Over the weekend, we heard that Nadia's grandmother is in the hospital and is not doing well at all. Her leg was hurting too much for her to walk. The family took her to the hospital, and apparently she has a blood clot in her leg, and it's causing serious blood circulation issues. The doctors talked about amputating the leg or doing some kind of surgery, but she's 92 and has pre-existing heart problems, so she really can't handle any sort of surgery. She's at home with Nadia's uncle now, and relatives in Mexico have come up to see her and pay their respects. Now the family is just trying to make her as comfortable as they can for as long as they can. Nadia lost two uncles in October and one aunt in November while we were in Togo, and we decided that it was time to go back to see Nadia's grandmother while we still can. We talked with the Country Director and with the Assistant Peace Corps Director for business volunteers, and they gave us their approvals to go back to the US for a month.
If Nadia's grandmother does pass away in the next couple of weeks (which is very likely), we will be traveling down to Monterey, Mexico for her funeral. We'll just play it by ear and see how things go. My cousin is getting married at the end of April, just before we leave. If possible, we're going to try to attend, especially since my cousin will be moving to Turkey next month with her fiancée. The family's just spreading out in all sorts of directions. :)
Anyhoo, my homologue doesn't seem too perturbed about our trip back. In fact, he was a huge help with getting some FCFA switched to US Dollars. The banks were charging ridiculous fees for the money exchange, and they wouldn't exchange the entire sum I wanted. Also, most of the banks close for half a day on Friday, and the others couldn't do the money exchange because their computer systems were down… a classic Togo situation. As with most problems with organized affairs in Togo, I looked to the thriving informal business sector (read: black market). My homologue helped me locate a guy that gave me a great rate on the exchange. I had to be super careful with counting the money and making sure I wasn't getting counterfeit bills, but it was actually a very painless and pleasant transaction.
Nadia's homologues are a little more worried about the trip. The guys at the microfinance organization asked over and over again if we're coming back. They ladies at the microfinance institution were really sad that we're taking a month-long break from the Excel class. Nadia's homologue at Café Kuma is particularly nervous. When he heard that Nadia's grandmother was sick, he had the group pray that she'd get better so we wouldn't go back to the US and be tempted not to return to Togo. When we told him that we were leaving for a month, he immediately asked if he could seal up the rest of the coffee they have in storage (there is no electricity in their village, so they use an electric bag sealer at our house). Then the group took all the leftover bags and labels along with the sealer with them. All of that stuff has stayed at the volunteer's house since the previous volunteer moved in two years ago. They are really worried that we're not coming back. Obviously they don't realize how cheap we are. If we paid for our return tickets to Togo, we're darned-well going to use them.
We made the trip back to the US safe and sound. The trip to the airport was uneventful, although there was a guy on a bus who showed off his traditional medicine by putting live scorpions all over his arms. Crazy folks... Anyway, the flight left for the US on time. We missed a connecting flight on the way to Texas and had to spend the night in Atlanta, but we got a free hotel room for the night. We got to San Antonio on Wednesday and drove from there to Edinburg. Since then, we've just been spending time with the family.
I really didn't expect much of a culture shock after only being in Togo for ten months. I have to admit, though, that my first walk through a Wal-Mart was a little freaky. I was cheap before leaving for Togo, but I think my time abroad has taken my frugality to a whole new level. I actually got into a fight with Nadia on the trip back because I wouldn't let her buy a sweater at the airport. Sure, it was freaking cold in the airport and we only had summer wear clothes, but I didn't pack that spare pagne (thin strip of cloth you can use for a towel) for nothing! I expected it to be upper 80's to low 90's in Texas, but it is actually pretty chilly. Anyway, I find myself freaking out about the money we brought and making sure that it will last us the full month. I'm trying really hard not to let it get the better of me, but it's tough. It's not like we're destitute or anything. Heck, we've managed to save more from our living allowance in Togo than many salary-paid Americans are able to save in the same amount of time. Granted, we're not bombarded with ads for big screen TV's, Starbucks, fancy body washes, or Playstation 3's. Our usual luxuries in Togo are the occasional soft drink or stick of butter. I'm trying to convince myself to fork over the dough for Valve's new Orange Box with Half Life 2: Episode 2 and Portal, but 21,000 FCFA ($50) is a hard sell...