Sunday, December 18, 2005
But in Togo, they really know how to Wait. As we write this one week before Christmas, there is no sign of Christmas. No advertisements, no grand finale sales, (imagine the very biggest store in Atakpamé, a grocery store, being smaller than most 7-11s), no Christmas trees, no twinkling lights, no festive sweaters, scarves or gloves (or tank tops), and unfortunately, no Christmas concerts. We have heard that two days before Christmas, lights will start appearing, at least on some of the homes that have electricity.
We think we are integrating pretty well into the Togolese culture. (You might have enjoyed seeing us learn the traditional circle dance to drums in the street the other night. The locals loved it). But in the privacy of our home we are looking more American. We have “already” put up a string of Christmas (we don’t call them holiday) lights, we have an 8” wooden Swedish Advent tree with candles on our table, a poinsettia table runner and wall hanging, and we are playing Christmas music. Tonight we attended a concert: Handel’s Messiah, by the London Philharmonic—right in the comfort of our home (on the 2 inch speakers of our laptop). After the concert, we went out for dessert (moving to our tiny kitchen). OK, it wasn’t the same as our favorite place in Seattle, Decadent Desserts, but the Oreo’s sent from the US were a very good second.
Christmas trees would be a real anomaly here, where deforestation is a blight on the land. Wood is a rapidly diminishing resource which is used primarily for cooking and furniture. We are not missing a tree this year.
Gifts? We think the Togolese don’t place a lot of importance on them—unless they are from the rich Americans. We are often asked to give gifts (like our watch, our camera), but it has nothing to do with Christmas. We have noticed a sudden introduction of the sale of balloons (not inflated yet) on the streets, so we think that balloons might be a typical gift for the children. We don’t see any toys for sale. What we see is poverty that is hard to escape and people who are coping with it.
Another observation: Even in the midst of poverty the household budgets seem to accommodate good holiday appearance for the women. The “coiffure” (hairdresser) business is really picking up. The women are looking very elegant indeed! Their tresses (braids, etc.) last for up to 2 weeks, and it appears they are getting ready for Christmas with complex, beautifully designed hairdos.
We had a delightful time yesterday teaching a Christmas carol, “Silent Night, Holy Night”, to a group of youth that meets every Saturday. They seemed to recognize the tune from the radio and were eager to learn the English words. (Jingle Bells also). Then we became the students and they taught us a song in French. We all laughed and it was good for them to see us struggle with the song they sang so beautifully.
To anyone reading this, we wish you a blessed Christmas, happy Chanukah, or simply joyful holiday season. Whatever is appropriate for you. (I hear celebratory drumming in the background which reminds me not to forget the animists, whose beliefs seem to be interwoven with the newer Christian and Muslim faiths here). For us, we will be missing family and friends, but celebrating Christmas on the coast in Accra, Ghana, where we hope to find a place to worship with other Christians.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
The day started with a 2 mile march of 150 actors (and 3 Peace Corps Volunteers) singing, drumming and carrying signs through the business streets of Atakpamé and ending at the High School. There we held the opening ceremonies with singing choirs, dancing troupes, speeches and theater skits. Then the dignitaries (which included us) went off to a short reception at the nicest run-down hotel in town. This was the opening of the 2nd annual FESTHES, Theater Festival for Health, the first (as well as the second) being organized by Cate’s Togolese counterpart, Eugene. This year’s edition has over 20 theater groups performing skits about how to prevent the spread of AIDS. The skits are spontaneously given on the streets in the community near places where people gather, like the market or the stadium. They are in comedy, and are quite sexually explicit in their language and message, as they need to be to get the message across. The message is 3-fold: Abstinence, Fidelity and Condom use (not always in that order). There are 4 days of events starting today with the activities already described followed by street theater performances in Atakpamé. Tomorrow is a full day of skit performances by the troupes in the Jr. High and High Schools, followed by a USA-Togo soccer match (Peace Crops Volunteer Trainees vs. actors). Then there’s a rap contest in the evening (AIDS related). On Saturday the troupes go out to the neighboring villages and perform there. On Sunday there’s an acting class for the actors and the closing ceremony.
FESTHES is a small example of the effort Africans are making to combat AIDS in Africa. The funding for this festival comes from Western sources (however this year’s festival only has $3500 to work with), but the organization and efforts came from Africans (with a little help from Peace Corps). There is awareness – AIDS permeates family life, society, and the economy. The estimated AIDS number in Togo is roughly 6% (about 300,000), but most think it is even higher. Even at 6% it’s high enough to touch every extended family in the country on the average. FESTHES plans to get the “Stop SIDA” (Stop AIDS) message to about 20,000 people. We know there are many other events throughout Togo that will also be helping to spread awareness and hopefully action. The goal is to make the message real enough that the population is convinced that it can happen to them and they need to act responsibly to prevent it.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone from Cate & Wayne
We have many blessings and we are giving thanks to God here in Togo, also.
We have invited other volunteers in the Peace Corps “family” to join us for the most traditional Thanksgiving we can put together, and our turkey just might be fresher than yours! He is currently tethered up in our entryway , eating corn and waiting for tomorrow morning, when at 6:00 a.m. we have help coming to “prepare” him for our feast. (We’re choosing our words carefully for the vegetarians who are reading this). Turkey is rare here, and therefore expensive. Tom, who weighs about 10 kilos or 22 pounds, cost us $34 (a good monthly salary) and was brought up in a bush taxi from Lomé, the capital of Togo, about 3 hours from where we live. He looks fat with all his feathers, but he is free-range and we will be braising him (thanks, Ana) in our Dutch oven over our gas burner. To complete the meal, we’ll have mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, dried cranberries (thanks Kirsten), green beans and onions, green salad, fresh pineapple and papaya (in season here),sweet potato pie, and corn bread if it turns out OK. Maybe you’d like to join us next year? Please bring a pumpkin pie.
We feel truly blessed to be having this adventure in Togo. We are thankful for our work here and the new friends we are making, but our hearts are always with our family and friends in the US. Blessings upon blessings to you.
“Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.” 1 Chronicles 16:8
"Dutch Oven Herb Garden"
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Wayne is writing the description below to go with the photos, so there will be more detail than you would get if Cate wrote it. But I will try to keep it interesting with various tidbits of information.
When you arrive at our home you go through a stone walled entryway to get to our front door. (The house is on a steep hill and sits in a deep cut out of the hillside with the front door facing the hill. There is an unfinished clinic on the floor above us that our landlord, a retired nurse-anesthesiologist, never completed.) We have collected a number of old “bassines émaille” (enamel basins) which are colorful and were used for cooking – which led to the bottoms getting burned out.) So we have decorated the entryway with them to create an artwork out of what the culture has discarded.
Most of our effort to create a “home” has gone into decorating since we were able to buy the majority of our furniture from the volunteer who preceded us. The first step was to find curtain material at the market and have them sewn into curtains for 3 windows. Then we hung these with clothes line nailed to the wood window frames. Next we put up photos of family and friends on the wood panels in the bedrooms where there used to be air conditioners. (Our building was built in better times, about 20 years ago, when people could afford such luxuries. Gone also is the hot water tank, so we heat water on the stove and take ”bucket showers” when we want a warm shower. The poor economy is due in part to the lack of aid from the Western world. In 1993 monetary aid was stopped due to the country’s human rights record. It remains to be seen if the new president (the old president’s son) will make the changes demanded by the EU to resume aid. The EU has asked for a free election of a national congress. The president has agreed but not yet scheduled it. Peace Corps has continued on for some reason, probably since it is not officially an aid program, rather a volunteer program. But I digress.)
In the Living Room we have hung above the sofa an African scene batik of colorfully dressed people transporting things on their head. We invested in new cushions and covers for our sofa and chairs ($5 per cushion) to make it more comfortable and colorful. Next we had a frame made at the furniture shop for an old “coiffeur” (hairdresser) sign and we hung it next to two decorative statuesque combs Cate found in a dusty artisan shop in town. Then after much shopping, 3 “pagnes” (fabric sold to make shirts and dresses) were purchased and made into banners by a seamstress for less than $2. We made an effort to capture the whimsical culture of Togo in these banners. One has huge thumbprints, one has large coffee cups and the last has a living room scene – more American than Togolese I think . They were hung on the wall above a large water vessel, a plant and a mortar used to make “FuFu” ,the national food. On top of the mortar is a modern sculpture of a woman making “FuFu” that the furniture maker gave to Cate as a “cadeau” (gift) when she stopped by to show him a photo of the frame he made as it now hangs in our living room. (People quickly become our friends here – perhaps because being American makes us a status symbol or perhaps because they appreciate our business. We “saluer” (greet) the furniture maker and his helpers every day as we pass by his tin roofed, open air shop, with all tools powered by hand). The last item was an old carved wood plaque from Ghana which we hung above the table in the dining room (which is the same room as the living room). Cate found this in the other artisan shop in town where the owner at first wanted $60 for it – to which Cate rolled her eyes and said “tres cher” (very expensive). Weeks later Cate got it for $12 with a promise to tell no one the price she paid. By the way “hanging” things here is not that easy as all of the walls are cement. But fortunately they sell special extra stout nails at the hardware store that work pretty well after sufficient coaxing with a hammer. You will note that there is no TV or stereo. Our laptop serves as our DVD player as well as our stereo, playing the MP3 version of our CDs we put on it in the States.
Out on our small terrace, which you enter from the dining room, you may recognize the plastic chairs from an earlier photo. These are the ones Wayne carried home on his head. We look out on a lime tree and through it we can see the hills of Atakpamé. Once outside on our terrace you can enter the kitchen on your right and the bathroom on the left.
The kitchen didn’t get a lot of decorating yet, but Cate did find a new “bassine” and lid which gets used as a large bowl and platter in our kitchen. We also had a furniture maker build a “garde-manger” which is a free standing cabinet in which we store our food and on which we put our Peace Corps 2-burner propane stove. Next to it is our small refrigerator which runs all the time but only gets down to about 55 degrees. Someday we hope to get it fixed so we can make ice.
The “studio”, entered from the dining room, is also our guest room and communications room. We keep our cell phone there hanging in the window since that is the only place in the cement house where we get a signal strong enough to for it to work. The window behind Cate is the one at which we sit during our phone calls with those of you who are so nice to call.
Our bedroom is next to the studio and entered from the living room. It just houses our bed and mosquito net and a built-in closet for our clothes.
So now you have had the real estate tour of our “chez” in Atakpamé. Hope you enjoyed it. We are liking it. I wonder if we can live in about 650 sq ft when we get home.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Each coiffure has 5 or 6 apprentices working with her. The girls pay for their training. Oftentimes, walking down the street, we see all 6 apprentices working on one head (see photo). The good news is that girls who are unable to afford school can get career training. The bad news is that there are so many coiffeurs and apprentices that there are too many small coiffeur businesses to make much of a living. Perhaps that is why many name their businesses such as they do in relation to faith.
Below are 5 photos, and we have many more that we could have sent. Some other examples of business names: “Dieu Donne” (God Gives), “Dieu est Amour” (God is Love), “Don de Dieu” (Gift of God), and even in English (go figure) “Rejoice in the Lord” and “Jesus Saves.”
The last photo we included for you depicts the Hillard-owned and operated coiffeur boutique which we decided to name “Dieu lui Aidez” (God help Him).
God is ever-present and called upon here, and we are reminded of that in our daily life as we walk the streets. Blessings to you all!
Grace of God
God Gives, Psalm 27
God forgets no one, Isaiah 57:15
Apprentices at work
Dieu Lui Aide (God Help Him)
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
We have just returned from a two hour visit to the town cemetery where we celebrated Jour de Toussaints. Today, November 1st, is a national/religious holiday in Togo and hundreds of Catholics from the 3 Atakpamé parishes gathered together on and around the tombstones to honor the dead.
We should have taken a photo of the cemetery a few days ago so we would have a “before and after” picture. The “before” photo 2 days ago would have shown overgrown grass and weeds covering the tombstones with vultures circling above and roosting in the trees. (We thought perhaps the cemetery had been abandoned, especially because the dump on the hill above it overflows into it). Now we know that each year, a couple days before Jour de Toussaints, people come with their machetes to cut down the weeds and give the tombstones a fresh whitewash.
The ceremony started in late afternoon. Everyone brought candles to place on their family tombstones and a procession of hundreds from the church, led by cross bearing alter boys and priests, reached the cemetery, where hundreds more were already gathered,. Then the vicar arrived by car, processed into the cemetery, and held a service with burning incense and holy water sprinkled on the crowd. After a short message from the vicar and songs from the choir, it began to get dark and the candles were lit and placed on the tombstones. It was really quite beautiful, especially as night fell, and we hope you can get an idea of it from the photos we’ve attached. For those of you who know Wayne’s favorite hymn, you will also know we couldn’t help but sing to ourselves “For All the Saints…”
So even though we missed the USA version of All Hallow’s Eve (and the fun of seeing the costumed kids and handing out candy to the neighborhood trick-or-treaters), we were able to celebrate All Hallow’s Day in a memorable way.
Monday, October 17, 2005
You may be asking which “home again” we are referring to in this email. As most of you are probably aware, we have been back to the US for a 2 week visit due to the death of Wayne’s father in Sacramento, CA. He died at his home on Monday, September 19 at age 88. We left our Togo home on 2 hours notice and got a flight on Tuesday arriving in CA about 45 hours after leaving Lomé. (Peace Corps gets an A+ for making all of the travel arrangements in less than a day). On Sunday we held a graveside memorial service where he was honored (due to his service in World War II) with Taps by a dignified Air Force Color Guard burial ceremony in a flag-draped coffin. Afterwards we had a celebration of his life with family and neighbors at his house.
During our stay we were also able to make short trips to Phoenix and Seattle to visit family and friends. It was very disorienting to be “home again” in the states, and the adjustment back “home again” to Togo has been equally disorienting and admittedly difficult. We are enjoying our Peace Corps experience, but we really miss our loved ones!
You may be asking what was so disorienting about our visit and subsequent return. (And even if you weren’t asking, here is an attempt at explaining the “twilight zone”).
Death, even an expected one, is disorienting in itself. We grieve the loss and celebrate the life at the same time. Traveling long distances in a short period of time also takes its toll. We slept in places like Lomé (capital of Togo), Accra (our flight departed from the capital of Ghana), Amsterdam airport, Minneapolis airport, Sacramento, Phoenix and Mesa, AZ, Auburn and Ballard, WA. In the Amsterdam airport, where we had a 10 hour layover, it was delightful to once again realize we could drink from the fountain and brush our teeth with tap water, something we do not do in Togo. In the Minneapolis airport, the familiar Subway sandwich never tasted so good. In Sacramento (arriving at 2 am after ~ 3 days of traveling), we woke up in the house where Wayne grew up and wondered where we were. (This feeling of “where are we?” occurred countless other times on the trip).
Many people commented on our apparent loss of weight. Giardia is great weight control, but I don’t recommend it. It was absolutely heavenly gaining it all back with the delicious food available in the US. Although it won’t compare with the great restaurant food we gorged on, we did fill an extra suitcase to bring back food items such as Knorr pasta sauces, raisins, nuts, granola, energy bars and cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving (now to find a turkey…and we know it will be REALLY fresh, as in alive). Other items we brought back with us which seem very valuable in our present lifestyle were PLASTIC containers, a TEFLON pan and utensils, both nearly impossible to find here. DVD’s for the long evenings (our taste in movies has gone remarkably downhill), books, comfort sandals, more lightweight clothes, our favorite toothpaste (Dr. VanderHoeven are you reading this?)
So we’re back again to walking, walking, walking around town on the infamous steep stone-filled streets of Atakpamé. As we walk, we are careful to stay to the edge of the road, close to the open gutter where garbage is thrown, as the moto(cycle) taxis have absolutely no regard for our safety. Sometimes we feel like moving targets. We are back to drinking loads of water (purified, of course) to stay hydrated in this heat. We are back to our beloved protective mosquito net. We are back to bucket showers with warm water heated on the stove. We are back to occasional lizards in the kitchen. We are back to a limited diet of locally available food. And once again we are awakened at 4:30 am by the crowing roosters and Muslim call to worship which echoes throughout the hills and into our open windows.
Last but not least, we need to mention the overwhelming sense of welcome that we have experienced from the wonderful people of Togo who have given countless sincere condolences to Wayne on the loss of his father, and who seem truly happy to have us back here “home again.” Their welcome has been heartwarming and made our return easier. Their generosity of spirit is awesome.
Speaking of generosity of spirit, thank you also to all of you who have sent condolences and messages of support. We feel so blessed with family and friends. And we miss you immensely (she said quietly).
And with that....au revoir! We won’t wait so long to write again. And we’ll try to write individual emails but know that it is a frustrating process. Enjoy your technology!
Cate and Wayne
Friday, September 09, 2005
Where to begin? Well first of all this is Wayne writing so there will be far too many details below to suit Cate. But I have her permission to post this anyway.
We are now official volunteers (as opposed to trainees) and moved into our house in Atakpamé, pop = ~40,000, about 4 hours north of the capital, Lomé. The 21 of us, wearing custom, locally made clothes, were sworn in as volunteers on August 26th at the Peace Corps Director’s house in Lomé in an official ceremony held outside in his garden courtyard. Many host families attended in addition to dignitaries from Togo and the U.S. Embassy. We met some nice embassy staff folks our age (who offered us dinner next time we are in town) and the American school staff of 3, where one of the teachers is from Seattle. The volunteers traditionally party pretty hard after swear-in but we only lasted to the second club and called it a night at midnight.
Then we spent the weekend in Lomé going to the bank to get paid and spending some of our move-in allowance at “yovo” stores (which carry imported goods) on stuff like pickle relish, tuna fish, pepper and balsamic vinegar. There was a problem with our auto-deposit from the Peace Corps to the bank on Friday. So Peace Corps arranged for us to get 80,000 CFA (about $160) as an advance in order to do some shopping. We each went into the bank manager’s office one at a time and got a hand written sticky note to take to a cashier. Then she gave us the advance. Does that give a picture of how banking works in Togo? (By the way each volunteer gets paid $260 per month plus rent reimbursement which is about 10 times the Togolese national average of $25 per month. So although we only make a pittance by US standards, we do live well above the level of the average Togolese. Our rent is $80 a month, the maximum Peace Corps will pay.)
Sunday most stores are closed so we headed for a hotel pool for the day. We went to the nicest one in Lomé, the Hotel Sarakawa, with an Olympic size pool on the beach surrounded with palm trees and lawns where we paid $3 for a huge pool towel and $2 for a beer served pool side (triple the normal beer price). It was a great break from the intense training schedule – almost like Maui except for the lizards who share the grounds with the guests.
Then we headed back to the training center in Adeta for another week of French while most of the PCVs went off to “post”. (3 of us who started with very little French went back for the extra week.) We spent 6 hours a day studying French so Monday morning we were beyond ready to go, sad to leave our host family but exuberant to get out of the guest status.
After about a 2 hour trip in the rain we arrived at our house in Atakpamé with our propane gas stove, water filter, bicycles and bags on top of a rented van. The other volunteer went on North almost to the Burkina-Faso border to a village of a few hundred people called Sanpatoute. The rain stopped just as we arrived and we were quickly unloaded into our house with the help of the driver, his helper and the neighborhood kids. I tried to help too but they did not allow me to do anything. Guess I’m too old and too white.
Our house is at the top of the hill where the street ends. There are a couple houses on the hill above us that are reached only by some winding stairs. But don’t let the house picture mislead you. Our house is not a big as it looks. It is the two story building to the left of me in the photo with the black door to the courtyard. We have a living room, 2 bedrooms, a small covered terrace, a small kitchen and bathroom. Our house is made entirely of cement and the floors are all tiled. Two of the living room walls are covered in attractive stone, a standard building technique used on both the outside and inside of nice cement homes. Our landlord lives next door in the house directly behind me in the photo. He is a retired anesthesiologist and built our house and another adjoining one just like it under what was to be a clinic. So we have an unfinished clinic above us with the round window which we will use for outdoor eating when we feel like hauling a meal or snack up the stairs and cleaning the floor of this unused space.
Having electricity and running water we feel quite spoiled compared to many other volunteers. About half of our group work in villages and have neither. We even have a small refrigerator that gets down to 50 degrees or so. (We were without either during most of training as the wiring from the paved road to the house needed replacement and it is hard to purchase in quantity. Each homeowner strings their own 240v wires on top of bamboo poles to their house.) Living in the village of Adeta where most folks do not have running water, I came to realize how much water we use in daily living and how much time it takes to transport it one bucket at a time. Running water, besides being convenient, really saves a lot of time for other tasks.
But back to Atakpamé; we have spent the first two days unpacking and settling in. The first night we had a no cook curry sauce with couscous and a $2 bottle of Spanish red wine. It was like heaven after 12 weeks of standard Togolese fare for lunch and dinner consisting of a starch with a tomato ginger meat sauce (with plenty of palm oil) and fresh tropical fruit for dessert. (It tasted good to begin with but we were so ready for a change.) That same night we got our first guest. A Togolese colleague of the PCV who we are replacing dropped by after our landlord let him know we had arrived. We have hung curtains we had made in Adeta and batiks that we have picked up here and there. Cate has been going through the copious amount of paper and books we received during training and organizing them. We met with George, the librarian in Atakpamé, who we met through Kelly, the PCV here before us. He has arranged a French tutor so we are set to start classes on Tuesday and Friday afternoons for 2 hours each.
Our snail mail will come once a week now on Fridays to the “maison de passage” (travel house) that Peace Corps provides for volunteers visiting the city from the bush. It’s about a 10 minute walk from our place. Hopefully we will have much easier access to the internet now. It is open every day (except when the connection is down) and is about a mile away on rocky streets (one of Atakpamé’s characteristics) that are not conducive to bicycles, so it’s about a 25 minute walk. I was struck by a stark contrast yesterday when I went to read email. While I was typing at the internet the loudest sound coming from outside was the clanking in the nearby blacksmith shop that still uses manual powered bellows and tandem pairs of blacksmiths to shape metal into shovels.
PS - The photo of me & my bike is just to give you a feel for what the country side looks like in the Togo plateau region where we are living - tropical, lush and green.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
It has been a while since we wrote last. We have returned from our week- long ”post visit” where we had a great time getting to know Atakpamé, our future home for the next two years. We spent time with the PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) who has been there and was about to return home. She was well-loved and is leaving some big shoes to fill. She was well “integrated” into the community (a Peace Corps goal) and helped select both of our host national counterparts who will be helping us integrate. It was a busy week: We had dinner in four different Togolese homes, tasted the local millet beer, “chuch” which is served out of large plastic garbage cans and served in half of a dried out gourd (I wonder if that has anything to do with a small recurrence of the runs), attended a neighborhood football (soccer) match that was organized in honor of 2 departing PCV’s, and went to a meeting of the two HIV/AIDS NGOs (non-governmental agencies/non-profits) with whom we will be working! We even went to check out a Tai Kwon Do class at 6 a.m. one morning with the departing volunteer.
Best of all we attended a large luncheon in a nearby village that was set up by the director of the middle school there to say “Good-by to Kelly” (former PCV) and “Welcome to Cate & Wayne”. Kelly had helped get funding to build 3 new classrooms which reduced the size of their classes from 164 to “just” 87. The director of the school of 1000 students organized the luncheon at a large bar and 30 distinguished members of the village attended Not surprisingly for the culture, they were all men. Two chiefs were there (dressed in traditional cloth, one with his sceptre in hand and his cell phone in the other) as well as the regional education inspector (Superintendent) and 3 of his directors. We sat at the head table with the inspectors. Cate used her young French to charm the regional inspector. Once he seemed to know how little French we spoke, he felt free to use his limited English. So we had a nice conversation during lunch, which consisted of deep fried bread dough, hot sauce, spaghetti, bread and “interesting” beef pieces to eat with the traditional “sodabi” (a strong fermented palm wine), beer and chuch to drink. I sat between Cate and the only female education inspector in Togo. When it came to making speeches, Cate and I were asked, in good fun, to out-do the former PCVs with regard to building school buildings. Since THEY raised funds to build 3 classrooms, they want US to build six classrooms in two story buildings! There aren’t too many 2-story buildings. The former PCV gave a nice speech in good French (nearly made Cate cry even though she only understood half of it). It was reassuring to hear her communicate so well in such a setting, because she told us our French is better than hers was at the same time when she arrived in town. Cate jumped up when given the chance and charmed everyone with her very basic French telling them we were still learning French “un peu un peu” and saying “merci beaucoup pour votre bienvenu”. They laughed. Was it the pronunciation or the slow articulation? Whatever, we are slowly working our way into their hearts and it comes as a nice surprise that it is our limited French that is at work.
So enough details of our trip. I have noted a few cultural things to share and listed them below:
1. Always carry your baby on your back tied on with a colorful cloth. I have yet to see a baby crying in this position – but I have seen many napping. Sometimes you will see an “older” sister of 6 or 8 years carrying a 2 year old who looks almost half the size of the one doing the carrying.
2. Always pay for your purchase with your right hand. The left hand is reserved for bathroom tasks. It’s impolite to use it in greetings or business transactions and we have been warned it is quite bad etiquette to use it for eating.
3. Material success brings with it responsibility for the extended family. So think twice before you work hard towards success because you will probably be sharing it with your very-extended family. (C & T, can we come live with you in 2 years?)
4. Get well cards and flowers make no sense to Togolese. They expect fruit or money when you come to visit a sick person. Have to admit that their customs are much more practical!
5. Greetings are taken seriously. You greet everyone in the room when you arrive, normally with a handshake and appropriate salutation. Street greetings of “Bon Jour, Bon Soir or Bon Arrivée ” are common as well for anyone with whom you make eye contact.
6. All foreigners are greeted by any children who see them with “Yovo!” They will come running to greet you and sing the “yovo song”. Sometimes they want to touch you. It is difficult to be anonymous here, or just to go out and take a walk without kids “taunting” you with the song. We understand that the song is part of a rote greeting interchange that missionaries used to teach French. It drives some volunteers nuts as the singing draws constant attention but usually the kids are just having fun and want to acknowledge the unusual occasion of seeing a foreigner. They can pick out African-Americans as readily as us pale-faced yovos.
7. Wearing shorts is only for boys and old men. Working men wear pants.
8. Women normally cover their knees (and usually their calves) with dresses, or occasionally, pants. Revealing knees and legs is a sign of a loose woman.
9. It is impolite to cross your legs when meeting with a social superior.
10. If you are offered something to drink, even if it is not acceptable to you to drink (like unsafe water), put it to your mouth and let it touch your lips. Otherwise you will offend your host.
So now we are in our last 2 weeks of training and will soon be headed to our new home, assuming we pass all the requirements. All the volunteers are ready to go. Training has been very structured and at times frustrating and tiresome, and we are all anxious to get started on our own life and work in our respective villages and towns throughout Togo. Many of the returned volunteers we talked to on the phone before we started training said “just get through training”. Now we know what they meant. It will be sad, however, to leave the group of 23 volunteers that we have come to know quite well. We are making some good friends (who will never replace our true friends), and perhaps our next email will tell how they are helping to shape our lives here also. We think that we may come back to the US a lot smarter. (More on that in our next intelligent email).
Love to you all,
Wayne and Cate
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
(Two pictures at the bottom)
We write this from Atakpame, the town where we will be living starting in September. We have been sent for the week to start making living arrangements and getting to know the town. We are very pleased with the house where we will be living and the town itself, and have already met many people who have given us a warm welcome. It feels good. We are receiving a great deal of respect, due in large part to our age. It never felt so good to be so grey.
This week we have good internet connection, so we will send what I wrote a couple weeks ago about our first impressions of market day in our training village, Adeta. I write this in part so that those of you who will hopefully be visiting us will have an idea of what to expect. Visiting Africa may not be the exotic travel experience you were thinking. :)
Every village and town has one day a week that is designated as “market day,” the day where people come from all the outlying villages to sell their goods. It is different days in different villages. The larger towns, like the capital Lome, have it every day. Our first visit to the market in our village is hard to describe in any other way than as an “assault on the senses.”
The market, in this village of 7,000, brings in hundreds of vendors and shoppers. It is a very busy scene with vendors coming in hordes with their goods crammed in trucks and tied on the top of vehicles. Many walk for miles with whatever they are selling in a big container carried on their head. (Nobody seems to carry anything any other way. The women often have a baby tied on their back, and a big aluminum basin filled with charcoal, bread loaves, yams, colorful fabric yards called pagnes, or dried fish, but their hand are free). They walk ever so gracefully, even the children, a! nd we have already gotten used to seeing everything carried this way. If a man is coming home from work in the fields, he balances his machete on top of his head. Children as young as 5 or 6 may carry a small pail of food. I saw a woman carrying a good sized dining room table. Everything goes on the head!
But I digress…Everything revolves around market day in the villages. Streets are nearly impossible to travel. Loaded cars and trucks, motos (small motorcycles also used as taxis to get around) have the right of way and come quickly out of nowhere. It is dangerous. I feel like walking around with my bicycle helmet on (well, not quite…). The smell of diesel surrounds the large market area as people load and unload their goods. We must walk through the congestion to get to the heart of the market. Pike Place at its busiest time of year doe! sn’t come close to this experience. Hundreds of venders, mostly women, are selling everything from small piles of dried fish set on a display table or the ground (the flies are very attracted to this), to pots of boiling sauces (sorry, we haven’t had the stomach to find out what they might be made of yet), to unwrapped bars of soap used for our hand laundry, and piles of “dead yovo” clothes. (“Yovo” is a foreigner, especially American. The dead yovo aisles are full of piles of used clothing, and they are referred to as “dead” yovo, because why else would yovos not want these perfectly good clothes unless they were no longer alive? The clothing is thrift shop genre, and I have already purchased a well worn white tank top for about 30 cents (which I used to learn how to batik from a local artist.)
Interspersed with these stalls of curious foods and not so appetizing smells, we find venders selling fabrics in beautiful colors and designs. They are sold in units called pagnes which are about 2 yards each. They come in various qualities, and therefore prices, and this is one of the first things we learned to bargain for in French. Pagnes are what all the women wear. The poorest wear them wrapped around their waist like a sarong. Wealthier folks pay tailors, who are a thriving business, (as are the hairdressers) who can make them into quite stylish, well-fitted outfits. Men buy the pagnes as well. Wayne is having 2 shirts made today for a $5.00 fee from the tailor ($2.50 each). We paid about $4 each for good quality fabric. Place your orders if you want us to send you a shirt. These pagnes are what makes life so colorful here, as even the poorest of the poor of all ages wear them in some form or another. They are worn until they no longer hold together, but still seem to maintain color. The clotheslines on wash days are pleasant to pass by.
There are also male vendors at the market, but not many. They are in the outlying stalls and have electronic equipment like radios which look like they might work, electric fans, batteries and various auto/moto parts.
It’s hard to describe the impact the market had on us the first time we experienced it. I felt horribly overwhelmed, truly, it was almost like being assaulted (OK, I’ve never been assaulted, but this is the only word which seems to fit). An assault on the senses. Aside from the sights and smells and crowds, the noise level is tremendous. Add to that the language/cultural barrier. The good news is that on subsequent visits we have become more accustomed to it, and now look forward to market day and have traveled to a larger neighboring town on their market day. We have actually bee! n able to bargain for pagnes in our newly acquired French: “C’est trop cher!! Diminuez le pris, s’il vous plait!”
Speaking of French, we know some of you are probably curious how we are doing. Although we wish it was coming faster, when we realize that we can form sentences (albeit limited in vocabulary) using 3 verb tenses, we realize we are indeed making progress. We’re working as a team on this….I seem to be speaking more, and Wayne seems to be understanding more. Some things don’t change. Anyone surprised?
So, I hope our little description of market day will encourage those of you who are on the edge of “to visit or not.”
Our hometown (“post” in Peace Corps lingo) in Togo, Atakpame, is quite scenic, nestled in the hills, and our home is (will be, starting September) well above West African standards and very comfortable. We have a fairly steep rocky hill to get to it, but the view is worth the effort and the calories burned will hopefully help negate all the carbohydrates we are eating. The food is quite palatable, although I have to add we are still being careful and haven’t totally gotten into what the natives are purchasing from the street vendors. But we are getting a little more adventurous every day as our digestive systems are acclimating.
We are loving your emails (for those of you who have not written, please feel guilty). Our trips to the internet cafes are highlights of our days. And now in Atakpame, we have found a route to the internet café that goes by the Fan Milk store – the best and only ice cream in town. We are lucky to have a store. In most towns, they are sold from coolers attached to bicycles and it is only by chance that you will see one when you want one. They are a little like the good humor man. So now we have ice cream (well it’s really frozen yogurt) AND your emails to look forward to as we walk! about town.
We are missing you all and feel abundantly blessed to have you as family and friends and know that you are thinking of us and praying for us . Sometimes Africa does not seem so far off, and 2 years not so long. Then again, sometimes it does! :) So, please, we want to know what’s going on in your lives, also, so that when we ret! urn we won’t feel like foreigners, the yovos that we are here in Africa. (And that’s a whole other email).
Love to you all---
Cate and Wayne
Thursday, July 21, 2005
We are half way through our training now; 6 weeks in country and 5 weeks left in training. Tomorrow we meet our Togolese counterparts. They are the host country nationals that have volunteered to work with Peace Corps. They will be the folks we work with most closely in our jobs. Wayne’s counterpart works with computers in a computer maintenance/internet café business and Cate’s is an accountant for the Red Cross who is a board member with 2 nonprofits who have an HIV/AID grant to provide treatment to HIV patients. That’s as much as we know at this point but we will spend the day with them tomorrow so we will learn much more. On Saturday we will travel with our counterparts to the town where we will be for 2 years, Atakpame, and we will spend the week with them and the volunteer we will be replacing. We are looking forward to seeing our "post" and being in the house were we will live. It was the German capital of Togo prior to WW1 and still has some of the buildings which gives a German feel to the town. It is green and hilly so it sounds good. It is also larger than the town we are in for training, so we will have better email access with 5 internet cafes. So please write to us. As Dean Martin would say, "Keep "em coming. My Jeannie and me, we love to get those letters." Cate thinks I'm crazy for referring to Deano, so for the record this is Wayne writing. :)
Below are a few more photos whose titles are self explanatory. The one of Cate and me was taken at an African/American fashion show and we are wearing regal Kente cloth from Ghana that our host family loaned us. The group shot is the same day with the small business development half of the trainees and our trainers.
Sunday, July 03, 2005
The other night we were sitting in our sitting room reading with the florescent light on. (Every room in the house has a light, but most are very low wattage florescent bulbs with just enough to light to see, but not read.) We started noticing a large insect or two flying near the light. Then there were 8 or 10 and then there were 30 or 40. This was within seconds! Our host mom, Philo, came in and started swatting them with a hand broom. We started looking around to find how they were getting in. When we checked the window screens we found them covered with bugs. We were in the midst of a flying ant or termite swarm. Apparently the rain that day was enough to force them out of the ground. They had wings about 2 inches long on 1 inch bodies. We determined that they were getting in under the front double doors, so Philo laid down a rag in front of the door but it did not cover the whole width. At that point it seemed we had hundreds of bugs inside so decided we needed to tu! rn off the light since that was what was attracting them. Then in order not to attract them into our bedroom we turned off that light too and started using flashlights. At that point there was not much else to do but go to bed safely protected under our mosquito net, so we got an early start on a nights rest. (We are really loving our mosquito net.) The next day all the volunteers were talking about the swarm which enveloped the whole village. Apparently some of the families were catching them and eating them raw after removing the wings. But some took the time to roast them, a real delicacy we presume.
Our mornings are much more pleasant than the evening just described. Due to the temperature being around 80 degrees most nights, we sleep with the windows wide open. The roosters start crowing around 4:30 AM, but in the 10 days we have been here we are already tuning them out so that they do not awaken us. Sometimes we hear singing from nearby or drums from far away starting around 5:30. Other morning sounds are a rhythmic sweeping outside and well water being drawn and poured from the well bucket into larger pans or buckets. (The house well is in the courtyard and has a cement wall around a 2 foot diameter hole. The water is about 30 feet down in the ground. There is a pipe in the well that provides the input to the pump that pumps water into to large tank connected to the house running water system. Don’t ask me why they still draw water with a bucket when the pump is right there. Perhaps they are saving wear and tear on the pump.) We are served breakfast around 6:30 AM! . Usually it’s hot porridge of rice, corn meal or tapioca - with bread and an egg – hard boiled, fried or omelet. Often there is a bucket of warm water in the shower for a bucket shower that was warmed over a charcoal stove outside. Running cold water showers are nicer later in the day when you’re hot. Our classes start at 7:30 and go ‘til noon. Then we have 2 ½ hours for lunch. At 2:30 we start class again until 5:30. Classes consist of French and Small Business Development sessions where we learn about Togolese culture and business. We also have health classes and safety & security classes along with bicycle repair classes.
On Sunday we went to a Baptist church with Philo. It is about a 20 minute walk from the house on the main road near the edge of town. Everyone dresses in their colorful finest for church. It is a simple, large structure like our house with cement walls but with lots of open pattern bricks for ventilation and a tin roof. It holds about 200 or 300 folks. It was very full. There are 6 foot long, 6 inch wide benches to sit on without backs. Men sit on the right side and women on the left. The service is done in both French and Ewe, the local African language. French is for folks who have moved here from elsewhere in Togo where Ewe is not spoken. "Blessed Assurance" was the first hymn sung by the congregation. Other songs were not as recognizable. They ask newcomers to stand and introduce themselves. Cate was moved to try it in French so she blurted out an introduction and told them were we in the Corps de la Paix. The broken French brought lots of smiles and laughter. A coed adult acapella choir of about 25 sang 3 songs with a definite African motif. That was the best part of the 1 ¾ hour long service for me. (They use an electronic organ, trombone and a one string base for musical instruments to accompany the congregation.) The preaching was pretty tame compared to some black Baptist preachers we have heard in the states. One of the texts was Romans 8, which will be recognized by the Lundring clan as Axel’s favorite scripture.
The other day we all went to meet the local tribal chief. He sat on a long porch with an assistant and we sat down on the porch as well. For starters we bowed down all together and said a local greeting in the local language. Then he welcomed us and we introduced ourselves in French. This meeting was done just for protocol to keep the local "powers that be" informed and respected. Chiefs are appointed by the ruling political party which has been in power since 1964 and just won the election in April.
On a more personal note we are feeling fine now, having recovered from our intestinal problems of the first week. (Other volunteers have had similar problems, but none hospitalized.) We are de-caffeinated, de-chocolatized and de-wined – something we thought would never happen! We have a cell phone working now so you can call us for 10 cents a minute. (It costs us over a dollar a minute so don’t expect a call from us.) Dustin and Claire have info on the cheap African calling card. Our number is:
001 228 903-3224.
The site Claire found is: http://www.zscomm.com/classic-africa.htm
We have talked to Claire, K&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;K and N&N so far. Call us any time between 6 and 9 PM our time (11AM and 2 PM Pacific Daylight Time).
Email access is very sketchy, but we have received many messages and thank you for your notes and encouragement. It’s hard to respond to each email, but it is GOOD to hear news from home, so please keep us updated on your lives, too. We are learning how to be patient with the internet…just one more cultural adaptation.
Love and blessings to each one of you!
Wayne and Cate
Now, some pictures (which you can also find here).
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Dear family and friends,
We have felt your presence and prayers. Thank you. Our first 10 days have not been easy and we have often referred to the prayer which sister Nada laminated for us: “Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.”
We already have many stories to tell, but I’ll start with the worst part. Wayne and I have both been sick – but have survived. Apparently amoeba are stronger than we are. I was the first ”to go” (with diarrhea) and spent 2 days in the PC/US Embassy Infirmary in Lome. The group was traveling the day I got sick to our training site 2 hours away, so I stayed behind alone. When I joined the group 2 days later, Wayne was also ill. The first night at diner he fainted as he got up from the table. Our host “mom”, Philo, is a nurse, & after some calls were made to the PC medical staff, we were off to the hospital where we spent the next 2 days. As it turns out he had a bad case of amoebas (causing extreme diarrhea) which caused dehydration, and for an added touch they also detected a small amount of malaria. (This is probably a false positive test – but is makes the story better J, However nobody here takes malaria lightly so they over detect when looking at the slide and give you some pills to cure the malaria. We are also taking a malaria prophylaxis, but it is only 95% effective.) He was on an IV for 36 hours and is doing well now, although still gaining energy. He left the hospital on Monday and started class on Tuesday. He has now fully recovered.
The hospital is run by Baptist missionaries and we had American doctors. He had a private room and I was given a mat to sleep on the floor in the same room. The equipment was quite primitive, but he received good care & attention. We were both glad to come “home”. The staff lives in a compound on the grounds which has a guest house where meals can be purchased. I went for meals there and took food back to Wayne since the hospital itself doesn’t serve food. The Togolese nurses, mostly all young men, were very nice & capable. The equipment (like the IV metal! stand) was totally rusted and the glass bottles looked well used, but we were not worried about sanitation as this hospital is known as the best in Togo. We both gave stool samples at some point. The container they gave Wayne was an old prescription pill container and mine was a Kodak film container. Seems like everything is recycled in this place.
Our host “Mom” is a lovely woman who is a nurse/midwife. Yesterday she delivered twins girls at the hospital, but in our compound/home she also has her own clinic and today there is a woman in labor. She has invited me to “help” sometime. We learned how highly respected Philo is at the hospital. The American doctors hold her in high regard as she has delivered over 2500 babies in the area in the last 20 years. She is from Ghana and speaks English, so although our French will not get as much practice, we are learning a lot. We lucked out on our home. We are only on! e of a few (maybe the only ones) to have running water. Most are getting their water from a well with a bucket. It looks very Biblical. We also have a flush toilet (no paper allowed) but most others have bucket latrines. If I were one of the young volunteers, I might be shouting “age discrimination.”
We are enjoying the group of other volunteers with whom we are training. One has already gone back home to Vermont. We are kept very busy in classes, learning French (W and I are in a class of 3), Small Business Development and “How to Stay Healthy in Togo”. We’ve had too many immunizations to report.
We have, we THINK, already survived the “What were we thinking?” stage of being here. They told us we would experience it, and we admit being here has seemed overwhelming at times, especially with health issues. It is not going to be easy, but there already have been great moments, and we expect they will multiply as we adapt to life here.
We have a nice clean room in an above standard home for Togo. The home has cement floors and walls and a wood ceiling under a metal roof. We sleep under a mosquito net (issued to us by PC along with our bikes, helmets, medical kit, kerosene lantern, water filter and propane stove…) on a comfortable bed and take refreshing (really!) cold showers or warm bucket baths. Food will be described in another email, as I feel we may already have lost half our readers.
We miss our family and friends but feel your presence and your prayers, and it is helping us to keep strong. So keep ‘em coming. Philo, our “host mom” is a Baptist and has enthusiastically asked to learn our table prayer. We have been blessed to be placed in her home.
Now it’s my turn – Wayne typing now. Not too much to add to what Cate said. The best thing about Togo is the people and their faces. The worst thing is the humidity. I expect in a few months we will get used to it. We said we were going to embrace change – well we have done that in spades. Peace Corps kind of doles out the change with a few days preparation in Philly, a few days in Lome” and now training – but it is still overwhelming when you experience it – especially with some hospital time thrown in feeling lousy. But now that I am mostly well I am still glad we have taken this adventure. So far it has not disappointed us in that regard.
Love to you all,
Cate and Wayne
Monday, June 13, 2005
This may be more information than you want to read - but for those or you who are interested, here is how we are doing.
We have arrived from Philly without any problems and are in "Stage" training in
This morning we woke up to roosters crowing at a very early hour. This evening we are listening to sounds of a 3-on-3 soccer game being played by young men on a side street closed off for the game. The side streets, here by the coast in rainy season, are not paved but made of wet sand with some rocks thrown in for texture. First impressions include women walking balancing loads on their head (like a large platter of new flip-flops), looking down at he street and finding chicken tracks as well as footprints in the sand, and noticing quite a few large old satellite dishes on roof tops of the 2 and 3 story buildings. It seems to me that
We got more shots and medical training today as well as a tour of the American medical facility for embassy personnel (of which there are 12 with 5 Marines to guard them) and Peace Corps (which numbers about 100 volunteers in total). We also got a language assessment test so they can group us according to our ability when we start language training on Thursday, 2 ½ hours north of
We walked about 8 blocks to the same bar again as last night. Played hearts and drank beer. Met some more PCVs from previous "stages".
Slept pretty well again last night. It was 83 F in our room when we went to bed and 79 F when we woke up. It’s not comfortable, but we sleep well anyway. More medical training today as well as more shots. Today covered how to use our water filter as well as how to use the stool sample preservation kit. This afternoon is cross cultural training from the experienced volunteers.
So we are doing fine and are using the internet café for the first time. Not sure what the access will be to internet cafes during training. We may have to resort to snail mail. More later
We are well and having fun.
Love to you all,
Wayne & Cate
This e-mail is to let you know that Peace Corps Togo Trainees: Wayne and Catherine Hillard arrived safely in Lomé, Togo last night (Sunday June 12th), and have begun their three month training to prepare for their service in Togo.
All Trainees will be staying in Lomé through Thursday morning (June 16th). On Thursday afternoon they will be traveling to their training sites in Adéta and Govié, which are located approximately 2 1/2 hours northwest of Lomé.
Robert K. Dedzi
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Then after a couple days of packing we were off to Claire & Tyler’s new apartment in Phoenix with another U-Haul. And then back to Seattle to Dustin & Julianna’s for a few days before going off to Philadelphia for 3 days of Peace Corps Staging. We depart from Philly to Paris on a June 11 red-eye and arrive in Lome late on the evening of June 12. We'll try to sneak into Paris on our six hour layover!
You can email us at: CateWayneAfrica @ yahoo.com
Don't expect an instant reply as we will probably only have access to email on the weekends during training.