Africa to U.S.A.

Saying goodbye in Togo was a little easier than in Benin. First of all we had not been there nearly as long and secondly our schedule there never allowed us to get intimately acquainted with a lot of the members. We attended Lomé Branch on Sunday because I had not yet finished the midyear audit. President Sessi again invited us up to give our parting testimony. Lomé Branch now has their new benches finished and they look really nice. I suppose if you compared them to the benches that adorn most U.S. chapels they might be considered crude but they are well made, look good in the Lomé chapel and should last the saints there for many years to come. I did not make a count but I am sure there were probably at least 150 in attendance. It was reported later that there were 194 in attendance at Tokoin and more than 70 in Hedzranawoe so the church and the activity continues to grow in Togo. On Sunday afternoon Soeur Black and I fairly well collapsed and just enjoyed the afternoon and evening of our last Sunday in Africa. On Monday and Tuesday we finished delivering the chalkboards, AV stands, TV’s and CD players to all of the chapels. Every chapel in Lomé and Cotonou now has a nice set up for playing CD’s to assist in teaching.

Chinese Birthday Dinner for Elder Bowman

Chinese Birthday Dinner for Elder Bowman

We have tried to remember each missionary on or around his birthday and the last one before we left was for Elder Bowman. We did cheat a little though and took him and his companion to a Chinese restaurant instead of a home cooked meal. They did not seem to mind and it was easier at a time when there was no food left in the house!

Lome Missionaries

Lome Missionaries

We also invited all of the Lomé missionaries over on Monday for a little going away cake and ice cream. That was nice and it turned into a little tearful farewell from some of the missionaries. I think they are most sad to see Soeur Black’s cooking slip away but we really have formed a good bond with many of these missionaries and appreciate them a lot. We will truly miss them!

On Wednesday, Blaise called us a taxi as soon as all of our bags were ready and Blaise, (our guardian and expert at crossing the border), former Elder Missigbeto who came over to go on to Accra to the temple with us, and Soeur Black and I crowded into the small taxi with all our suitcases to begin the journey to Accra. After seeing all those overloaded taxis for a year and a half, this time we were the overload. Arriving at the border we were immediately surrounded by a number of women offering to carry the luggage through the border. Blaise chose three, each of whom put two suitcases (about 100 lbs) on their head and started across with us hurrying to keep up. A half hour and a few filled out forms later, we were on the Ghana side, found a taxi and headed for Accra. Ghana in general appears to be more progressive than Togo and Benin. This is perhaps not true if you get out of the city but Accra is quite a bit like an American city complete with a freeway.

President and Sister Harmon had invited us to stay at the Ghana MTC. It is located in Tema, about 15 miles before you reach the City of Accra. We arrived early afternoon and were warmly welcomed. We spent the evening there mostly just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful apartment which is much like a very nice condo and something we had not seen for many months. President and Sister Harmon had just shipped off a group of over 60 missionaries and they were also relaxing and of course tending our needs. The group included two elders from Togo and one from Monticello, Elder Butler, whom we had hoped to see but missed by about an hour.

On Thursday, Sister Harmon drove us into the temple and we attended a session. In the session were President Gbedjangni, Desire and Soeur Vivian from Cotonou. Also Soeur Pascaline was going through for her own endowment. There was also a couple from Togo. It was a nice to attend the temple with some people we knew. The room was almost filled and Soeur Black and I were the only white faces in the session. Afterward, the Cotonou folks did some baptisms and asked me to do the baptizing. The Accra temple is beautiful all done in beautiful African woods and stained glass windows in African designs and colors. Such a change from the outside world. The African members look striking in their white clothing against their black faces. It was a very fitting and wonderful end to a mission.

You have heard of the longest day. We had one on Friday. The flight from Accra to New York is 11 hours but another 3 are required for check in, boarding etc. Our stay in New York was a couple of hours and then another 6 hour flight (including the world’s longest taxi before takeoff) to arrive in Salt Lake City. The trip was largely uneventful except that Elder Black got a little sick and we left the camera on the airplane in New York. The camera had been dropped anyway and we did not feel especially bad about losing it but our blog will be missing a couple of pictures of Ghana and the temple. We arrived in Salt Lake City to our much anticipated reunion with family just a little before midnight.

Top of the Escalator

Top of the Escalator

The reunion at the bottom of the escalator was all that we had anticipated it would be. All of the grandkids except 3 who just couldn’t wait up that long were there with hugs and kisses a plenty. Also the Southams and Elder Phillips had waited up for our arrival. Thanks to all for this effort. We think it may be worth serving a mission just because of the fun of coming home to a grand reunion with family and friends.

After a wonderful weekend at Jody’s house in Pleasant Grove with all the family except for Tony and Kerry and children (they live in Kansas and will be coming next week), we returned to Blanding on Sunday evening where we were released from our mission by President Redd. As we look at our mission in retrospect, we experienced everything from the exhilarating to the frustrating to the spiritual. We worked hard and tried to serve the Lord to the best of our ability. We prayed daily that we might know how best to serve Him, the members and the young missionaries. We know without a shadow of a doubt that the gospel was restored in its fullness by a loving Heavenly Father so we might have the privilege knowing his plan of salvation and live with our families again when we return to our Father in heaven. The gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives. We saw it happen again and again in Africa as people accepted it and were willing to live a Christ-like life.

Thanks to all who have shared with us our experiences in the small countries of Benin and Togo in the big mystical place called Africa.

Elder Pete and Soeur Charlotte Black

Loves all around

Loves all around

Meeting new ones

Meeting new ones

Here is a brand new one

Here is a brand new one

Love for Grandpa

Love for Grandpa

Airport Reunion

Airport Reunion

A Roller Coaster of Emotions

Our last week in Cotonou has been a roller coaster of emotions as we have made our final preparations to leave and return home to our family and friends. We have grown to love so many of the members and missionaries here that it has been very difficult to say good-bye knowing that we will probably never see many of them again. The gospel of Jesus Christ is true and constant everywhere and at all times but missionaries come and go as servants in the Lord’s army change. Our only prayer is that our work has been consecrated and accepted by the Lord.

Most of the week was spent preparing for our departure. Elder Black spent his time with the final financial responsibilities. Elder Jerman will pay the bills etc., so he needed to learn where all of the places were located to pay the water, electricity, phone, internet, etc. It sounds easy enough but they are all located in different places for six different buildings, are due at different times and must be paid in person with cash. He also needed to make arrangements with the bank to make an authorized change from his name to the new couple who will be here in October. Then there was also the post office and customs at the airport where the packages arrive. The list goes on and on but when we left for Togo on Saturday he had all of this done plus audits in the branches and last minute visits with the branch presidents.

Soeur Black spent the week cleaning the apartment and packing the suitcases. Both projects seemed to call for big garbage bags for things to be given away and trashed. By Friday night the apartment looked a little bare but clean and organized. The airlines has strict restrictions on luggage weight and size so the scales were in constant use trying to come up with the proper balance of weight in all of the suitcases. We are allowed one carry-on which can weigh 18 kilos and two checked pieces of luggage which can weight 23 kilos each for each of us. We have had so many gifts given to us and souvenirs that the weight added up real fast!

Victor and Harmonica

Victor and Harmonica

We have developed a great friendship with President Gbedjangni (Lets hear you pronounce that) and his family. They have been members of the church for approximately 13 years, and have been instrumental in helping the church to grow in Cotonou. They invited us to dinner on Tuesday evening for one last feast of Soeur Viviane’s superb African cooking. It always amazes us to see how so much good food can be prepared on small charcoal cookers outside on the ground. As we were in our final preparations to leave, Elder Black had three harmonicas which were given to him or sent from home. He can only play one at a time so he decided to give one to Victor, their 11 year old son. His eyes were extra large as he heard Elder Black give a demonstration of how a harmonica works. Much to our surprise, by the time we left that evening he had one stanza of “Come, Come, Ye Saints” down real well. The harmonica was given to the right person!

Cotonou Missionaries

Cotonou Missionaries

Four missionaries were being released this week so Elder Black made a quick trip Togo on Wednesday to retrieve Elder Missegbeto and Elder Ayeoutou so Elder Ayeoutou could go back to Cote d’Ivoiore with Elder Aka and Elder Ayaman and Elder Missegbeto (be sure to pronounce all those correctly) could be back in Cotonou for their releases. On Thursday afternoon we invited the missionaries over to help clean out the fridge and have a little farewell party. Of course, the missionaries were more than happy to help us with that project. There was a big container of frozen spaghetti sauce in the freezer which disappeared quite quickly plus other mismatched items from the fridge. What was left we boxed up and sent across the street with Elder Jerman and Elder Kpagnni.

Dinner at the Pierre and Rosemund home

Dinner at the Pierre and Rosemund home

We have also become good friends with Pierre and Rosemond Aggasain and their girls. Pierre is a good person to know. He is one person in Africa who knows how to do things. He is a carpenter by trade and does some beautiful wood work which has made the chapels look a lot better. He also did all the remodeling of the new building when we got it and generally knows where to go to get most anything accomplished. They invited us over for an authentic African meal on Friday evening. They served rice jolof and fried fish followed by pate rouge and a sauce. It was absolutely delicious and a good one to remember African cooking with. Rosemond sells fish at Tokpa marche and goes to the port every day for fresh fish so the fish was fresh and cooked to perfection. Their two older girls, Elizabeth and Cecilia, were two of the dancers at our going away party the previous Saturday. Then there is the little Pierrette. When she was born we were with her a lot. Now she is a year old she screams every time she sees us. Lately she has been getting more friendly, however, and before we left on Friday we actually got a smile out of her.

Saturday morning we left the apartment with our suitcases and memories and headed for Lome. We needed to stop and see a couple of members on the way so we took the long way to Lome via Calavie to bid farewell to Soeur Juilianne. Cotonou would not be Cotonou without several major traffic jams on a daily basis and we found ourselves in a “doozie”. It seemed as if everyone in Cotonou was headed for Calavie and everyone in Calavie needed to be in Cotonou. With the road construction and trucks, motos and cars on the road there was plenty of horn honking and near misses.

Josianne, Julianne, and new boomba

Josianne, Julianne, and new boomba

We eventually made it to Soeur Juilianne’s home for a nice little farewell visit. She had made a beautiful boomba for Elder Black which fit him to perfection. This is another family we will miss very much and have certainly enjoyed going there during the past year. Juilianne is a beautiful seamstress and you may recall the she is deaf and is an expert at reading lips. The only problem is that they must be Fon lips so we have always needed a translator. We always tried to have a Fon speaker with us but her daughter Josianne speaks French so she was the translator this time. About eight hours after we left our Cotonou apartment for the last time we arrived in Lome on Saturday night. The couple’s home there is quiet and peaceful and we literally collapsed but were ready the next day to finish our responsibilities there.

Missionary farewell for 5 elders and 1 sister

Missionary farewell for 5 elders and 1 sister

Cotonou Going-Away Party

Happy Happy

Happy Happy

Missionary regulations notwithstanding, in Africa sometimes you just do what you have to do. Regulations say don’t tend children or hold them on your lap but it didn’t say that Happy couldn’t sleep with her adopted Grandma and Grandpa so that is exactly what happened. President Ayekoue took Stephan and went to Lome in a Taxi on Sunday. We stayed with Sister Ayekoue and Happy to give Sister Ayekoue a little more time to recover before traveling. As she was not doing well Sunday night, Happy chose to sleep with us instead of her mom. It has been a while since we had a 15 month old kicking us during the night. Actually she didn’t do too badly except for when she tried to crawl over Soeur Black about 1:00 in the morning. She never did cry and we discovered she loves to have her back patted. After Soeur Black wore out, I pulled her back into her place and patted her until she went back to sleep. The only time it was not pleasant was when she chose to put the tressed volcano in hair (see picture) into our face.

On Monday Soeur Ayekoue was still not well but felt like she could go if she laid in the back seat of the pickup so we went to Lome where she went to bed as soon as we arrived. With her not doing well, they decided to go home on Tuesday night instead of Wednesday as planned. With all the uproar, I am sorry to say we didn’t even get any pictures in Lome of the zone conference or the farewell. The only time we had a moment to take a picture was when the Branch Presidencies came over to the house to meet with President Ayekoue. We really did not get a chance to visit with President Ayekoue about our leaving and the Leavitts coming except for a few minutes in Cotonou so I suppose we will just have to make most of the decisions ourselves and try to leave things in as good of condition as possible for the new couple.

African Sash

African Sash

Our departure is somewhat official now. On Saturday, the three Cotonou branches combined to have a going away party and what a party it was. The Gbedjromede chapel was packed to capacity and a lot of people were standing outside. I think the young men and women along with the Primary kids had been practicing for weeks. We were invited up to the front and draped with a beautiful African sash after which the entertainment began.

Good Company

Good Company

There was singing, dancing, skits, drama, piano solos, tributes, and really nice gifts of a bronze African woman and a picture. It was just a wonderful evening. We wish all the family could have been there to share it all. After it was all over, they asked Soeur Black and I to respond. We had previewed that so Soeur Black had worked up a little farewell all in French and did a great job. It was less stressful for her than on Sunday in Menontin Branch when she was called up extemporaneously. Again, however, she did a good job – all in French with just a little translation help. I talked about why we call each other Brothers and Sisters. Just like we do work in the temple to ensure that families can be together through the eternities, we also know that spiritually we are brothers and sisters and will have opportunities to associate again in the eternities as an eternal family where there will not be an ocean to separate. We didn’t make any promises to come back. It is a long way to Africa.

A lot of these folks appear to be genuinely sad to see us leave. There are some things we will miss about Africa also. Most notably some of the good members we have come to know and love. A few have been over to visit since and express personal appreciation for us coming. There are a lot of mixed feelings. The sense of loss that we feel as we leave here combined with the joy of anticipation of seeing all the family and friends left behind a long year and a half ago at home. Several times I have told Soeur Black I didn’t know a year and a half was so long or I would not have come on a mission. At the same time, as we look back, the time has passed rapidly. I guess that is the way life is.

Youth Dance

Youth Dance

Primary Song

Primary Song

Akpakpa Saints

Akpakpa Saints

African Dancers and Coach

African Dancers and Coach

Lome Branch Leaders

Lome Branch Leaders

The “Finish Up with Zone Conferences” Week

Cotnou Zone Conference

Cotnou Zone Conference

This week was to be the “finish up with zone conferences” week and spend some time with President Ayekoue regarding turning things over to the Leavitts who are supposed to arrive about a month after we leave. However, in Africa there seems to be an unwritten rule that whatever you plan will not turn out that way. President and Sister Ayekoue arrived by air on Wednesday and brought with them their two children. Stephan, a 10 year old boy whom we had not yet met, and of course Happy who has been a regular since the beginning and is now walking and trying her best to talk non-stop although only a word now and then is understandable. We had a great conference here on Thursday. Soeur Black fixed a fine dinner of dutch oven potatoes and barbecue chicken–maybe not really but as close as we could come with what we had to work with in Africa–and the missionaries as well as Elder Black enjoyed it very much. That was about as far as the planning held. On Friday Sister Ayekoue woke up not feeling well. We took her to the hospital and it turned out she has miscarried a baby and so had to have a D&C. They were extremely disappointed as they would love to increase the size of their family a little and they have been plagued by miscarriages. While we were there, Elder Ghisquiere, our elder from France called and was having really bad stomach cramps and pains so we got him and also took him to the hospital. Both were there on Friday night. The Lome zone conference was planned for Saturday so we had to call and postpone it until Monday. On Saturday Sister Ayekoue came back to the apartment to rest but Elder Ghisquiere stayed until Sunday with a bad intestinal infection. We couldn’t leave with an elder in the hospital and Sister Ayekoue wasn’t able to travel anyway so on Sunday we sent President Ayekoue along with Stephan to Lome in a taxi for Sunday evening meetings that were planned and also to start the Lome zone conference. Monday morning Sister Ayekoue still was not doing well but we came to Lome anyway where she stayed in bed until Tuesday evening when they flew back to Abidjan but I am getting ahead of my weekly blog that is supposed to end on Sunday.

Happy and Stephan

Happy and Stephan

Before all of the medical problems started and even after we enjoyed the company of little Happy and Stephan. Stephan is a good boy and Happy is well named and performs the cutest antics of an almost 1 1/2 year old. Perhaps we are just homesick for our grandkids. We had hired a couple of girls from the branch that needed a job. Soeur Nadia is our regular that always helps when Ayekoue’s are here and knows how to do everything. Soeur Roka is sweet member girl about 16 or 17 years old. She goes to school in Burkina Faso but is home for the summer. She needed to earn some money for her books when she goes back next week so we had her come and help clean and generally take care of kids, etc.

Kitchen Crew

Kitchen Crew

The two were lifesavers especially for Soeur Black who had the major responsibility for the kids while the rest of us were at the hospital taking care of the sick. They did some of the cooking, washed mountains of dishes and entertained the kids all the time Ayekoue’s were here. We could not have gotten by without them. The hospitals here are interesting. For some of them “interesting” would not be a proper description. Actually we have found one that is quite clean and even has a decent private rest room with a shower as part of the room. They seem to do a credible job of taking care of things. Biggest problem is lack of communication. The doctor walks in, asks how you feel, make a note or two and walks out. That’s all. If you want any more information, you have to chase him down and ask and then he gives the impression it is not worth his time to visit with you. Someone else has to bring in all meals and everything else that is needed by the patient. Best part is that the room only cost $50 per day or so. We were glad to be through with the hospital stays and will not care if we don’t have to go back.

Well the blogs are getting shorter. That is probably good news and indicates the end is coming fast.

A well deserved nap

A well deserved nap

Going Home Plans

First of all some going home plans. Wow it seems like a long time since we were able to talk about going home without any guilt. Last week we got a message from President Ayekoue that he needed to arrange our travel so I guess that makes all discussion legal. We will fly from Accra to New York, then on to Salt Lake City on September 11, arriving about 11:00 pm. Before that, we will try to go to Accra a day or two early and go to the temple. The plan is to report our mission in Sacrament Meeting at 1:00 on September 20. A lot of former missionaries, missionary parents, friends etc. have suggested they may come. All are welcome and we hope you will. Remember that it is a long way to Blanding, however, and we will not have a roll call or be offended if someone isn’t able to be there. For those who do, the family will put together an informal social on Saturday evening at African Time prompt at our house. For those who may not know where that is, write us, call us, or ask most anyone when you get to Blanding unless everyone has forgotten us by now. We will also have a little lunch around 11:00 before sacrament meeting on Sunday assuming that most will need to return home after Sacrament Meeting since our meeting schedule is late. Most importantly, the plan is to bless little Dodger, the latest addition to our growing family at sacrament meeting. We get excited just writing about it all.

We also received the good news that we are going to be replaced by another couple. The bad news is that they will not be arriving until a month or so after we leave. The Leavitts from Mesa Arizona, have accepted a call to come to Benin. We have visited with them a little on Skype. They will do fine. About the end of the year they completed a mission in Nigeria and now are coming back to Africa so driving in a sea of motorcycles will not be new to them. We are excited to have them come but have our work cut out the next three weeks, not only getting ready to leave but arranging things for the interim and for their arrival after we leave.

We may be about through with picture taking. We have been here so long now that nothing really seems out of the ordinary and worth taking a picture of. Arranging things for going home doesn’t produce many “Kodak moments” either.

Cotonou Baptism

Cotonou Baptism

We might just have to include some of general interest from prior weeks. The Cotonou elders did have a baptism of 8 people this week. This is probably one of the largest groups we have had in Cotonou. There were a couple of member’s children mixed in and it was a very nice baptism. As mentioned before, one of the down sides of trying to cover both Togo and Benin is that we are lucky if we get to meet the baptism candidates much less get well acquainted with them as we used to do. Nevertheless, the Elders do a wonderful job, and in the past year or so there have really been some strong people baptized who will become future leaders in the Church here in Benin and also in Togo. After the baptism on Saturday we had all the missionaries over for a little celebration of Elder Adams’ birthday. The battery was dead on the camera so we did not even get any pictures of the doings. Getting together and eating some of Sister Black’s food always seems to be a highlight for the missionaries. Especially now that they work in different areas of the city, they love to get together and visit and we ended up having to chase them away so we could go to bed as we were tired. I guess at 65 you just don’t have the energy of a 20 year old. The missionary program of the church is wonderful and amazing and we really appreciate these elders and the work they do. For many of the members, it is a big step to accept the responsibilities of membership in the Church. Even basic concepts of honesty and responsibility are not well established in Africa. These have to be learned, sometimes through painful experience, when people accept the gospel. I don’t mean to imply that all who are baptized become honest and responsible either here or at home. I guess all of us are in a learning process as we struggle to follow the example of the Savior. The difference seems to me to be that whereas at home dishonesty and irresponsibility is generally frowned upon, in Africa it is a part of the culture and pretty much an accepted way of life for most. Maybe that is why every door has three locks. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone could live the principles He taught us.

Sugar Cane and Coconut - courtesy Marlene

Sugar Cane and Coconut - courtesy Marlene

Mango Tree in Bloom

Mango Tree in Bloom

A real fan

A real fan

The Voodoo Python

Ouidah is a little (by African standards) town located on the coast between Cotonou and Lome. A lot of Beninese seem to trace their roots to Ouidah as it has existed for centuries. It is also regarded as the birthplace of Voodooism. The religious and secular history of Africa is interesting and a subject I would like to take time to study a little more. Things are not always peaceful even today, but compared to the past much progress has been made. Beginning in about the 1400′s the slave trade began to be established. That is a painful part of human history but especially in the history of West Africa since this is where many of the slaves came from. It was not a happy time to be a citizen of Africa. Citizen is probably not a proper word since a person in Africa had no rights other than what was bestowed by the King or Ruler who had all power even over life and death. In Ouidah, there were 5 slave castles established, built by the Portuguese, British, French, Spanish and one other I have forgotten. Most of the slaves were sent to Brazil or to Europe. Later America got into the act but that was almost a footnote in the history of slavery. Slaves did not live in the castles. That was reserved for the buyers and sellers and officials. The slaves were kept in a compound out in the open weather much like animals. There were guard towers on each corner of the fortress and a mote surrounding the castle filled with alligators to discourage escapes.

Voodooism, if I understand correctly, originally began as a native religion in Benin around Ouida about 6000 years ago. The slaves (and others) would go to mass in the morning and then practice voodoo in the afternoon. Voodooism in American is associated with pins stuck in dolls and other such things. It does seem to be somewhat secretive and the people here in general strongly believe in curses and such things.

Bravery with the pythons

Bravery with the pythons

Animal sacrifices are also practiced and once in a while you see part of sacrificed chicken hanging by a voodoo flag. The basic religion, however, seems to be worship of a number of gods such as earth, sky, sea, etc. The Python snake also seems to hold a sacred place and thus, in Ouidah there is a Python Temple, which is more of a tourist trap than anything else in my opinion, but seems to be an important part of every visit to Ouidah.

Cotonu Zone and future missionaries on P day

Cotonu Zone and future missionaries on P day

The elders had a beach activity planned for Monday so Elder Black, Marlene and the boys had a fun day at the beach on the other side of Akpakpa. A member’s father owns a little resort by the beach and is located in a very pristine setting. The elders enjoying going out there on occasion just for a change of pace. The sandy ground drops off abruptly to the sandy beach and the ocean with the waves crashing in.

Fun in the beach sand

Fun in the beach sand

It is a beautiful spot and a fun place to play. It did not take the elders or Aaron and Jared long to come up with the idea of jumping off the sandy cliff into the sand below. Cyprien, the member, fixed a delicious meal of couscous and fish.

After some souvenir shopping on Tuesday and a nice home evening with Shella and her girls on Monday evening, we headed back to Lome on Wednesday with Marlene and the boys making a stop in Ouidah to visit the slave castle and the python temple. We also visited the beach and ate a nice picnic lunch while watching the waves crash in. The pictures can tell most of the rest of the story. On Thursday morning after final packing, we took them to the border to return to Accra. Again, the suitcases were transported by friendly natives for a fee across the border. That in itself is quite amazing to see. As soon as we stopped the vehicle, we were immediately surrounded by ladies offering to carry the suitcases across the border. A considerable argument began in the native Heve language, I suppose about who got to carry what, but that is where President Blaise comes in. We just let him handle all of that and soon it was sorted out. The suitcases were the maximum weight allowable on Delta – 50 lbs each – and there were 6 of them.

Suitcases heading for Salt Lake City

Suitcases heading for Salt Lake City

Some of those ladies are not all that big and I wondered if they would be equal to the task of carrying one of those big suitcases. Much to our surprise, as soon as the argument was settled, each selected transporter put TWO on their head and headed for the border. Getting them on their head is a bit of a problem and requires help but as soon as they are on the head – no problem.

Marlene and boys have reported a smooth trip back to Accra and on to Salt Lake City. She got to go to the temple on Thursday night while the boys were a little bored but easily got a taxi to the airport on Friday. The plane was late leaving so they missed their connection in New York but it worked out well. The airline put them up in a nice hotel. On Saturday they took a tour of the city and then Delta flew the on to SLC in first class – not a bad way to be delayed. We were thrilled to be able to share with some of the family, the sights and sounds of our mission. We had a great time, saw a lot of Togo and Benin we probably would not have otherwise got to see, and took probably a thousand pictures or more. It was a time we will always remember. Thanks Marlene, Aaron and Jared for coming.

On Friday night we attended a funeral wake. We talked about President Dieudonne from Togo near the start of our mission. The first time we got to go to the temple in Accra last June (2008), he and his wife went with us. He lived in England for some time and joined the church there before it ever existed in Togo. When he returned to Togo he was instrumental in getting the church established in Togo and eventually into Benin. He was branch president for a period of time and now serves as a counselor to President Ayekoue in the mission. He and his wife Philomen have been over to Benin several times on church business and stayed with us so we have become quite good friends. His father never joined although he had great respect for the church. His father has been ill for some time and passed away a few weeks ago. Here in Africa, the funeral celebration takes place a few weeks, sometimes even months after death. The wake or “Veille” as it is called in French, is really a celebration complete with an MC, a brass band, dancing and entertainment although it did have its serious moments. All the members who were there sat in one place and sang three hymns throughout the course of the evening. The whole event is held in the street in front of the deceased’s home. A very large tent is set up complete with rows of chairs. Few were there when it started but probably 4 -5 hundred were in attendance by the time it ended.

Brass Band at Cemetery

Brass Band at Cemetery

Saturday we went to a part of the funeral mass then went in the procession with two of the Togo branch presidents to Togoville where the burial took place. Togoville is a small village by the Benin border. It took almost two hours to drive there, much of it over dirt roads. You have to remember that graders are scarce or non-existent here so the roads are not well maintained. After a tour of the ancestral home the party made its way to the cemetery again escorted by the brass band where the burial was LDS style and the grave dedicated. It was a long way to go but we wanted to give Frere Dieudonne all the support we could in the loss of his Father.

Sunday was a day of trying to finish up audits of all the branches and some much needed rest for Soeur Black and me.

A foofoo feast

A foofoo feast

Marlene enjoying the Ocean

Marlene enjoying the Ocean

Trip to Pendjari

Tata Somba Village

Tata Somba Village

We are very grateful to President Ayekoue giving us approval to take four days with Marlene, Aaron and Jared to go to the Pendjari National Park in Northern Benin. Our life has been centered along the coast in the large cities of Cotonou and Lome and it seemed so good to leave some of the city madness for a slower pace in the Northern villages of Togo and Benin. We left Lome early Monday morning for this adventure of a lifetime. When driving in Africa there is never a dull moment as you don’t know what you may see in the next minute. Just getting to our motel in Natitingou, there were several wrecked trucks, rows of women carrying sticks on their heads, Tata Somba villages, and even a mountain to ascend, to name a few. Fortunately, over the mountain the trucks were going at a snail’s pace so we did not see any wrecks.

Lunch on the mountain - Togo

Lunch on the mountain - Togo

The biggest bonus of being in the mountains was finding a beautiful place for a picnic lunch. Everyone waved as they drove by and it made us so welcome to be there. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all practiced the Golden Rule as stated in Luke 6:31, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” After our lunch we always greeted those we saw with a wave and a smile and got so many in return. After lunch, the next stop was another border crossing, and boy, what a difference between the coastal route and the northern route. We found just one friendly official in a small shack and we breezed right through.

Safari African Hotel

Safari African Hotel

We arrived at the Hotel Tata Somba just at dinnertime. Since it was Marlene’s birthday, we decided to have a nice meal outside by the pool, but when it started to rain, they moved us inside. It was very enjoyable and she even had a nice Happy Birthday sung to her from the hotel workers – in English and in French. We asked about visiting the park and we were assured that we had to have a guide and a 4 wheel drive vehicle and that they could find one for us. We decided to decline the offer anyway and go closer to the park the next day. There was a safari type hotel in the very small village of Totongou and this is where the real adventure began. Each room was built to resemble the round huts of the native Tata Somba people. The running water trickled down from a plastic barrel by each bathroom and the lights were off by 10:00 when the generator was turned off. Anyway, we checked in, left our things there, and drove to the park entrance, bought our tickets, and entered the park without a guide or a 4-wheel drive outfit, both of which we were told were necessity. It is the rainy season in the park so not all of the roads are passable and we were told animal sightings were improbable.

Baboons

Baboons

Our first road was a bust and we did not see any animals but we did have enough time before dark to go on another road to the Mare Mali and the first thing we saw was a large family of baboons going down the road in front of us. That pick-up was full of “buck fever” and the excitement began! Aaron and Jared were sitting on the open windows so they could see better and Aaron spotted them first. We were fortunate enough to get some pictures as they were so interested in us. When we reached the Mare Mali there were three hippos in the water. It is fascinating to watch them slowly move in the water, come up for air and spout like a geyser. One even showed us his tonsils!

Pendjari Deer

Pendjari Deer

We had ordered dinner at the hotel and ate a very good chicken dinner under a gazebo outside then retired to our huts. We wanted to leave early the next morning for the park but we found out that the generator is only turned on in the evening so we shared the one flashlight between the two huts. We stopped at the entrance and got some cake for breakfast which pleased the boys. We rounded a corner and surprised some water buffalo but I think that we were the most surprised and they ran before we could snap a picture. This day we saw about three different kinds and sizes of deer or antelope-type animals, the three hippos were still there, wart hogs and various birds. We did not see any elephants and were a little disappointed as there are supposedly 2000 in the park. It was a thrill to be there regardless.

We left the park in the afternoon and went back to Natintingou to the Hotel Tata Somba. This time we were not so anxious to eat a nice dinner so decided to buy some bread and eat leftovers from the ice chest. By then the ice had melted so we were told the only grocery store in town carried ice but that was not true so we asked the lady who sold us bread. She told us that was easy–you just go around the corner, down the street by some tires, and there is a lady around there that sells ice. We found a tailor who took me through some houses to a door and sure enough there was a lady who had a freezer and sold ice for 5 cents a bag. I don’t think a Yovo (white person) had ever been in their compound before as I was quite the novelty. We then bought some bean cakes from another lady and were well received by the boys. In fact, they want me to learn how so I can teach them at home. Back at the hotel, we ate in the hotel room and then crashed.

Thursday was spent driving back to Cotonou and as usual proved to be very interesting. Our first stop was at a Total gas station where the toilet flusher was a bucket. I was just thankful it was not the bush! Once more it was time to enjoy the ride and try to keep from getting lost in some of the potholes. Generally speaking, though, the roads were better than we expected.

Buying Ties in Missebo

Buying Ties in Missebo

We had made arrangements to visit two orphanages on Saturday so Friday was spent getting ready and going to Missebo Marche while Elder Black did administrative things for the mission. We had to visit the 800cfa tie shop first and then on to the fabric and belts. Buying in Missebo is quite an experience as it is almost overwhelming with all of the sellers, people, motos, trucks and cars. Most moto drivers would just as soon hit you as look at you so you just have to keep out of their way. Thanks to the generosity of Julie Lee and her family from Blanding we bought 100 pounds of rice in Missebo, also enough flip flops for everyone in the orphanage and some balls and Frisbees.

Lunch time

Lunch time

The orphanage in Allada is run by some very dedicated Catholic sisters and is home to about 34 little kids from 1 to 12 years old. We stopped there as we passed by on Thursday and told the sisters that we would bring a picnic lunch for everyone on Saturday. It worked out well since Saturday August 1 is Independence day in Benin. When we arrived they were all cleaned up and even had a program ready for us before eating lunch. Two little boys played homemade drums, everyone sang a native song and a few danced, even a sister joined in the dancing. I was so overcome by the warmth and love of these little kids as I was truly seeing an earthly example of being as a child to be able to enter the kingdom of our Heavenly Father. The sisters had all of the kids bring small chairs out and some Muslim mats, and a sandwich was given to each child and then they said a prayer and not one kid ate anything until all had been served. They were so well behaved and polite. The word got out that it was my birthday and it was truly a most memorable one as all the kids and sisters sang me Happy Birthday first in English and then in French.

Sister Delphine and flip flops for everyone

Sister Delphine and flip flops for everyone

After lunch the festivities began when Sister Delphine handed out the sandals to each kid. She looked at the sandal then called a kid to come forward with the right sized foot. The kids were allowed to wear them for the day and then she said they would be saved until school started in September. Marlene brought four suitcases full of clothes for the orphans from her ward in Garland and they were well received. The sisters were going to distribute them later. Southams had left some balloons in a closet and Aaron brought a ball pump so we began pumping up balloons. Fortunately, all of the kids got one before they started to pop. Marlene and I were kept busy making balloon hats! Aaron and Jared played soccer with the older boys and Elder Black got a game of dodge ball going. They did not seem to like the Frisbees as much as the ball games.

Drums and Dancing

Drums and Dancing

We owe a debt of gratitude to the sisters who run the orphanage as they give to these kids complete Christ-like love and charity. They teach and discipline the kids under austere living conditions as there is no running water nor electricity. They seem to have plenty of food and are just now putting in gas for cooking instead of charcoal. How would it be to cook for about 40 over charcoal every day? The kids are organized so that they all help with the responsibilities but keeping 34 kids on task is quite a job for three or four sisters.

Our next stop was at the SOS orphanage in Calavie, which is a much different environment as they are funded by a worldwide organization and live in better conditions than most of the people in Benin. We had made arrangements for Aaron and Jared to play basketball there so that was our last stop before returning to Cotonou. Actually the guy that coaches at the orphanage also coaches the Calavie town team so the boys ended up playing with them instead of the younger boys.

Sunday was Fast and Testimony meeting and we attended church in Gbedjromede, the largest of the three branches in Cotonou. The chapel was full and there were many testimonies given, including Elder Black and Marlene. I too have a testimony that I know that through the atonement of Jesus Christ we will have the opportunity to live with Him again if we repent, are baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and endure to the end. I guess enduring to the end is the biggest challenge as we try to live the commandments and live a Christ-like life. Right now we have a project of enduring to the end of our mission. Just a little over one month to go.

Transporting Firewood

Transporting Firewood

OOps

OOps

A termite mound and tata somba village

A termite mound and tata somba village

Yawning Hippo

Yawning Hippo

Pendjai Wart Hogs

Pendjai Wart Hogs

Baboon posing for pictures

Baboon posing for pictures

Raging game of Dodgeball

Raging game of Dodgeball

Program and Dance

Program and Dance

New clothes from Tanya

New clothes from Tanya

A Ballon Hat

A Ballon Hat

Aaron, Jared and Basketball team

Aaron, Jared and Basketball team

President and Sister Harmon (Ghana MTC)

We went out to Calavie a while back to visit Mama Carole (actually Soeur Julianne, but over here you can call anyone by most any name. Since she is the mother of Carole, the girl who is on a mission, Soeur Julianne or Mama Carole work equally well). Her daughter Josianne is a cute girl about 13 or 14 years old who is growing up and filling out. When the member who was with us to translate saw Josianne she excitedly told her she was getting so fat. That comment didn’t set well with Soeur Black who argued that she was not fat but rather looking really good. The member wouldn’t back down and a pretty good argument ensued, which I quite enjoyed, about whether Josianne was fat or not. To understand the rest of the story, you need to know that in a culture where people do not always have enough to eat, to be fat is a considerable compliment and simply means that you are growing and looking good. So it turns out that the member was actually trying to pay her a compliment and Soeur Black was adamant that she didn’t deserve the compliment. Now that she understands that, Soeur Black is thinking she may want to stay in Africa. We will see if that happens!!

This has been a wild and interesting week. President and Sister Harmon from the Ghana Missionary Training Center wrote us a couple of months ago and suggested they would like to come over in July and give some firesides on missionary preparation. We got it all arranged for one in Cotonou on Tuesday, July 21 and one in Lome on Thursday, July 23rd. On Tuesday they came over and spent the night with us after the fireside. About 30 people attended in Cotonou and it turned out really well.

President and Sister Harmon

President and Sister Harmon

President Harmon and I were both missionaries in France a lot of years ago and have kept in touch a little since. Some of you may remember that he is the doctor that treated Dad (Frost) when he had prostate cancer. Soeur Harmon and Soeur Black seemed to have a lot in common, both enjoying cooking, sewing, shopping, and a lot of other such “women” things. Basically this is the first contact we have had with any couples from our culture since the Gillis’ left in January so it was greatly enjoyed. They stayed in Cotonou with us on Tuesday and we had planned to come to Lome on Wednesday but we got so busy showing them around that we decided to postpone our trip until Thursday morning. We stopped in Ouidah and visited a slave castle, a python temple, and the beach and then headed onto Lome. The Lome fireside was attended by about 60 or so. On Friday, we took President and Sister Harmon to the border to cross, in company with President Blaise who rode to Accra with them in order to be there to pick up Marlene and the boys on Saturday. How good it was to see them when we picked them up at the border where we had left the others the day before.

With all the activities with Marlene, Jared and Aaron (for those who may not know, Marlene is our daughter-in-law and Jared and Aaron our grandsons) we will have plenty of pictures next week. The other part of this last week is that the Internet has been down more than it has been up. Between that and traveling, this installment is late. Hopefully we can still get it sent even though it is time to start another.

Obed’s Father Comes to Church

We actually managed to slip in a little missionary work this week in between all of the business chores that crowd our weekly schedule. There is a young man in the Gbedjromede Branch by the name of Obed. He is 12 years old and was baptized a year or so ago. Normally we don’t baptize children by themselves (without a parent) but in Obed’s case, he was a neighbor to the Relief Society President and a good friend of her children of the same age. He wanted to be a part of everything and kept after Soeur Black for a Primary song book until she finally got him one here. I think she wrote about that in a previous blog. For that she earned her first African kiss from a young man. He wanted a subscription to the Liahona magazine but didn’t have any money so I let him come over and wash the car and paid him enough for a one year subscription. (It only cost $2 over here because the Church tries to make things as inexpensive as possible for the member to afford. Sometimes that can cause problems because Bibles also sell for $2 but on the street they bring $6 so we have to be careful we don’t create a business opportunity in the process of trying to get scriptures in the hands of the members. A $4 profit is a very good day’s wage over here) Obed never missed church until a couple of months ago when we suddenly became aware that he was not attending any more. We started asking questions and found out that he and his dad and little brother had moved away and word was that his Dad didn’t want him to attend any more. We got Lillian and Hendick (the Relief Society President’s children) to go with us and show us where they now lived and paid the family a visit. They invited us in and were glad to see us. We had met Obed’s father before but didn’t know him well. I told him that he really needed to come to church so he would know what Obed was being taught as he needed to be comfortable with it. Turns out he went to school for 3 years to become a Church of Christ minister, knows the Bible well and seems to be a very good man. Last Sunday they came. On Wednesday we set up an appointment to teach them and had a very good lesson which Obed helped us to teach. He is a very smart kid. This Sunday they were not able to come but we are hoping he will continue or at least encourage Obed to participate.

We are very proud of our new Super Walmart here in Cotonou. Well, maybe not exactly a Super Walmart but a very nice similar kind of store opened here a few weeks ago. The Erevan store has wide aisles, a great variety of things from food to hardware and is in general very nice. Prices are a little higher than the smaller markets where we normally shop and it is located by the airport, which is a ways away, so I don’t suppose we will change our allegiance but it is nice to have another possibility for shopping.

Pierette

Pierette

Pierette, the little daughter of Pierre and Rosemond, turned one year old on Sunday. We were there to help Rosemond when she was born one year ago so it was a good occasion to help her celebrate. We have not been over there as much lately so she cries when she sees us coming. We are making progress as she will tolerate us now. Her birthday was like our birthdays at home–the older sisters were more excited than she was.

1 year old celebration

1 year old celebration

It was a fun time to be with their family. She did not think much of the cake, though, but the rest of the family appreciated the refreshment. We also visited the two little girls of Charles and Helen Briga. Their aunt and uncle are taking care of them while their parents are away with the military. We got our usual grandma and grandpa welcome!

Car cleaning crew

Car cleaning crew

We have been driving a lot on the muddy streets lately and the pick-up was in a pretty sorry condition. The kids are out of school for the summer holiday so we asked Obed, Lillian and her brother Hendrick to come over and wash the pick-up. Most of the kids have almost nothing to do so they were most eager to help us out, especially for a few cfa’s.Washing the car

Washing the car

They took the assignment very seriously as every inch was scrubbed and shined. Besides, it appeared that they enjoyed the water and they went away with big grins on their faces and so did we!

Surviving Another Two Zone Conferences

Another two Zone Conferences have come and gone and we are attempting to get back to normal, whatever normal is here in Benin. President Ayekoue announced transfers at zone conference so that will mean another quick trip to Lome for Elder Black. We went to Lome on Tuesday, thinking that President and Soeur Ayekoue were coming on Wednesday but at the last minute found out they were coming on Tuesday also, so the pressure was on. Elder Halterman was sick so we had to go to the clinic for tests as we were very concerned about malaria as he had some mosquito bites. Fortunately, all of the tests were negative and it appeared that he had a touch of the flu. The week before I had similar symptoms but it is always best to make sure of a diagnosis here in Africa. After the tests on Tuesday we took him to our home and had him sleep, take fever reducing medication, and eat chicken noodle soup. Sometimes all the elders need is a good dose of Dr. Mom! He was better the next day and fully participated in zone conference but was still a little weak. Unfortunately, Elder Guillory also came down with the same symptoms during the conference so we also had to take him to the clinic but this time we knew a little more what to expect and he required some rest and then was okay.

Early Birthday, Elder Ounleu

Early Birthday, Elder Ounleu

We left Friday morning to come back to Cotonou as Zone conference was scheduled here for Friday afternoon. Elder Ounleu, an area seventy was in Lome for Seminary and Institute graduation and traveled to Cotonou with us so he could attend zone conference here with the missionaries. Zone Conferences are basically the same format in Lome and Cotonou so will talk mostly about the one in Cotonou. We always have a special Zone Conference dinner for the elders and after several months of trying to do both in our apartments, we decided that we would do one at a nice restaurant. This month we went out to eat here in Cotonou which turned out to be quite the experience as we were about two hours late for the actual conference to begin. After leaving Lome and crossing the border, we found ourselves in a torrential rainstorm which slowed us and everyone else down to a snail’s pace. Traffic was stop-and-go for about 10 miles out of Cotonou so we were an hour late at the restaurant. When we finally arrived all the missionaries who were supposed to meet us there were nowhere to be found. After a few calls we found out they were on foot about a mile away trying to wait for the rain to quit. It never did quit and when Elder Black finally retrieved them, they came in “soaked to the bone.” We had pre-ordered the main entrée and all we needed to choose were two side dishes. Sounded simple enough to us but not so, as it took another hour and a half before we saw any food. (West Africa Won Again!) It was really good when it finally came, though, and a nice dinner was enjoyed by all. Elder Ounleu was the mission president in the Cote d’Ivoire mission before President Ayekoue took over 1 year ago so most of our African Elders knew him as a mission president also. He is a young man in his 30′s. Speaks English well and gave some excellent training to both the missionaries and the Branch Presidencies while he was here. Before serving as mission president, he served as a stake president in Cote d’Ivoire and President Ayekoue was his counselor so they know each other very well.

Lome Zone

Lome Zone

President Ayekoue opened and closed the conference with a special musical DVD about the life of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ accompanied by the music to “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing” It showed pictures of paintings depicting the life of Christ and actual scenes of the area of his ministry. As missionaries, we testify of Christ, we teach of Christ and invite others to follow Him. I am reading the book, “Jesus the Christ” and it made it more meaningful for me. Several of the elders commented how much they felt the spirit when viewing these scenes from the life of Christ. Elder Ounleu also gave an inspirational message. Elders Halverson and Ghisquiere were also asked to bear their testimonies. They both have been on their missions for about four months and are two more top notch elders. It is such a thrill for us to associate with such dedicated and focused young men. After zone conference, President interviewed all of the missionaries one at a time so the rest of us ate cake and ice cream and honored all of the elders who had upcoming birthdays. The last interview ended about eleven o’clock so there was another late night for us. Elder Black had about four of those in a row so by Sunday, he was getting worn out. In Lome, he came struggling in to bed about 12 o’clock one night saying that, “I’m not as young as President Ayekoue.” You need to be a survivor to live in Africa so he is now a “true African.”

Saturday afternoon began the Branch Conference for Gbedjromede. The first meeting began at three o’clock and was for the leaders of the branch. The Presidencies of the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary met together for an hour and a half while the Priesthood leaders met together. Soeur Felicite, the Relief Society President gave an excellent talk about staying focused on our responsibilities. Soeur Ayekoue was scheduled to take most of the time but she went to Missebo Marche and didn’t get back in time so I ended up giving an extemporaneous talk using the thoughts from President Monson’s talk to the young women in March about having courage to: “Refrain from judging others, to be chaste and virtuous and stand for truth and righteousness.” Elder Black came and translated and we made it through. In the next meeting all the leaders met together and we were both scheduled to give a talk. I decided to bear my testimony in French, which was a challenge. The members are so forgiving of terrible accents and are thrilled when you try. Elder Black talked about having our lives and hearts turned to the temple as our ultimate goal in life. It was well received by everyone, including President Ayekoue. Sunday was well attended and a good spirit was felt as the branch conference continued. By Sunday afternoon, even President Ayekoue had to admit that he was tired.

President and Soeur Ayekoue left on Monday evening and we took the rest of the day off. We did survive. Just one more zone conference to go!