First Sunday in Benin

Yesterday was Sunday and that is probably worth another daily. We had to be at the Church for a Branch Presidency meeting at 8:00 so we had our taxi come and pick us up early. I was a little discouraged when we got into the Branch Presidency meeting and Elder Southam understood more than I did and he doesn’t even speak French.

Sacrament meeting begins at 9:00. Of course they asked us to introduce ourselves. Charlotte did an good job on the introduction in French and then bore her testimony in English which I translated. Then I bore my testimony and told the saints that all the French I knew I learned in Paris a long time ago. I was finding the accent very different here and they might have to be a little patient with us until I learned to deal with the accent and that I was sure they had the same Cotonou Chapelproblem in understanding my French. The chapel is actually a large home. I understand it was occupied in times past by a member of the church from the US here on assignment with the government and then, after the branch began here, the lease was assumed by the Church and with some remodeling it was turned into a chapel. It is quite nice and there are a number of classrooms etc. but it is getting crowded. There were probably about 140 in attendance and that is about all it will hold. It is divided up into three areas. The main chapel is where the meeting is conducted in French. In a covered patio attached to the main chapel by some large doors the talks are immediately translated into Fon, the native African dialect here, and then at the same time in a little room at the back, again attached to the main chapel by large sliding doors, it is translated into English. There are a lot of Nigerian people here who speak English better than French. Charlotte and I certainly don’t understand the Fon, the French is only a little better for me and the English not a whole lot better than that for either Charlotte or me. The one thing that is nice here is the singing. The singing of the African saints is legendary and the legend is well deserved. Here in the Branch there is a man who is quite a musician. He plays quite well and directs music also. He has hymn practice just before the meetings start and I am quite sure you can hear the church hymns throughout most of Cotonou when the branch starts singing. It is just wonderful on a Sunday morning. We went to the English Sunday school class that was taught by Soeur Precious. Thankfully everyone around here uses Brother or Sister and then the first name. That works a lot better than trying to say the last names. She has only been a member for a couple of years now and gave a Sunday school lesson on feasting on the words of Christ that was the equal of anything I have ever heard at home. She is an amazing person. I think I said that Carol who has her mission call was one of the first missionaries from the Branch. That is technically true but I guess there are two missionaries who are currently serving also in Ivory Coast but no return missionaries in the branch yet.

After church we were invited to the Southam’s house for a nice chicken dinner. Sunday evening, we went with the Southams and met some of the Branch people in their homes. I visited with the Branch President for quite a while as we sat around shelling palm nuts for palm oil and I think I am starting to get used to the accent a little. I only had to asked him to repeat about every other sentence instead of every sentence.

Today (Monday) is P day and we are going shopping with Southams and then have dinner with the elders. Charlotte is on a campaign to fatten them up a little. Every one of them have lost so much weight they have had to put new holes in their belts and in some cases have new pants made. It doesn’t seem to bother them. They are just hard working elders but I suspect they will be glad to see Charlotte here as soon as they discover her culinary talents.

Dress in Benin

I promised myself to write a little about the dress here. We really wasted our time and money to bring so many clothes. Not only are most of them to heavy in spite of our efforts but we could have had them made for us here for a fraction of the cost. The Africans have some of the most beautiful fabric you will ever see. Some of the seamstress work appears to be of equal quality. Although we haven’t met her yet, the mother of Carol, the young girl who has her mission call, is an expert seamstress. Last night Carol had on one of the most beautiful dresses you ever saw. When we get some pictures sent the first thing you will notice is the filthy streets, garbage everywhere and the street is the dumping ground for all wash water and other unwanted things including dead rats. People live in the dirtiest holes you can imagine, but the amazing thing is not how dirty they are but how clean they are. Especially the women, but the men also are in general clean and neatly dressed. Also modesty seem to be the rule in spite of the heat. That is perhaps not always true for the very young and the very old however. You often see children with no clothes and older men and women sometimes go topless.

The usual loaded moto consists of a man in a clean yellow jacket, not a jacket really, probably just another light shirt over their regular shirt. On the back will usually be a woman impeccably dressed in an African dress or perhaps even a more western style dress, sometimes even a white blouse always spotlessly clean. How they keep them that way I do not know. Some of the elders and elder Southam also have had dress pants made for almost nothing. I suspect that Charlotte will come home with some beautiful African clothes – and then probably freeze.

Of course not everyone is dressed up. You do see grubby Levis and other clothes like you might expect but it is amazing how cleanliness in clothes seems to be important. We will try to get some pictures but taking pictures indiscriminately is frowned upon so we will have to work at that a little.

5th Day in Benin

Today Elder Phillips and Elder Loveless invited us to go to teach with them. Actually we had to go quite a ways over to the other side of Cotonou and I think they wanted us to go so we would pay for the taxi. The taxi system here is interesting. As I see it, there are about 3 classes of taxis. The first and most popular is the moto taxi which is any kind of a bike or a scooter, which haul chickens, refrigerators, 20 foot pieces of pipe or even drag pieces or rebar down the road. We have seen all those things on the back of a moto as well as up to 4 people riding on one. Actually the Honda, Suzuki and other kinds of bikes likely made in China are probably the most popular but you see about everything. Although you do see some women, most of the drivers are men and wear a yellow type jacket indicating they are for hire. I understand it is very cheap to travel that way although it is not allowed for missionaries. Charlotte was disappointed in that!! You just wouldn’t believe the hoards of them that are on the road. I think I said thousand in one of my letters but I probably need to change that to at least hundreds of thousands. It is just incredible. Most of the passengers are women because it is the women that are really the shakers and movers here. I need to talk about the dress here but I am getting sidetracked. The next step up in the taxi line is the small cars, generally old but still running and usually yellow in color also. They cost a little more but are still cheap. Any number from 1 to about 10 can ride in one of them. If you stand out on a main road for 1 minute probably only 8 or 10 would pass where there would probably be 50 or so motos. Top of the class appears to be the nicer cars like the one we hired. We sort of have the driver, Herman, on our side now and he knows where we live and where the chapel and Southam’s apartment are located so we can just give him a call and he comes. We pay a premium price. The elders weren’t very proud of our bargaining skills when we told them what we were paying. It is probably 5 or 6 miles from here to the Chapel and takes about 15 minutes. We give him 3,000 CFA’s or Benin Francs which is about $6.00. Try that in the US. When we went with the elders they beat him down a little more.

There is a girl here in the branch that is actually from Nigeria so she speaks English. Her name is Precious Dike (pronounced DeeKay). She pretty much adopted Charlotte from day 1 and vice versa. Her sister is also interested in the gospel and wants to be baptized. Unfortunately, her “husband” is a bit of a no count and although they have 2 children and are expecting another they aren’t married. In addition, he has to have her parents permission to marry Joy and they don’t think much of him either. Maybe he hasn’t figured out that beating up their daughter isn’t the way to impress the parents. Anyway we went out and read with them the proclamation on the family hopefully to encourage both of them a little. Precious met us there for the meeting and then we went to her home and met her mother and kids. The taxi driver took us out there, waited the better part of an hour for us to give the lesson, took all 5 of us over to Precious’ home, waited there for 10 or 15 minutes then brought us back. The cost? 5,000 cfa’s or about $10. The elders only receive about 33,000 cfa every two weeks or around $70 so they have to bargain quite carefully but they report that they get by fine on that.

After the meeting at Joy’s house we taught a lady that owns a little store only a few hundred yards from the chapel. Her name is Sonya. She is well educated and speaks both English and French fluently. You have to picture this little store on a busy corner with a large door wide open. Most of the merchandise is outside on the sidewalk so we set up some chairs inside the store and with the thousands of motos and cars going by, jets crossing overhead (the chapel is right in the path to the airport), we sing a hymn, have a prayer and a real nice meeting. Sonya wants to read the Book of Mormon but the missionaries won’t give her one until she comes to church. They also stressed the importance of the Sabbath day and encouraged her to start closing her store on Sunday. That is going to be hard but the elders aren’t timid. They tell it like it is. I am very impressed with the way they teach. We will see what happens.

Back at the chapel in the evening we had a training meeting with Elders Hubbard (the district leader) and Carter. Precious and Carol were there. Carol is a beautiful young girl who has her mission call right now to serve in the Ivory Coast mission. She leaves in May. She is very impressive. Later on was a missionary coordination meeting with all the elders and branch missionaries. Two other young boys from the branch, are getting ready to serve missions and are impressive young men. If you stay away from last names here you can usually get by okay. Most of the last names are Fon names and are not only difficult to spell or say but almost impossible to remember. Charlotte and I had to introduce ourselves and Charlotte did it in French. I was very proud of her. She told how many children and grandchildren we have and that we wanted to come on a mission to share the gospel. I told them that wasn’t completely true. It was snowing where we came from and we just wanted to come some place to get warm. They got a big kick out of that. The heat here is oppressive. It is getting up to about 90 and nearly 100% humidity. You sweat all the time. Most people carry a rag and wipe to wipe the sweat off. I think we will eventually get used to it but right now we are suffering a little. If you have a good fan it helps a lot but the power goes off on a regular basis. Gratefully it has not been for long periods of time, especially at night. Elder Southam says the warmest he has ever seen is 94 so hopefully we are in the hottest part of the year. I was afraid that we were just starting into summer but supposedly July and August are actually quite cool. We’ll see.

Oh, I almost forgot, President Dill called the Southams earlier and wants to meet with them and us in Togo next week so we went down and got Togo VISAs. We leave on Tuesday and will stay over there in a hotel on Tuesday night and visit with President Dill. I think he is also bringing a vehicle for us. We are looking forward to meeting him. We are also looking forward to having some wheels but not necessarily to driving. That will be another experience. Charlotte says all the trouble we went through to get her an international drivers license was wasted.

4th Day in Benin

Day 4 was almost more than one Soeur Black from Blanding, Utah could handle. In our District meeting Elder Crooke talked about getting the spirit every day and when I see him next, I am going to tell him when you are in survival mode, the spirit is pretty far from your mind. The first order of the day was to find a taxi driver and have him take us to a place where we could do some shopping so “to market, to market to buy a fat pig” we went. First, one of the guards where we live walked us down the road to the main street. The streets here are nothing like anything in the United States. Everywhere you go there are 100’s of stalls selling everything from food to gasoline sold in old whiskey bottles. There are many people here who sew and have what look like old Singer sewing machines set up in their stalls and will sew anything you want. Most of the women here wear African style clothing made from very colorful fabric made by these tailors. Back to the shopping adventure! Our guard found a very nice taxi, a Toyota with air conditioning. I might add, however, that to use the air conditioning there was an extra charge so we told him that no air conditioning was just fine. He had a big sweat rag and kept wiping off his head. He did speak French with a very heavy Fong accent and had a hard time understanding Pete and Pete had a hard time understanding him. But we did eventually end up at a place where could shop, though. Getting to the shopping market was another experience! He drove with one hand on the wheel and the other one on the horn. All of the time there were 1000′s of scooters buzzing by us on all sides of the car. Before we got to the market, we came upon a long line of semi trucks stopped on our side of the road. I thought we were in for quite a long wait but not with our taxi driver. He just went on the wrong side of the road and proceeded up the street followed by a horde of scooters. There were cars and scooters coming at us but no one seemed to care, They just moved out of the way but I was hanging on for dear life. When he got to the first street, he just turned and took a different route.

The first thing on the agenda was to get money. The ATM machines are locked behind doors and a guard lets you in one at a time. You just have to have faith that he will let you out! When he does, you are immediately swarmed with people selling belts, electronics, phone cards, tablecloths, shirts, purses, etc. You name it, they will sell it to you! All that was before we started to look in the stalls. We had a list of quite a few things that we needed so started walking around the perimeter of the big market looking for a large pot, clothes pins, coat hangers, dish soap, potatoes, carrots, etc. ( We couldn’t even hang our clothes as there were no hangers here. There is no washing machine so the pioneer way is in order. (I sure wish I had Grandma’s wash board!) Soon a young African man tried real hard to sell us a statue of some sort but he soon realized that we were not the average tourist so he offered to take us and show us where everything was located that we needed. The first ladies only sold pots in sets so he took us inside the main market which was a large area covered by some sort of tent material. That’s when the excitement began! It is hard to describe unless you can hear the noise and commotion, smell the pungent odor and see the piles of all the goods. There were little trails between the piles of goods and if you even looked at something they were determined you were going to buy it. They start at a high price and you have to bargain to get it down. Then a lady in the next stall starts yelling that she will sell it cheaper. Somehow or another I ended up with two bunches of carrots when I only wanted one and 5 peppers instead of two. Well, the young man lead us through a maze of stalls where we ended up by a pretty young girl selling household goods. We found our stock pot, some hangers, a bucket for sterilizing food, clothes pins and maybe more but I can’t remember because my head was spinning from the whole scenario. We paid her for the first things we bought and for the second round the young man wanted the money. I shook my head no and started to give it to the woman and he said “ma femme” or my wife and took the money. It happened so fast that I didn’t have much time to think but later I was convinced that he was not her husband and was taking advantage of her. I could be wrong and really hope that I was.

It wasn’t over yet! Our guide left us on our own so we had to get out of there by ourselves so we started to weave our way through all the piles of goods. Before we could even think “home, home again” there was another young man wanting to sell us note cards. Pete told him OK as he thought the price he stated was for all of them but not so, it was only for one. After a little negotiation, we did end up with some hand-painted note cards. All of this transpired standing on the 18 inch wide trail between the goods. We still had a ways to go before getting out of there so we continued on the trail past open buckets of black fish, live chickens, ladies doing dishes, kids playing in the dirt and finally found our way into the street. Much to my surprise, I could see the exchange building where we got our money. Our taxi driver was to be back in one hour and I was praying that he would be there because we were being swarmed by the street vendors. The taxi driver just decided to wait for us and was I ever relieved when I saw that black Toyota. I wanted a table cloth to cover this ugly table and made to mistake of showing some interest in one but by that time all I wanted to do was get out of there. He followed us to the car and the price kept going down and when it got down to about $6.00 Pete took it, shut the door and rolled up the windows! I was sweating like crazy, was about to hyperventilate, have a panic attack and choke all at the same time. The taxi driver wanted to know if we wanted to go anywhere else but you couldn’t have gotten me out of that taxi for anything!

“Home again, home again”, oh, a gig!

3rd Day in Benin

I survived day three but am still in the survival mode. I just pretend each day that we are camping only camping in our trailer would be very welcomed at this stage. The electricity goes off several times a day. But we are counting our blessings that it hasn’t gone off at night as we sleep with a fan blowing on us. Even with the fan, there is no need for even a thin sheet. When the electricity goes off if we are in the apartment, I get down to the bare necessities. I was laughing about that today as never in my life have I done that! I guess that is part of being in survival mode. We finally got some matches so we can light the propane hot plate so I cooked some oatmeal this morning but it was too hot for me to want much of it. (Not the oatmeal but the room temperature.) We do have a wall air conditioner and a fan so when the electricity is on it isn’t too bad. I know one thing is for sure—Pete and I will come home a fraction of our former selves as it has been “lean cuisine” so far. But surviving on the best pineapples I have ever tasted will be great. Pete cuts them and we have been eating at least one a day. I forgot to tell you that just when I was ready to shower this morning, there was no water. I haven’t taken a “spit bath” in ages! There again, I count my blessing as 4 of the elders live in an apartment where they never have any water. The water is supposed to be there but no one can seem to get it to work. I asked them how they manage and they just said they use a bottle of water to freshen up and acted like it was no big deal. Their shirts looked like they had no water but that doesn’t keep them from working like crazy.

3rd Day in Benin

The Southam’s apartment which we will eventually inherit in June is a really nice apartment with 3 large bedrooms and 3 baths. It is a little cleaner and nicer than ours and also has Internet. It is located just a block or so away from the chapel. Right now we are grateful for what we have. We hear rumor that President Dill is going to come over next week with some wheels for us which will make it a lot easier. Now if we can just figure out how to get around town without being lost. Right now that is quite a challenge and we are glad for the Southams to Chauffeur us. The other challenge is the literally thousands of motorbikes that travel in hordes everywhere. You would be amazed at what you can put on the back of a motorbike. They haul everything from the rest of the family to building materials. There are basically no traffic rules so you just go and get by as best you can. Elder Southam says it is at least 100% better now than a year ago but I have a hard time to imagine that. I guess the government here is very progressive and has been, with the help of the USA, doing a lot of road building, putting in traffic lights and in other ways attempting to better the way of life. That is good but there is a long way to go.

Well today we really started getting acquainted with the Church in Benin. This morning the Southams came over and picked us up about 10:00 to go to their apartment for a District Meeting. There we met all the elders, took some pictures and enjoyed the meeting. Of the eight elders, 1 is from Canada, one is from Cote d’Ivorie, a French speaking country the other side of Ghana, and the other 6 or from the US. All of them speak pretty good French and the meeting was held in French. It appears also that they are also very hard working elders. This afternoon I went with a couple of them to purchase a cell phone. They really know how to get around and get things done. This afternoon we also gave piano lessons to 5 of the Branch members. How is that for being out of our comfort zone? Fortunately, we knew just a little more than the branch members. I told Mom we will probably never get closer to the cutting edge of the church than we are right here. Almost no one has been a member more than a year or two. Some only a few months or weeks. Anything they lack in experience is more than made up for in enthusiasm and friendliness. The African people are extremely jovial and friendly by nature. In the church it is even more so. They just have a lot of fun. The Church through a donors generosity has purchased a lot of quite nice keyboards to help people in developing areas learn to play. The lessons have been developed to start very basic and teach someone without any knowledge of music how to play the hymns. We actually have 28 of the keyboards in the Branch and several of the members are doing quite well. One Sister, Carol, is doing really well. She helped us teach. Actually she did most of the teaching and Charlotte and I just watched and offered encouragement. Carol has a mission call and will be the first sister missionary going out from the Branch. She is going to the Cote d’Ivorie mission in May.

Finding people to teach is not a problem here. Most everyone wants to listen to the gospel. The problem becomes to determine who will be serious members and help to build the church and who just wants to have their ears tickled. Right now, the missionaries only work in the area located within a mile of the chapel. They can teach someone outside that area but only if they have the transportation means to get to Church and are willing to do so. They look for people who really want to learn and who have potential as church leaders which, of course, is desperately lacking. I think at this point that leadership training will probably become our biggest focus. The Elders are already talking to the Branch President about having Mom and I teach a teacher training course because many of the teachers just read the lesson each Sunday. A couple of quick experiences of the day to illustrate the missionary environment we are in. I mentioned that we have a guard who lives in a little house at the gate coming into our compound and watches the coming and going of everyone just to be sure all is well. It is quite comforting to have him there. This morning I went out to ask where to put the garbage and get better acquainted. His name is Saraphine. When he saw my badge he immediately offered that he was Christian and loved to read the bible but didn’t have one to read. I promised I would work on getting him one. Actually we have an extra but since we are still suffering a little culture shock, I didn’t want to give it to him until I thought about it a little. I want to be sure he isn’t in the Bible selling business on the side. I took the opportunity to ask him about religion in general. He offered that he was Christian, believed in God, prayed etc. I told him I had heard that there were a lot of Muslim people in Benin also. He told me that there were and they went to their mosque’s but they were good people and got along well with Christians. Everyone gets along just fine he said as compared to some other places where there are a lot of problems. Then I asked about Voodoo and got a quite different reaction. “You need to stay away from those people. They eat people,” he said. “There will be a body there one night and the next day it is gone.” Now I don’t know if Saraphine is an expert on the subject, but that is what he says. I understand from the elders that they do ritually offer chickens as sacrifices. Ouidah, which is just a few miles west of here is the birthplace of VooDooism. However the elders say that they would rather work with Voodoo people than Muslims. I guess some Muslims are not necessarily adverse to killing family members they consider to be infidels and our church can fit that category. Interesting place this Benin.

Also it appears that the rule to be in by dark is overstated somewhat. The Elders say that applies more in Togo. Togo is a dictatorship and less stable politically that Benin, Here the streets are pretty safe. A lot of people are out in the evening because it is so hot during the day and stealing is frowned upon. In fact, we understand that it is not impossible that you can get a hand cut off for stealing. Nevertheless, locks seem to be the order of the day to keep everyone honest. We were walking back to the Southam’s apartment from the chapel (only about 100 yards or so) last night just after dark. When we got to the apartment, a man came up and started talking to Sister Southam. She couldn’t understand him so she turned him over to me. Seems as though he had been contacted by the Elders and invited to Church but he was out of town last weekend so he didn’t come. He had taken the trouble to find the church on his own and then just happened to run across us. He just wanted to apologize for not being there and promised to come next Sunday if the elders would stop by and teach him some more. I don’t know if it was prompted by his desired to learn about the church, but he has also moved so that he lives close to the chapel. I think we will see the church grow really fast here. We just hope that with the help of the Lord we can keep it on the right track.

2nd Day in Benin

The hotel where we stayed last night had a really nice buffet breakfast included in the price of the room. Unfortunately we missed it. Mom and I went to bed a little before midnight. I think I dozed a little around 3 or 4 but I remember Mom up looking out the window and talking about palm trees. That was about 4:00. I was considering getting up and doing some more computer work but laid in bed a while longer. Next thing we knew, the phone rang and it was the Southams telling us that they may be a little late picking us up. We looked at the clock and to our surprise it was 10:30. We got up, took a few pictures around the hotel and waited for the Southams to pick us up and introduce us to our new apartment.

Somewhere between our apartment and the hotel we fell off the end of the earth. Wow what a contrast. The hotel grounds were immaculate and beautiful. The large swimming pools overlook the ocean and are all anyone could want. We thought of taking a picture of Mom lounging by the pool and having Andy or Steve give it to President Redd with a note thanking him for getting us called to Benin. Down the road a ways is a large and very dirty city. Best description I can offer if you haven’t been to Africa or India is that it would make the Navajo Indian Reservation look like Malibu in California. Streets are narrow and dirty. Chickens, goats, pigs and other animals roam freely. The main streets are paved or cobblestone. All others being just basically beach sand – very dirty beach sand. Amid all this in an area that is probably a little more upscale—although that is very relative term—is the apartment which the Southams and Pierre, the local guy who seems to be in charge of such things, had rented for us. By African standards it is probably an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. By Blanding standards, Mom is still crying. There are some plusses. We have an air conditioner that keeps one room a little cool but the ceiling fan seems to work best. Steve will understand that after being in Puerto Rico. We have quite a nice living room, with a sofa and 4 easy chairs. The kitchen has a tile countertop and a single sink with a single faucet. No hot water there. There is a little hotplate on the order of a Coleman stove to cook on. The bathroom is divided into two rooms by a partition that goes almost all the way to the ceiling – one side has a toilet and sink and the other a shower and sink. Maybe a shower is a little bit of a stretch but it does appear that one could shower in the back part of the room. There is a hot water heater there if it can be coaxed to life. We will see in the morning. The only thing you use the local water for is bathing. Everything else has to be from bottled water including washing, tooth brushing etc. as the water supply is not safe. The bedroom has a double bed with mosquito netting around it. All in all it is probably livable. Like Lark says, it’s all relative and it could be worse. Right now I think Mom is thinking that if it weren’t for her relative (in this case her husband) she wouldn’t be here either but I am sure that will pass. The whole thing is located behind a locked gate with a 24 hour guard.

We went over to the Southams apartment also. They have a little nicer place that we will inherit after they leave in June. More on that later. Then we went shopping to get some things to supply our apartment, notably food since we missed breakfast. We went to one small food market which was okay and had some things that even reminded us of home. Then we went down to the street market. Now that is something to behold. All goods are out on the street with people, cars, chickens etc. and the ever present hoards of motorbikes all combined into one giant mess really. Most notable are the piles of pineapples and stocks of bananas. There are no prices so everything is subject to negotiation. I am sure that a white face with a white shirt and tie commands the highest price so Elder Southam taught us how to balk a little and the price usually drops quite rapidly. The mounds of pineapples sell for 100 – 200 CFS each. We ended up buying 5 of them for 500 CFS – just a little more than $1. That included delivery to our vehicle by a cute little African girl. They are only about 1/2 the size of a Hawaiian pineapple but you never tasted anything better. We are suspecting that may turn out to be our mainstay while we are here. Also purchased some small bananas, some avocados, dry beans, eggs etc. Coming home we scrubbed down the kitchen with the Clorox we bought at the store and then soaked everything in some Clorox water and cleaned it thoroughly. You don’t eat anything unless you do that first. Even the Bananas and Pineapples. When we got that done we figured out we had forgotten to get something with which to light the hot plate so our supper consisted of a pineapple that was more than tasty, some bread with vache qui rit cheese on it, a banana and some water. Oh we had some cashews and cookies also. It appears that a great deal of our time is going to be taken up by making things clean. If we can avoid any sickness it will be worth it.

Blacks and Southams“An adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.”

Arrival to Benin

Hello from Benin.

Made it here tonight about 8:00 right on schedule. Our plane from Paris was a huge Air France Airbus 340 airplane that seats about 275 people. There were probably less than half that many on the airplane so we had a lot of room contrary to what we experienced on Delta from Salt Lake to Paris. They also eat well on Air France and we had a very nice meal on the way. We left most of the white faces behind in Paris although there were quite a few French people (Caucasian) on the plane also. Only a handful of Americans. Going through customs here is an interesting experience. It seems as if you have a choice. You can either (A) choose to go it on your own and face the prospect of opening all your luggage and exposing all the underwear stored therein, along with everything else, to the customs official as well as the room full of people all trying to get through 2 or 3 doors with all their luggage, or (B) hire a little Beninese guy, of whom there are plenty offering their service, and all you have to do is to stand there and identify your bags and he takes it from there. In that case, he loads your bags on a cart and you go right by the customs inspectors and out into the open and very warm, humid, tropical air of Benin. Having been forewarned by Elder Southam, we chose B. Only problem is the price isn’t fixed on what to pay him after you get to your vehicle. Elder Southham had warned us that the average worker only makes $10-12 per day so not to pay more than $3 or 4 for the service. Having purchased a sandwich in the Paris Airport and received a bunch of Euro coins in change, I determined to use them as my ticket out with our baggage. That worked quite well and we had seemed to settle on 5 euro’s for the service until he saw me digging the coins out of my pocket. Then he made his way over and informed me that he couldn’t accept coins, it would have to be bills. My fallback position was $5 which he wasn’t as happy with as the 5 euros but he still continued to gather up the bags. I didn’t ever figured out if he was speaking French or English. I couldn’t pick up much of either. That may have been part of the plan for an increased fee. Anyway we met the Southhams and made it to the 2 seat Toyota pickup not unlike Dave’s Dodge. I thought I was doing real well and mom gave him $7. He was pleased with the 5 but frowned at the 2 one dollar bills. I think he was hoping to exchange them for another $5 but by then it was a matter of pride and principle so I held firm. I told him in the best French I could muster that we had bargained for 5 and we gave him 7 and that was enough. I don’t think he was unhappy although we tried to make us feel a little cheap right up until the end. As soon as he left. as we stood in the parking lot visiting, another guy came by with a guitar and played a nice welcome song earning himself a $1 tip from Mom with which he was very happy. Interesting place this Benin.

The Southhams have their Son and Daughter in law visiting until the end of the week so their apartment is full. They have made arrangements for another apartment for us but it isn’t ready until tomorrow so they dropped us off at the best hotel in Cotonou for the night. It isn’t Little America but not too far behind. It is very nice and clean and comfortable. At Little America they don’t give you a cool moist towel when you walk up to the check in desk nor is there a beautiful African girl giving you a drink of pineapple juice with a piece of fresh pineapple on the side as you leave the desk to go to your room. Here you don’t handle your own bags either. The bell boy meets you at the car outside, brings them in and patiently waits until you check in, then ushers you to your room, opens the door, make sure the air conditioning, TV and everything is working and that you are comfortable before he leaves. A dollar or two tip produces a big African smile. I walked outside a while ago to find Mom a bottle of water. Victor, our bell boy was sitting by the elevator on our floor, I think just in case we need something. I had a nice visit with him, received a nice complement on my lousy French and a quick tour of the hotel, then walked down by the pool where there was a little bar that sold me a cold bottle of water. The air was warm, moist and sweet, almost intoxicating, and a big African moon was shining brightly. We are a long way from Blanding but so far we like Benin.

Travel to Benin

Charlotte managed to catch a good headcold our last day at the MTC so flying at 35,000 feet was not that much fun but we made it to Paris okay. Our VISA for Benin did come but not in enough time to get them to the MTC. We picked them up at the Church office building on the way to the airport. That was cutting it pretty close. We traveled from SLC to Cincinatti, changed planes without any layover and then on to Paris arriving about 9:00 in the morning on Saturday. It was getting dark when we left Cincinatti and then got light about 4 hours later so it was kind of a short night but a long airplane ride. About 11 hours flying time from SLC to Paris. Roselle met us at the airport and we are staying at the home of the Lazeras family. Josy fixed as fine a dinner as can be eaten anywhere in France last night. That is saying quite a lot considering the legendary French cuisine. Some of the Lazeras children and grandchildren along with Grandma and Grandpa Robert and Leone CHOLLET enjoyed the dinner along with us. We especially enjoyed the identical 6 year old twin girls of Florine and her husband. They were running everywhere and talking so fast I couldn’t catch much of what they were saying. Pierre says they have kind of developed their own language and he doesn’t understand much either which made me feel a little better. It was also the 81st birthday of Leone which was cause for additional celebration. Robert and Leone are doing quite well but continue to get older as does everyone. After arriving and getting some much needed rest, Charlotte seems to be doing better. Today we will go to Sacrament meeting with Pierre and Josy then they will take us to the airport to continue on to Benin. the flight from Paris to Benin is about 6 hours. I will post some pictures later.

Time at the Missionary Training Center

Our time at the MTC has been extremely busy and just as interesting and rewarding. We had a little time on Monday to get settled in our room which is small but clean and comfortable. We have a comfortable queen sized bed, our own bath, and a place to study. After Monday we didn’t see much of our room except to sleep. Training meetings started at 8:00 every morning. With a couple of short breaks we are busy until about noon. After lunch it is back to training meetings until about 4:30. We have just enough time then for dinner and to rest a few minutes before going to language training from 6:00 to 8:00. After that we drag ourselves back to our apartment and are usually in bed by about 9:00 or so. Before the first training meeting, we have to be ready and eat breakfast. All meals areThe Blacks with Elder Jordan Christiansen at the cafeteria with approximately 2000 young elders and sisters and a handful of other senior couples. The senior couples often sit together and share quite a common bond as we are almost all strugging to learn a language, learn the computer or other things that put everyone outside their comfort zones. This is even without mentioning the training in missionary lessons and teaching which is in itself quite stressful. The couples as well as the young elders and sisters are preparing to go to all parts of the US and throughout the world. In our small group, there are couples going to Africa, Romania, Poland, Singapore, Hong Kong, Domician Republic, Guatamala and a lot of others I can’t remember. The young elders and sisters must have some instruction on respecting their elders, or maybe they just come that way, as they seem to go out of their way to say hello, often in the language they are learning, put us in front of the food line, take our trays to the dish dropoff and otherwise treat us well. There is just a good spirit here. It is amazing to see that many missionaries all going different directions at different times but everyone knows where they are going and everyone is busy.

Our instructors are recently returned Elders and Sisters who do a marvelous job teaching us how to share the gospel. Sister Faulkner, our “small group” instructor is an extremely vivacious girl whom you just can’t help but love. In the afternoon we have Sister Andelin who is about the same. She also knows France and Platt Nielson. It seem like every time you say you are from Blanding someone knows someone from there and it makes for a good conversation. Both our trainers are extremely knowledgable and a lot of fun to work with. Mom has become the class favorite and has earned high praise both from our trainers and from the volunteers on whom we practice the lessons.

One of the highlights of the week, (or lowlights if you ask Mom) came on Thursday when our instructor told us that pretend time was over and we were going to the call center to take calls from real live people. Mom almost came unglued on that one and tried every way possible to avoid that activity but after substaintial encouragement finally made it and took some calls. The call center is a bank of some 200 computers occupying most of one floor of one of the buildings. As the Church runs spots in various TV markets around the country, sometimes offering free video’s etc. the calls come into that call center or another one in Washington DC. Sometimes it is really busy and other times it slows down a little. Everyone in our group, including Charlotte and I took at least 3 calls and some took 4 or 5. My calls were from people who were genuinly interested in the church. The first time you push the button it is a little scarry but after that it really gets to be quite a bit of fun. The orders and referals are e-mailed to the various missions that night and the contact is made the next day or within a day or two. Its quite a world we live in.

After spending the weekend at Jody’s we came back and are continuing with tutoring about 3 – 4 hours each day and studying the rest of the time. It is not quite as intense as the first week we were here. Our Tutor is a sister who just returned from a mission to southern France about 3 weeks ago. She not only speaks beautiful French but is very knowledgable about the language and why you say what you say. That is helping me as much as it is Mom. If our VISA’s for Benin arrive we are scheduled to leave on Friday March 21.

We have run into Elder Jordan Christiansen a couple of times. He is excited and doing well.