Sunday, November 13, 2005

A House Becomes a Home

After considerable time and effort, we are finally ready to share with you what our home in Atakpamé looks like. You may find the place looks better than you would expect (and the pictures are probably better than the real thing since they don’t seem to convey reality, just the facade). And we have to say that our “chez” (place) is much nicer than the typical Peace Corps dwelling in Togo. Most live in a cement house but not many have tile floors, an indoor bathroom, running water and electricity. So we feel very fortunate because when we signed up we expected to get the stereotype mud hut (which we now know is not really the stereotype).

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.


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sheri said...

Your new place looks great, a cozy new home.
take care,

Nancy McEachran said...

I so enjoyed the pictures of your home! All your furnishings look so colorful and creative.
Thanks for the detailed description, also. It is so interesting to read!
Blessing to you,