Friday, February 1, 2013

We Love You Stanley Bear (1916 - 2013)

I loved to hear Pop Pop play the piano. When we were young, it was the Mexican Hat Dance. I remember exactly how he would laugh as we squeeled with glee and ran in circles around him. But it was as I grew up, and would come home from school on Tuesday afternoons, that I began to cherish the relaxed, improvised jazz that filled the house…that comfortable, tranquil lilt that so embodied the Pop Pop we loved to be around.

There was so much to his long life that we, as grandchildren, never knew but through photographs…of juke boxes and grand pianos, underground nightclubs and jazz stars…so much exoticness and glamour and excitement, from Atlantic City to the South Pacific. In every shot he has a brilliant, happy smile. And it fits, because if there is one word that describes the Pop Pop we know, it is contentment. Happy to sit for hours and hours in a rolling chair on the boardwalk, listening to ocean and the jazz music he so loved in his headphones, a white miniature poodle in his lap. Or on the couch at Thanksgiving watching football, just watching the chaos ensue around him. After all he’d experienced in his life, he was happy to fly below the radar.

I am so grateful to my sweet Pop Pop for giving me the gift of my education, for the countless dinners and ice shows and shopping sprees and giant bags of Hanukkah presents, that when I was young never even knew how I took it all for granted.  I am much more grateful for all of the times I got to walk inside and see him happily sitting at is computer or in his chair, watching CNN or checking his stocks, looking up, breaking into a smile and saying “How’s my Sweetheart?” I am most grateful that he knew how much I loved him.
It’s hard to imagine everything Pop Pop saw during his life…the evolution of technology and human beings’ way of life that he experienced over his 96 years is mind-boggling. And he got to have the best of it all, and I have to believe that he knew it. That he knew how lucky he was and that he had earned it and that he was enjoying every drop.

We are incredibly lucky to have had someone in our lives for so very long, that we loved so very much, that it causes us to feel such heartbreak and loss.  But Pop Pop had a beautiful life, and we must always celebrate it.

I love you Pop Pop and will make sure to have a Johnny Walker Red for you every once in a while. I hope you are resting easy on that A Train.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Missing Togo

Instead of searching for the words, I will share this that came across my screen today. Instead of explaining how I cried in my kitchen reading these words, closed my eyes and tried to summon up the sounds and smells of Togo, I will simply quote. And keep missing it.

"My Africa is where my heart resides, even when I am long gone and far away, where my mind drifts to across the distance of a never ending ocean." (from:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Life is a Highway

I think it's fairly accurate that I am without borders. Here I sit in Bowling Green, Kentucky...the first capital of the confederacy. A complex and compartmentalized southern town that has seen its socioeconomic conditions and population change so drastically over the past 10 years that most are still trying to catch up. Bowling Green is a town of fascinating demographics, at once conservative, homogenous and insulated, and also incredibly diverse (Bowling Green is home to one of the largest Bosnian expat populations in the world.) An economy that is simultaneously entwined with the legacy of Western KY University and family businesses, healthily booming with old and new manufacturing facilities, and one of the country's highest unemployment rates.

I've lived in the Bluegrass State for two years now, and it has become my home and my happiness. Sounds cliche to say it but it does feel like much longer - this is a place where you either adapt and are absorbed, or you turn around, leave the sweet tea behind and convince yourself that you would always be a Yankee in these parts. I beg to differ.
I have learned to put it up instead of put it away, to accept that I will smell like fried chicken each time I stop for watery coffee at the Minit Mart (although a couple from San Francisco opened a coffee shop on the Square, where I can aquire the type of caffeine concentration my inner East-Coaster is accustomed to...) and I have learned to love the simplicity that is watching my garden grow. I've learned to appreciate dark nights in the country, just sitting still, sipping American beers and listening to country music floating out of the open door of a pick up truck...and yet I know the lore about driving through some of these country towns at night with out-of-state plates or a foreign face.

I have learned to stand up for myself but know when to "quit it" situations that have perplexed my inner sense of morality and culture just as much as when I stood at the Israeli-Syrian border or the first time I was hustled by a customs agent in Togo. When someone not only offends my opinion, but when someone offends my complete and total understanding of the universe...says something that comes from a completely separate paradigm of consciousness that has formed in stone over years on the farm, based on a history that I will never be a part of nor understand its complexity. I have learned to listen to this history, since I also have my own. I have learned to understand that my vote for Obama means nothing here, and while I will surely pontificate about my admiration for this president, I will not sport an Obama-Biden 2012 bumper sticker on my car if I want to be successful in my career. Right or wrong? It is gloriously both...

I think I am a woman without borders because I have maintained a deep sense of curiosity and cultural fascination (always centered around words apparently...) no matter where my feet are planted. I've experienced some fascinating places. From (in no particular order) the Main Line to East Germany to South Africa to Montreal to New York City to Togo and now, to the hospitality of Southcentral many similiarities amd so many differences, my life is a giant spiderweb of diagonal lines and arcs, bridging connections from where I was and where I am.

All of SunPower Afrique's solar systems that have been installed over the past few years are up and running, though I worry constantly about sustainability and buy-in. It's not perfect. My not being on the ground in 2 years and, to be totally honest, focusing more on personal decisions during that time than on fundraising, has taken its toll. A person can in fact make a life choice that fulfills one dream and stagnates another, without it being the "wrong" choice. Dreams never die, they ebb and flow and evolve and always come back around. For now I am enjoying what I have, my loving and caring partner in life, and what is to come for us.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Let there be LIGHT!

As of October 17th, 2011 there is now electricity powering computers and lights at FECECAV's offices in Wome and Kpadape. Amoussokope is next, and should be completed with the next few weeks. Next comes training and presentations on how the systems work and how to take care of them - aka, please do not plug a refridgerator and/or AC unit into the battery bank. This will be a theme moving forward in 2012.

"I happened to walk up eight before they turned on the system (in Kpadape) and everyone was huddled around the one exterior light, and when it came on everyone cheered and danced. It was one of the bes tthings I've seen working on this project so far." - Ashley Lewis, PCV and Field Ops. Manager

"C'etait avec la joie que j'ai appris qu'il y a de la lumiere a Wome et Kpadape!" ("It was with joy that I learned that there was light in Wome and Kpadape!")- Daniel Barondibou, CEO, FECECAV

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When Togo Gives You Lemons...

...SunPower Afrique makes lemonade! This year's project started with an unpredicted and lengthy delay of our container's delivery to the Port of Lome. Ultimately the container arrived nearly a month late and missed our engineer, Dave Staller, in Togo completely. However, equipment has arrived and installations are currently going on!

Our ever-present Field Manager, Peace Corps Volunteer Ashley Lewis, continues to handle general operations and has now perfected the art of negotiating shipping containers through Togolese customs. Until next year of course. Our technicians Koffi and Aminou were well prepped by Dave and Ron Celentano, SunPower Afrique's lead system designer, and are handling project management and installation on their own. Ultimately, making lemonade Togo-style to me translates to real sustainability.

Although there was no equipment on the ground, Dave's time in Togo ended up being very well spent and his contribution to SunPower Afrique was invaluable. With Ron's assistance via email, Dave made some important adjustments to the settings of the inverter installed last year. Several things have taken place over the last year without our knowledge - including new electrical equipment installed at the utility interconnection, a lightning strike on Kpalime's main transformer and an additional AC unit installed on FECECAV's roof - and we continue to teach Koffi and Aminou how to troubleshoot the Outback Inverter and perfect the system's operation.

Dave prepared Aminou and Koffi for the 3 off-grid installations at the Wome, Kpadape and Amoussokope FECECAV office and constructed teak racking and other tasks possible with local materials/items not in the container.

Together with Ashley, Dave gained an important perspective into SunPower Afrique's mission and its implementation. Since his return, the 3 of us have had important conversations about the strengths and weaknesses of SunPower Afrique's operations. The result is a back-to-basics approach, a revisiting of the business plan and budget and exciting plans for partnerships that will finally bring about the launch of the Solar Loan Program. In addition to the technical/construction contributions Dave made to SunPower Afrique, his input on how-to-do-what-we-are-doing-better may be the most important thing he has given this organization.

Photos of completed projects and future plans to come. SunPower Afrique must also reiterate our thanks to SIDI and Emmanuel Beau, for the financial support that made these projects happen and their belief in our mission.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

SunPower Afrique 2011: It Takes A Village

We’re at it again! In less than a month, the SunPower Afrique team will return to Togo to install 3 more solar installations for FECECAV offices. This time around we are equipping 3 unelectrified (off-grid), rural branches of the microcredit bank with solar electricity. All 3 installations are in villages that currently have no access to electricity, and our projects will represent progress not only for FECECAV but for the entire community.

Reinforcement and sustainability are the themes of this year’s projects. The installers that we trained last year, Aminou Moussa and Koffi Dzotsi, will be the foremen on the installation, with design, procurement and project management provided by SunPower Afrique. It has taken a committed, passionate and essential network of partners to get here.

Here is SunPower Afrique 2011’s Indispensable Cast of Characters:

SIDI & All of our donors
The French development agency SIDI ( has believed in SunPower Afrique for several years. An existing partner with FECECAV, SIDI provided the lion’s share of funding for 2011’s installations, and is working with us and with FECECAV to develop solar loan programs. SIDI supports renewable energy programs in several other countries. Merci Emmanuel Beau pour votre contributions a nos projets et nos visions.

A tremendous thank you to the many individuals that also continue to contribute to SunPower Afrique’s work. We can’t do it without you! We're continually fundraising for future projects, easy donations through FirstGiving now available, check it out:

David Staller, NABCEP Certified Solar Installer, Project Engineer
Dave’s and my motto is “Timing is Everything.” Dave has supported SunPower Afrique, from the very beginning, and I am thrilled to have him involved in a more tangible way this summer. Dave has worked in the solar industries in PA, NJ and NY and is a talented designer and project manager. He became available to travel to Togo earlier this summer and I snapped him up immediately! His experience with Engineer’s Without Borders (including leadership positions and prior travel to Africa) make him a perfect candidate and he has already far exceeded my expectations.

Janelle Stauff , Sunelco Solar Inc., System Design & Procurement
My daily email harassment does not seem to faze Janelle, another NABCEP Certified solar professional assisting with SunPower Afrique’s 2011 projects. Sunelco Solar Inc., based in beautiful Montana, was incredibly helpful in finalizing system designs for all 3 installations. Janelle worked tirelessly with me to ensure that every single breaker, battery cable and temperature sensors made it into the correct boxes and into the shipping container. Janelle also provided all of the module layout and wiring diagrams for the installations. Her suggestions and design assistance contributed immensely to what the final designs look like, and was always cheerful and patient with my sometimes hyper stressed (imagine that…) questions and requests.

Ashley Lewis, US Peace Corps Volunteer, Official Partner & Field Manager
For the past year, Ashley Lewis has been a central part of SunPower Afrique project development. Serving as a liaison between myself and the many other moving parts on both sides of the ocean, Ashley manages logistics, partnerships and “crisis” as our Boots on the Ground. She manages everything from reviewing contracts with FECECAV staff and ensuring that customs paperwork has been filed and to arranging transportation and hotel rooms. It’s the little things…Ashley’s endless patience and dedication is unparalled and there is no question that we would not be here without her.

Roger Locke, SolarWorld, Module Donation
A figure of support in my life in many ways, Roger Locke has been an important advocate for SunPower Afrique within the solar industry. This year Roger worked with SolarWorld, for whom he managed accounts and sales for years (SolarWorld is one of the original solar panel manufacturers and integrators – 30 years of experience! to secure a module donation for SunPower Afrique. Arguably the most important piece of equipment for our projects, Roger made our budget a reality and an indelible footprint on SunPower Afrique’s list of contributors. Roger has also donated his daughter Amanda :)

Amanda Locke, Photographer
I was introduced to Amanda in 2010, and she has stuck with her commitment to participate in SunPower Afrique’s projects through delays and changes in plans over the past year. Amanda is a photographer and artist, and will be documenting SunPower Afrique’s existing successes, new projects and social impact of solar and microfinance. We cannot wait to see her work!

Koffi & Aminou, Installers
SunPower Afrique’s Togolese solar installers are the heart of our work. Well trained and passionate about their work, Aminou and Koffi have kept the Kpalime system running, checking battery levels and inverter readings throughout the year. They have also been developing their own businesses and their happiness to be a part of the budding Togolese solar industry inspires me every day.

FECECAV, Field Partner
Daniel, Novinyo, the Directeurs of CECAV Wome, CECAV Amoussokope and CECAV Kpadape (the 3 “recipients” of solar installations) are why we do what we do. Can’t wait until all of FECECAV's offices are covered in solar. And can’t wait to see what a difference these projects make for FECECAV offices that have never had computers or lightbulbs…

Ron Celentano, Engineer & Consultant
Our rock. Always knows the PV design answer. Always knows what to look for. Always supportive. Always cares. SunPower Afrique loves you and is forever grateful to you Ron (as are many others – for example, the PA Solar Industry…) Ron designed and oversaw the FECECAV grid-tied PV system installation in Kpalime last year, and was the lead designer on our current projects. If anyone needs a consultant/guru for solar design, commissioning, advocacy or other solar work, email Ron ( You will not be disappointed.

Kira Costanza, Executive Director
My role in 2011 is a bit different. While my management of the organization, project development, fundraising and cultivation of partnerships and other Executive Director duties have not changed (and never will!) I will not be physically traveling to Togo with the team this summer. While somewhat difficult, yet ultimately the best course of action for many reasons, I am fully confident in this SunPower Afrique village. I miss mon deuxieme pays, my friends, the sounds and smells, my favorite plat du fufu and so much more… I hope to be back soon.

Stay tuned for project updates and photos from SunPower Afrique Togo Installs 2011. We love our work!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

We No Longer Speak of Electricity Cuts at FECECAV

The staff at FECECAV's HQ in Kpalime "ne parlent plus de coupure." That was the idea! In addition, Daniel let me know in a recent email that "les factures ont sensiblement baissé" - electric bills have gone down. This is great news, and means that the solar panels are producing enough power to offset FECECAV's usage in a significant way.


Aminou is dilligently maintaining the system's batteries, but recently had to go to Lome to find more distilled water! SunPower Afrique continues to provide Aminou with the financial support he needs to purchase such maintenance supplies, as well as compensation for his labor.

Ashley, PCV extraordinaire, has become a critical field partner for SunPower Afrique. Over the past several months Ashley has kept on-the-ground operations moving forward and coordinating between myself, our technicians, FECECAV and other partners. We are so grateful to have her as an official field partner!

We are developing several additional projects in Togo, outside of the microfinance scope, as enthusiasm for solar continues to spread, and hope to have some work for Aminou, Koffi and their teams this year. This will be in addition to the installations SunPower Afrique will be carrying out in June/July 2011. We plan these 3 rural installations at the one-year anniversary of the pilot project, in collaboration with SIDI. These branches, devoid of any current power source, will embody SunPower Afrique's mission, and we are excited to make them happen this year.