Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Spain = Happiness

I returned from Madrid on Friday, December 17th. It was a whirlwind trip, and I’d have to say it was ten days of bliss. Eric, my son, had planned on visiting me here in Tchekpo. We both were looking forward to the visit. The entire village of Tchekpo was very excited that he was coming. They had planned dinners, Tom-Tom dances, and a myriad of activities. He was supposed to fly in on Saturday, December 5th. I had been in Pagala, Togo the week prior for a Peace Corps week-long conference for my particular Peace Corps Program…Small Enterprize Development. On Saturday when the conference ended, I went directly from Pagala to Lome. About a four hour drive. I had planned on picking Eric up at the airport that evening. Just after I arrived in Lome Eric called and told me that there was an air-traffic controller strike in Spain. No flights were coming or going. He didn’t know how long it would last, and didn’t know if he’d be able to come. He sounded tired and discouraged. Eric had only that week to visit. I was desolate. Apparently Eric spent all that day at the airport in Madrid trying to catch a flight, but everything had been cancelled. Finally after waiting for ten hours, he headed home. He kept in contact with me via the telephone, and gave me updates. I spent the night at a hotel in Lome, and waited for news. Sunday morning Eric called and said, there was no way he could get here. They were resuming flights, but his had been cancelled and there are only two flights a week to Lome, so he wouldn’t be able to get out until Thursday, which would give him only three days here. UGH! I knew that he was as disappointed as I was. I decided to stay one more night in Lome……for the most part to just process the turn of events, and secondly, to stay in an air-conditioned room for another night. Eric sent an email that night saying he and E.J. had found a flight FOR ME to Madrid the very next day and they wanted me to consider coming there. At first, I didn’t even consider it. I just didn’t see how it could be done. My director needed to be notified, the people in my village needed to know, and I didn’t have my passport in Lome. He and E.J. called me that night, and convinced me it could be done. It seemed like an impossible feat, but I had talked with a couple other Peace Corps volunteers who thought I was nuts not to do it. There was also the guilt of me spending their money on an airline ticket. Eric argued that his ticket was fully refunded, so he considered it a net, net. I told him that was a “Nichols net, net.” We both laughed; innately understanding our inherited system of Nichols accounting priniciples. I said ok…I’m comin to Spain!! I think he was so genuinely happy that I was coming, that any difficulties I thought I might encounter seemed all of a sudden do-able. Oh yeah, it was a little complicated and exhausting getting everything done in one day to fly to Spain for ten days. I had to take a bush taxi to Tchekpo (2 hours each way) to pick up my passport and to tell some of the key people there,not only was Eric not coming, but I was going to be gone for ten days. I could see the very real disappointment in their eyes, but they were also happy for me. Then back to Lome to meet with my Director Alex. Alex threw all bureaucracy out the window, stamped my form for approval, and said bon voyage!! I got everything done and arrived at the airport at 8pm. The flight left at 11pm. “Nothing is easy in Togo,” even leaving Togo. Of course there were problems checking in. Eric had put the airline ticket on his credit card. This was not a normal transaction for the Lome airport, and they did not trust that I was who I said I was and suggested I might be illegally using someone elses credit card. It didn’t matter to them that I had two passports with pictures saying who I was, In addition I had a Peace Corps Identification card with my picture on it. They still did not trust me. After a dozen phone calls to/from Eric talking to me, and then talking to the airline employee they still were balking. I think, possibly sometime after an hour of arguing I might have “copped” an attitude, because they only got more reluctant. Finally they made me call the Country Director of the Peace Corps in Togo so that she could verify who I was, and so that she could guarantee payment if the credit card turned out to be stolen. Oy veh!!! How I happened to have the Country Directors phone number and that she happened to answer, I’ll never know, but I guess God was on my side. She verified who I was, and said that they would pay if I indeed turned out to be a fraud. A lot to ask of the Country Director.

So, at 10:45 I was allowed to board the 11pm flight to Madrid. Pretty sure with one more blocked blood vessel. There was to be one transfer of planes in Brussels. The plane to Brussells (about a six hour flight) was only half full, so I was able to stretch out in the middle seats. I slept the entire way. Then I passed through all the Brussels customs without a hitch, and a few hours later found my well rested self in the beautiful, bustling city of Madrid! I’d never given much thought to Spain or Madrid. Now I think it should be on every travelers list as a “must see.” Madrid is fabulous!

I think the entire time I was there, I was kind of in culture shock, though I didn’t realize it at the time. In fact I kept thinking how easily I was adjusting to being back in civilization. But I’m sure I experienced “culture shock” times two…..both in Madrid and upon my return to Tchekpo. Now that I’m settled back in Tchekpo, I can see that I was in a kind of very fuzzy state of mind. Fuzzy or not, I had the most wonderful time! Everything about it was wonderful. First and most importantly I got to spend time with my one year old grand-daughter Dorothy. She had only a few minutes of reservation about me being a stranger. I was very determined to bond with her before I left for Togo, and I think E.J.(my son’s partner) instinctively wanted to make sure that happened also. He brought Dorothy to Kansas City a number of times, so that I could spend quality time with her. She and I did bond during those trips. I also have been able to video-skype with them a few times since I’ve been in Togo. How the world has changed! Little Dorothy trying to touch the computer screen and looking at me via video. So Dorothy’s few minutes of reservation was about processing the real me with the person who had previously been cooing and awing and throwing her kisses via video. I think it all came together for her though, because she hugged me, and played with me, and laughed with me, as if I truly was someone she knew and recognized and trusted. I was greeted with her big smile, and a curious look on her face each morning. I imagined that she was thinking…oh yayyyy…she’s still here! Ok, ok…that just might have been my imagination.

While in Madrid I enjoyed some of the following benefits of civilization……every morning, I walked a couple blocks to Starbucks, and there I met my old friend, the white chocolate mocha. Every morning!! Some days E.J.and Dorothy walked with me, and some days I just went by myself. The white chocolate mocha was just as good as I remembered. I savored the chilly walk as well as the hot drink. Eric and E.J. took me to a half dozen wonderful restaurants. I put back on, seven of the twenty pounds I’ve lost. Nothing better than Spanish tapas, especially in Spain. I also enjoyed Diet Coke on ice. And just ICE!!! Candy and cookies, and delicious pastries. One night, upon request, I made one of Eric and E.J.’s favorite dinners. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy. It tasted wonderful to all of us. A little piece of Americana…home. I told Eric not to dare tell Emily. It might just be too much for her. Missing me is one thing, but I know she longs for my meat loaf. I enjoyed the cool air, and sleeping in a soft bed. It was a pleasure having a warm comforter to snuggle under. The hot shower and flush toilet and electricity were a bonus. I got used to all the amenities in about two days. Funny how quickly we can adapt.

One night we bundled Dorothy up and walked a few blocks to a double decker bus that was touring the city’s Christmas lights. We sat on the top level. It was cold, but a good cold. Madrids Christmas lights are second to none. We all enjoyed the excursion immensely. For the first time it felt like Christmas. They also took me to IKEA. I Haven’t been in a mall or a department store, or really even a store (with the exception of the yo-vo stores in Lome) in over six months. IKEA challenged me. All the cars, and people, and all the things! I enjoyed riding in Eric’s Audi….so different from my moto’s and bush taxi’s. I didn’t detect one rut or bump in the road. Eric and E.J. treated me to an overnight trip to Alhambra. Alhambra

is an ancient, historic Spanish town with beautiful castles and palaces built during the time of Christ. I’m sorry to say I knew next to nothing about the history of Alhambra, but it has peaked my curiosity. One day I intend to read and learn more about it. It was breathtakingly beautiful. On the way to Alhambra we stopped in the quaint little Spanish town of

Toledo (sister city of Toledo, Ohio), and driving through the country from Toledo to Alhambra we saw some of Eric’s work. Rolling fields of beautiful, graceful windmills that looked as if they grew out of the ground instead of having been built there. He seems to love his work, and I can understand why. Being a leader in a company that produces natural energy worldwide.

Since Eric had been planning on coming to Tchekpo, he and E.J. had asked me to put together a list of things for him to bring. Things that I had been needing, or things that would make my life a little more comfortable. I sent them a series of emails as I thought of items they might bring. Eric and E.J. had an entire suitcase of stuff packed for me to take back. It was a treasure trove!!! Candles (I now have light after 6pm), and candy and batteries, and sheets and pillow cases, and nice smelling soap and shampoo to name a few. E.J. and I spent the entire day before I left packing and repacking the suitcases until all the weight was an acceptable limit. E.J. also got me a new solar charger, and he labeled every piece of equipment I have with my name and contact information and what it was for. What a gift! I enjoyed spending time with E.J. as I always do. He’s so easy to be around, nice, generous, and thoughtful with his time.

The trip home didn’t have one hiccup, though it could have been mind boggling disasterous in about four different places. Madrid to Brussels, Brussels to Lome, and then a taxi from Lome to Tchekpo. Three times through customs….very short layover in Brussels, and finding a cab and dependable driver to take me all the way back to Tchekpo in the dark. It was smooth sailing. It was so quiet, not a rooster crowing, a goat bahhing, a bat chirping or a drum beating. It was just quiet, and very, very dark. I had left the house clean and tidy, as I had readied it for Eric’s arrival before I left for Pagala. I had been away from Tchekpo for three weeks now. I wondered how it would be re-adjusting. I sat on my porch for a while and just looked at the stars and listened to the quiet, then went to bed. The next day was strangely quiet as well. I began to worry if the villagers were mad at me. No one stopped by the entire day. Not one person. While this surprised me, at the same time I welcomed the time to unpack and settle in all by myself. My worries were put to rest the following day, as many neighbors and friends started to stop by, all so happy to see me. I’ve noticed that my friends in Tchekpo seem to give me space at needed times. I don’t know if it’s planned or purposeful, but they do allow me a certain amount of time to adjust when I return from a trip. I think it’s purposeful….a gift of thoughtfulness. It took the whole following week to settle in, get my water and my water filter going. Buy groceries, sweep the house, wash my clothes, get used to the heat and bucket showers. Settle in, I did, and I’m happy to be back.

To Eric, E.J. and Dorothy. I could not have had a more wonderful time, or better timing to help me get through the holidays. Your thoughtfulness and generosity is much more than I deserve. I carry the image of Dorothy’s laugh and happy face with me wherever I go. When I see children her age here in Tchekpo, I think of how lucky she is to have you both, and about what a wonderful life she’s going to have.

From the bottom of my heart….thank you…..I love you.

p.s. A special thank you to Ruth (Dorothy’s nanny). She is a delightfully, funny, sweet, pretty young woman. I rode the bus one day with her and Dorothy to Jamboree (playtime for toddlers). Again, I’m thrown into trying to communicate through the language barrier. This time Spanish, but Ruth was fun, and I’m so glad that Eric and E.J. found her, and that Dorothy has her. And last but not at all least, her Spanish tortilla….might be the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my LIFE!!! I have the recipe and will be making it for the chief.

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