Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving in Togo

“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving…be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.” Psalm 100:4

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

"Meat Tom"

"Dutch Oven Herb Garden"

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.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Faith of the Coiffeurs (hairdressers)

Coiffeur shops are plentiful here, even more so than espresso stands in Seattle. We enjoy seeing the faith-related store-front signs (see photos). Much focus is put on hair style; it is an art form. You can’t imagine the things they can do with braids, twists and knots. I haven’t been brave enough to ask for close-up photos yet, but perhaps someday…)

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

For all the saints

Greetings on “Jour de Toussaints,” or All Saint’s Day,

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.