Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The 30th Edition of The Hillard Herald

Christmas greetings and blessings

to you,

our family and friends.

As you go about in the hustle and bustle of Christmas in a consumer - driven society, perhaps trying to concentrate on the Reason for the Season, consider us. We are trying to muster up the Christmas Spirit in Togo, a country that hardly recognizes the religious significance of Christmas, and on top of that doesn’t have the economy or consumers to support any commercialism. Although we don’t miss the shopping or Santa Claus, we do miss the lights, the music and concerts, the church services, the cold weather…they all help mark the rhythm of the year. Not that we’re noticing time going by or anything, but we are now 70% done with our Peace Corps service and have about seven months remaining before we return home.

We look out each morning now and if we squint our eyes, we can imagine a light snowfall. The effect is caused by the Harmattan winds which come from the North and bring the Sahara sand and dust with them. Folks here refer to the winds as cool (many locals are wearing heavy jackets) but to us the slight drop in temperature means maybe wearing a T-shirt instead of a tank top. The low humidity does make the same temperature feel a little cooler. The winds bring so much dust that we are finding it harder to breathe, and thus exercise. Lucky for us we don’t have all those holiday goodies and extra calories YOU might be encountering on the party circuit! The winds could last into March. It’s a long dry season. You get winter. We get the Harmattan.

You might be asking, “What are Wayne and Cate doing for Christmas?” We are staying home in Atakpamé for our last Christmas in Togo. We’re planning our own Candlelight Service on Christmas Eve as there are no church services to be found here. Assuming we will have electricity (it goes out regularly now in an 8 hour on - 8 hour off pattern), we plan to listen to Handel’s Messiah, some Christmas carols and maybe watch It’s a Wonderful Life and/or A Christmas Carol on our laptop. Perhaps we’ll try making Swedish meatballs out of our soy-based meat substitute, which we find preferable to the REAL meat we see being butchered (and hovered over by a colony of vultures) in our local market. We’ve also invited local volunteers not lucky enough to go to home to the states to join us for brunch on Christmas morning and we’ll celebrate together. It’s not an easy time of year for anyone to be so far away from home. Next year…Sammamish!

Things we look back on in 2006:

  • Family visits: Karsten, Dustin and Julianna came in August and Nada and Nelius came in November - times we thoroughly enjoyed and treasure. You can see a few photos of them (as well as accounts of other experiences) on our blog at
  • Vacations: Doesn’t get much better than Morocco and Egypt in the same year.
  • Living and working in West Africa: you already know the details if you’ve been reading our emails or blog

Things to look forward to in 2007:

  • Claire’s visit in late January, our 30th wedding anniversary, our 60th birthdays, a bit more travel?
  • Returning home and taking stock of the last two years. How will we be changed? We don’t know, except for the obvious: a few more pounds (so many carbs!), a few more wrinkles (could it be the sun?), more gray (for Wayne), challenges overcome and the experience of an incredible adventure together.

We happily welcome any email Christmas greetings at (our airmail address is Corps de la Paix, B.P. 3194 Lomé, Togo, West Africa.) We’d love to hear from you and hope all is well with you and yours.

We wish you good health, joy, peace, love, laughter, and a Joyeux Noël.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Family Visits

We have already been blessed with two visits from family and our daughter Claire is coming in January. Karsten, Cate's brother, and Dustin & Julianna, our son and daughter-in-law, came in August. Karsten and Dustin hauling in fishing boats with the locals in Ghana.

Together in West Africa.
Another celebrity couple?
A happy Karsten!
Then Nada and Nelius, Cate's sister and brother-in-law, came in November.

Getting a feel for village life with Gabriel, a fellow PCV.

Nelius volunteering at our neighbor's bakery.

Nada passing out condoms during a World AIDS Day event.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

What are we doing here, anyway? Part II

Eight months ago we wrote Part I of this email describing what kind of work we are doing here, and we think it is now time to re-visit that topic so you don’t think we’re just running around the world having fun and visiting exotic places. We’re doing that, too, taking full advantage of being on this continent at every opportunity, knowing that we probably won’t be returning after our Peace Corps experience. So here is a run-down of some of the projects in which we’re involved in Togo.

Wayne has been consulting a young man in establishing a small solar energy enterprise. The individual solar panels can charge cell phones and radios and are especially useful in the many villages that do not have electricity. They are cost efficient and environmentally beneficial because the quality of batteries sold here is very low and they only last a short time. The ground is littered with old leaking batteries with which we sometimes see children playing. See photo of Wayne and Claude, the young entrepreneur, as they assemble the panels at our living room coffee table. Wayne has also been teaching computer classes to the staff of two NGOs and is presently trying to get a used computer in the town library so they can have an encyclopedia reference. A computer will draw in more people than the old books on the shelves.

Cate has written several proposals to organizations to help find funding for different events in the fight against AIDS. You will be hearing more about a Theater Festival centered around World AIDS Day on December 1st when 25 regional theater troops will perform educational skits to more than 20,000 persons in our region to inform them on the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. Street theater is the traditional African way of creating community awareness, and if you have seen “The Constant Gardener” movie, the scene of the actors performing the AIDS-related skit on the street is very accurate. Cate also works with 2 NGOs who provide services to people living with HIV/AIDS in helping to maintain and justify their programs to international funders.

Together, we have been teaching Business Skills Classes to owners of small enterprises. We are using our own strengths: Wayne handles the math part, and Cate tells the stories, and together we hope we are reaching them. Business skills for small enterprises include teaching cash flow, profit and loss, selling and buying with credit (big issue in Africa), and marketing. Small enterprises include businesses and/or entrepreneurs such as tailors, hair-dressers, wood sales (for cooking), food items in a small boutique, and a small electronics store.

Togo is one of 26 countries recently listed on the World Bank list of nations at risk of political and economic collapse. Perhaps due to this “fragile state,” our biggest accomplishment may be introducing a new micro-credit system of savings and loans to the “poorest of the poor” in our community We are presently working with a group of about 20 women in Atakpamé who sell products such as yams (a staple food item here), charcoal (for cooking), tomatoes, or individual meals such as boiled grains wrapped in leaves or contained in small plastic sacks. For the most part, they walk around and sell them from big basins which they carry on top of their heads or they lay their produce out on the street where people can walk by and make purchases. Some of them rent a small space in the outdoor market. These women work hard daily, earning just enough money to feed their family and make simple provisions. With the creation of a small, informal, autonomous savings & loan association, they should be able to increase their household security through savings, have an opportunity (where otherwise impossible) for a loan either for investment in their business or other needs, and have access to a Social Fund for relief from emergencies. The unique thing about this program is that all the financial transactions take place at the meetings of the entire group when the cash box is opened by three different keyholders, providing complete transparency.

In introducing the concept to the group, we role play and present skits so that these women, who are illiterate, (not unsophisticated—just illiterate), will understand the system. Don’t let the “poorest of the poor” and “illiterate” confuse you into thinking they are not intelligent, strong and hard-working women. They are industrious, good-humored, independent, strong women, and Maya Angelou describes them well in her poem “Phenomenal Woman.”

We feel especially good, at last (work has been slow and our feelings of usefulness are not always fulfilled), that developing this concept of micro-credit savings and loan for small groups is a way for us to make a real contribution to some local Togolese people. Maybe, afterall, we can make a small difference!

If you’re still reading this, thank you for your interest and support of our life and work here. We are somewhat captivated by our African experience, but we never forget that “life goes on” in the states. We are missing the weddings, the births, confirmations and graduations—the “passages” of our family and friends. (And it’s again hard to even think about the approaching holidays). We might be having the time of our lives here, but we truly look forward to our return home in just 10 months.
Solar Cell Assembly

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Walk Like an Egyptian

While writing this, we are cruising the Nile River in non-Peace Corps fashion, enjoying the luxury of hot showers, air conditioning, and sumptuous food served elegantly—all of this insignificant compared to the beauty and majesty of the ancient monuments that are scattered up and down the Nile. We have Dustin and Julianna (son and daughter-in-law) with us, which is making the trip absolutely perfect. (Daughter Claire will visit us later in Togo).

The Nile is flanked by a narrow strip of lush vegetation and we can see desert and sand dunes just beyond. We are viewing small fields of sugar cane, corn, groves of palm trees, mud brick homes with farmers going to and from their fields in donkey carts, children swimming along the shore, tall reeds which make us imagine how Moses might have been found as a baby, mosques, Coptic churches, egrets, water buffalo, feluccas (small sail boats), fishermen in rowboats….and other cruise ships. Fortunately for us, this is the low season for tourists and we are getting exceptionally attentive service as we are 4 of 12 guests aboard a ship that usually carries up to 90 passengers. We are south of Cairo which we visited before the cruise. The cruise is taking us from Aswan to Luxor.

We have seen many ancient temples, some very early in the morning to beat the heat (it was 106 degrees yesterday—no question we are in 'low season'), one at dusk when accent lighting came on to make it a dramatic visual experience, and other times we have just taken refuse in the shade of the ancient lotus and papyrus-carved columns that have withstood the test of time and nature for thousands of years.

As you will see by the attached photos, we took the mandatory camel ride to view the pyramids and got into the cruise spirit with Egyptian dressing (and dancing) like corny tourists. We could write volumes on what we are actually seeing and perhaps we will later for those of you who are interested, but we wanted to get this off to you now while we have the opportunity to use the Internet on the Nile, where thousands of years ago Egyptians first created the written word and recorded it in stone still legible today as hieroglyphics.

More to come in a report on the visit to Togo by Dustin, Julianna and Cate's brother Karsten. Great memories were created and Togo may never be the same!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Let it Rain!

The rainy season has come to Togo and it’s enough to make us homesick for our Seattle area home. The temperature now occasionally drops down to 75 degrees which almost makes us feel like putting on our fleece. It’s still plenty hot during the day, especially out in the sun, but at least we have some relief. Seems like many of us are in a little better mood…just like in Seattle when the sun comes out after days of rain.

The attached photo of the gleeful girls showering in the water spout run-off during a rainstorm might help us all appreciate running water in our homes a bit more. They do not have running water in their home; in fact they are our neighbors and have to carry their water (on their heads, of course, in big basins) up our steep hill from the well below. Water is used sparingly when it is hard to come by—perhaps this is the reason we couldn’t help but hear the girls laughing and having so much fun in the steady run-off outside our home.

The second photo titled “Rinse Cycle” shows clothes that have been washed in that basin but not yet rinsed or hung to dry because of the fast moving storm. Aside from using the rivers, we haven’t seen clothes washed any other way but by hand in these big basins. We should also add that their method (double wash, double rinse, methodical rubbing) gets clothes just as clean, if not cleaner, than our machines.

The third photo is of a local farmer standing in his corn field with his one tool. He has used this tool to weed and cultivate his field. Before the rains started, we noticed tiny patches of ground all around us being tilled and planted. Once the rain started, the corn started coming up fast. It is dry land farming with no irrigation and it seems most households find at least a small area to plant some corn or yams. This farmer’s tool is the only “equipment” we see used in the fields.

The last bit of news about rainy season is that it also brings snakes out of the ground. We’re being a bit more careful where we walk. The Togolese don’t like snakes either, and each household is busy with their machetes cutting down the weeds and growth around their homes where snakes might want to hide. Our perception of the machete has changed since coming to Togo. It is one very useful tool here, as opposed to a weapon. It is not unusual to see boys of age 10 carrying them around and using them productively.

So, as we head with pleasure into our rainy season, we wish you a happy 4th and an enjoyable summer!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Togo Scores!

World Cup Putting Togo on the Map

by James Helm BBC News June 7, 2006

When Togo played Saudi Arabia in a World Cup warm-up in Sittard, Holland, only a few hundred people turned up to watch. But what they lacked in numbers Togo's supporters, grouped behind a goal, made up for with their noise. The drums beat out a constant rhythm, flags were waved, and the songs exuberant.

A Togolese woman in traditional dress waved a national flag: "I feel so good about this day," she laughed. "You know, if you say you come from Togo, people don't know where Togo is. It is such a small country. Maybe now, with the World Cup, they will know about Togo.”

Wayne is writing this now an hour before the first ever appearance of Togo in the World Cup on June 13th. (For you non-sports fans, this is the tournament leading to the “Super Bowl” of world soccer that happens every 4 years.) I am sure many Americans are being exposed to Togo for the first time as a result of their being in the World Cup. They are probably wondering if Togo is somehow related to Togo’s sandwich shop. (The answer is no. I think Togo’s sandwich shop is named after the initials of a couple of San Jose State college students who started it back when my brother Dale was a student there.) But Togo is a long thin country sandwiched between Benin and Ghana and it is on a roll. (Thanks to John Crumpacker of the SF Chronicle for the puns.) Togo did well in the qualifying World Cup games last year, but then went to the African Cup tournament and lost every game. As a result, the Togo Soccer Federation fired the coach. In February they hired a new coach, but he quit on Saturday night. It seems the players were on strike because they had not agreed with the Togo Federation (run by the half-brother of Togo’s president) on the bonus money for playing in the world cup. (Apparently they did not get paid the promised amount for the Africa Cup, so they are playing hard ball.) On Saturday the coach said “How can I do my job if you can’t settle this? I quit.” That pretty much discouraged the Togolese people. Once again things go poorly for Togo. But this morning I saw on the internet that the coach has returned. Apparently the bonus dispute is settled. (Togo’s Prime Minister went to Germany to fix it). So perhaps the people are not as disappointed in the leaders as they were on Sunday. I was out this morning teaching the internet to a couple of our small business class students and the streets are full of folks wearing yellow, green and red, the Togo team colors. I can assure you the that Korea will come out on top in this match as Togo is now rated 61st in the world now and is playing in a tournament of the best 32 teams in the world, in which Korea came in 4th four years ago.

Now I have just returned from watching the game in the Atakpamé library with Cate. The stadium in Frankfurt was a sea of red, the Korean color. Very few Togolese fans were there as Germany denied visas to the 500 fans the Togo Federation tried to send to the games. (It seems that the fans did not submit their financial statements.) Atakpamé rolled up the streets during the game – the place looked deserted. The first half was great fun as Togo played well and was leading 1 - 0. The fans here went wild when we scored of course. See the photo. (I almost have to eat my words about losing.) But the second half went poorly and Togo lost 2-1.

So we walked home from the library with lots of disappointed folks in the streets. I was wearing my Togo T-shirt so I received lots of attention and encouragement; “Du Courage” they said in French, meaning “Have the courage to keep going”. The Togolese get a big charge out of seeing Westerners supporting them. I think they can’t quite believe it. (A few hundred years of colonization has only been gone since the sixties, so many Togolese still see white people as being here to run the place.)

The next game is against Switzerland on June 19th. Be sure to watch and root for Togo. J And our last game is against the unloved French on June 23rd. (We only keep playing if we come out in 1st or 2nd place amongst the 4 teams in our group.) Enjoy the game!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Great Escape

It will soon be one year since we arrived in Togo, and we have just returned from a vacation to Morocco which has given us yet another perspective on life in Africa. Although Morocco is on the same continent, it felt like we left Africa since the culture and nearly all the people we saw there were Arab and/or Berber, both of whom came from the Middle East. Muslim is the predominant faith, and the dress is long robes for both men and women, with many covered female faces. Most Westerners visiting Morocco think it is quite poor, but from our West African perspective, it seemed quite developed. Gourmet meals, hot running water, reliable and comfortable travel, and fun shopping made us feel like we were living “high on the hog.”

As part of our Moroccan adventure, we stayed in “riads” - lovingly restored, beautiful and somewhat quirky centuries-old homes (narrow stairways, tiny doors, tranquil courtyards) inside the walls of the old cities. The cities themselves were amazing places to visit with lots of juxtaposition of new and old: Donkeys carry baskets on their backs for garbage pick-up while passing high tech internet cafes situated in a labyrinth of stone paved pathways not wide enough for cars. Women walk the family bread dough daily to the neighborhood baker to be baked in a wood-fired oven (just as has been done for centuries) while men talk on cell phones in front of their own shops. A motorbike pulls up to a butcher shop counter on the street (where un-refrigerated beef hangs on the hook) and the driver purchases the day’s meat, departing without dismounting. Wandering around the Djemaa el-Fna square amidst the snake charmers and acrobats, what rolls by but two tourists on Segway transporters, new fangled machines that look like overgrown lawnmowers we have only seen on TV newsreels & read about until now.

We spent our first day in the very cosmopolitan Casablanca visiting the 3rd largest mosque in the world and the only one open for touring to non-believers in Morocco. King Mohammed V built it in the 90’s in 6 years with local workers working around the clock, an impressive place on the ocean, holding 25,000 worshippers (with a retractable roof and huge titanium doors) costing over half a billion dollars. It was decorated by Moroccan artisans with geometric tile and wood carvings. (Muslims are not allowed to depict living things in their art). We enjoyed lunch at “Rick’s Café” where Wayne, in a Humphrey Bogart state-of-mind, sat at the piano and Cate asked him to “play it again, Sam.”

Fes, the “symbolic heart of Morocco” was the most cultured, artistic, religious and refined town we visited. It is 3 towns in one; ancient (as in medieval), old (13th century) and new (French colonial). We focused on the ancient walled city called the medina and needed a guide to show us around the incredible maze of over 9000 tiny, twisting alleys, narrow streets and blind turns. And what trip to Morocco would be complete without a rug purchase (so Cate said), so we succumbed and felt like we had the Moroccan equivalent of a timeshare condo sales pitch, leaving it feeling both remorseful and happy; remorseful about the price but happy with our choice. (The thorough sales pitch by our now best Moroccan friend who served us traditional mint tea during the presentation, included the fact we could resell the rug on eBay when we got back to the states and it would pay for our trip. That’s why we took his suggestion and ended up with more than one rug and are feeling a little sheepish…maybe from all the lamb we ate?). We also visited a large pottery shop to see pots, dishes and tiles being hand made and painted by boys and men. Then on to the tanneries where the foot stomping process of dying leather in small vats of vegetable dyes remains unchanged over the centuries. We also saw hand weaving of silk and cotton into beautiful cloth. The colors, crafts and goods of Morocco were a feast for our eyes, especially in relation to Togo where the economy is so bad creative arts suffer and mostly essential items are found in the shops.

The next day we visited Volubilis, a Roman ruins site dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries and one of the most remote Roman outposts. The high point was the stunning mosaic floors left in their original locations, now exposed to the elements, that were walked on 1900 years ago. Then we visited the small neighboring town of Mouley Idress where a leader of the same name founded the country’s first dynasty in the 8th century after he was driven out of Mecca by rival Muslims, bringing Islam to Morocco. It is a picturesque, white walled city situated on a hill surrounded by lush vegetation.

We then traveled south through the Atlas mountains in a taxi where stops included a visit with free-roaming monkeys in the wild, a very animated poor village rug market and an elitist ski resort village. After a night in a small, dusty, dry mountain town we downgraded to local bus service to get to Essaouira, an ancient beach town known for its 18th century ramparts and movie making by Orson Wells. Our guest house was inside the old town looking down on the rocky Atlantic coastline just outside the walls. Fortunately Essaouira is much smaller than Fes and we were able to find our own way around the medina. Now it is mostly a fishing port and tourist destination for Europeans. We had a great lunch on the dock with our own hand selected fish grilled in front of us. As Americans we were quite unique. We tried to use our French (Morocco being a French-speaking country), but they would almost always gleefully answer us in halted English. I guess our accent is a dead give-away. We especially enjoyed the Mediterranean climate. It was the first time since our arrival in Togo that we have used our Seattle fleece jackets. We knew we brought them for a reason!

Our last city was Marrakesh where another old restored city mansion gave us much needed respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Marrakesh, founded in 1062, has a walled medina (old town) which includes a large plaza pretty much dedicated to the tourist, both Western and Moroccan. Restaurants surround the big plaza in which they promote the medieval myth and mystery of Marrakesh with snake charmers, story tellers, acrobats, musicians, jugglers and henna artists. The aroma of grilled meats and fresh squeezed oranges permeate the area and located nearby is the myriad of “souqs” (small markets) which sell every handicraft made in Morocco and include tiny meat markets, hardware stores and motorbike repair shops.

We went to Morocco with high expectations and happily we were not disappointed. Returning “home” to Togo, however, was surprisingly nice, especially the feeling of it being “home.” Our community of friends missed us and gave us a warm welcome back (did they think we might not return?). We appreciate even more now the evident joy of life here, shown in the way people talk, laugh, dress and move to whatever rhythm they might be hearing. We realize we have developed a comfort level with some of the quirkier facts of life here. Our mid-Eastern experience in Morocco gave us a stronger appreciation for the essence of Africa and we’re glad we’re here in Togo. For family and friends, however, don’t worry about us extending our time (as some volunteers do). We are also looking forward to the perspective we will have upon returning to the US.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Have you seen Him?

Have you seen Him? Easter morning we started looking at 4:00 a.m. along with hundreds of other Christians in Atakpamé who started celebrating early.

Easter day starts early for Christians in Togo. Up at 3:30 a.m., dressed in white from head to toe as we were instructed (like the angels at the empty tomb), we paraded through the streets of town with a loud brass band and drums “searching for Jesus”. During 2 hours of walking and dancing, perhaps 8 kilometers, we covered most of the town, including the cemetery, and celebrated that He was nowhere to be found. All this was to symbolize “He is risen indeed!” Alleluia! You will see from the photo that it was a joyful bunch.

Holy Week is by far the most important religious week of the year for Togolese Christians and the central activity of the week consists of processions through the community. Palm Sunday is marked by a parade with palm leaves that leads to the church. We went to the neighborhood Catholic service at 6 a.m. where the congregation met in the street just around the corner from our house for a brief service and then paraded to the church, about 1 kilometer away, with palm leaves in hand singing acapella. (See photo) This is one of 3 Catholic churches in town and the sanctuary was packed with 500+ folks for worship. Maundy Thursday worship is centered around foot washing, but we didn’t learn about that until afterwards, so we will wait until next year for that experience.

On Good Friday we again joined the local Catholic congregation. Worship started outdoors across town from the church, beginning at high noon, a time not insignificant in this heat. We processed with hundreds of Togolese, stopping to kneel in the street at 14 different Stations of the Cross situated around town, leading towards the church. (See photo) After 2+ hours of processing, praying and kneeling, the service at the church (so we understand) lasted another 3 hours. Needless to say the Togolese relate to the suffering of Christ.

We celebrated Easter morning with 3 other Peace Corps volunteers who joined us at our home for breakfast after the “search” and before the 9:00 a.m. worship service. It, too, was a very joyful service. There was lots of singing and dancing in the aisles as they collected the offerings by having the entire congregation circulate up to the alter to place their offering in the plate – twice – to brass band music and singing and dancing. The women were all dressed to the hilt in their new pagnes (the colorful fabric here) and elaborate hairdos.

We were fortunate to be invited into the home of a Togolese family for a traditional Easter meal of salad and pate (a starchy corn meal paste similar to a dumpling) with two different kinds of sauces. See photo — Wayne looks happy, eh? We think the experience of visiting a home and sharing a meal is worth a separate email in the future.

We are really enjoying learning and experiencing first hand the African traditions, but we also miss the traditions we have in our personal history, centered around our church, family and friends at this time of year. We colored hard boiled eggs (to the delight of our Togolese friends), taught some children how to do an Easter egg hunt, shared our treasured M & M’s…but it’s just not quite the same. We miss our family and friends! Hope you all had a wonderful Easter celebration.