Tuesday, July 26, 2005

To market, to market

Bonjour famille y amis,

(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

Off to Atakpame

Bon jour

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

Termites a flying

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&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).