us watching her and breaks off a piece, giving it a nervous nibble. Then she passes it to her three-year-old daughter, Yema. Wata pulls the gold wrapper back more and bites. She closes her eyes. “Milk… sugar… cocoa?” she murmurs. Her smile widens. She takes a bigger bite.
It’s a privilege to watch someone eat chocolate for the first time: a Willy Wonka moment. All the more special because 40-year-old Wata Nabieu has laboured for most of her life in the cocoa plantations of Sierra Leone so that other people can eat chocolate. What if she didn’t like it?
We are sitting under one of the cocoa trees planted 30 years ago by Wata’s father. Now she works the farm alone, except at harvest time when the neighbours help. Most days she’s out here, chasing monkeys and birds away from the ripening fruit, clearing undergrowth – “In it there can be hidden snakes. Or men”. On the back of Wata’s ragged T-shirt, inherited from an NGO, are the words “Love and development”.
Wata finishes off the finger bar of milk chocolate. The gold foil falls to the ground, where it settles beside a many-horned orange-pink orchid, a flower straight from the rainforest in Avatar. The chocolate is made by the Divine Chocolate company which has, since last year, been using Fairtrade Sierra Leonean cocoa – including the beans from Wata’s trees.
Click here to view photos: