As we get more involved, I am impressed more and more with these people and what survivors they are. When you think of the thousands of years these people have existed here and the hundreds of years in their history they were rounded up for slaves and shipped to Europe, the US or used as slaves of warring factions here, it seems somewhat incredible that they are a happy peace loving people. They have so very little of what we normally think of as things that make us happy. Altercations between individuals I am sure exist, but the atmosphere is basically one of live and let live. If you pull out in front of someone, for example, like you often have to do, for the most part they just slow down and go behind you. No honking waving their arms or other infantile behavior like you often see in the U.S. Even though we are Yoho’s (white people) as you walk down the street, you can tell anyone hello and they will greet you back as if you were one of them. They just seem to be very accepting of whatever goes on around them, and not once have we ever felt threatened or unsafe here, day or night. I am speaking for me and not Soeur Black now. She feels a little threatened when the police come up or the Revenant guy gets carried away or when we have to cross the border into Togo. Generally speaking, however, even though Cotonou is a city of some 2 million people, I would feel much more safe walking down the dark streets after dark than I would in Phoenix or Seattle for example. Even so, we try to be in by dark. President Dill says, the streets are dark, the people are dark and it is best not to drive after dark unless you have to. We try to follow that advice whenever possible. The traffic seems to double also about the time it gets dark. I guess that is when everyone is getting off work.
I have already written about the dress but continue to be impressed, especially after washing our own clothes by hand for a while. Soeur Black and I get by pretty well since there is just the two of us, but just imagine a mom with a husband and 2 or 3 kids to keep up with all by hand. It seems like most of the time we visit a home the mother is either in the process of washing clothes or has just hung them on the line to dry. Many times the wash is done from an outside faucet with pans on the ground. Normally they don’t worry about hot water here. I have yet to see a kitchen with a hot water faucet. The water is warm enough just as it comes from the tap. On Sunday the men and boys show up in clean white shirts and ties and the women in some of the most beautiful African dresses you ever saw. They seem to like white, perhaps because it produces such a striking contrast to their dark skin.
Since a lot of people here know English, it is sometimes amusing when they read our name tags. They will read our name tag and then with a smile say, “your name is Black”, “But you are not black, I am black, you are White.” I just tell them that is true but I have had that name for a long time and it is a common name where we came from. It usually opens the door to a good conversation with them.
Now for some of our activities of the last week. On Sunday we went to church as usual, opted for the English Sunday School class again and then went to the primary. We felt right at home there and the kids were learning the same songs as at home only in French. A cute little African girl immediately adopted Charlotte and me and insisted on sitting between us. She was a smart girl and could answer any question asked or sing any song. Charlotte even tried out her French on her and asked her what her name was. It was Eunice. This went on until Primary was over and one of the elders mentioned she went to an English school so I asked her, “Do you speak English?” and she answered a perfect “yes.” We were quite amused that she had not even let on that she spoke much better English than our French. There are probably 15-20 kids in the Junior Primary and about the same in the senior primary so our building is just bulging at the seams.
Monday was Preparation day and the Southams two daughters and their husbands were here so they invited everyone to go out to Ganvie – another cultural experience. Soeur Black chose to stay at the Southams and e-mail but I went with the group to help provide sufficient transportation for everyone. Ganvie is a city of about 30,000 people built out on the lake. It helps somewhat that the lake is only about 6 feet deep but the people just put down poles into the water and build their houses above the water. If you go to the store or to school, you get in your canoe (which is a hollowed out log) and paddle your way there. If you think it is hot and humid on land, you should be out on the warm water lake. I will also leave it to the reader’s imagination where the sewer lagoons are located. The village was established probably 2 or 3 hundred years ago out in the lake in an effort to escape the slave traders and has existed there ever since. We all got in a little motor boat and went about 5 miles out into the lake. Of course they took us to some stores where we were supposed to buy a lot of souvenirs on which I passed except for a little model of one of the boats which I bargained my way into for about 2,000 CFA or about $4.50. – Big Spender. I walked outside the trading post and strolled around as much as I dared considering the structure which separated me from the water below. A young boy came around in a canoe and kept saying something like “bic”, “bic”. I couldn’t figure that one out but figured it must have something to do with wanting a coin. Later on our guide told us that they don’t have anything to write with at the school so the kids ask tourists for pens. What he was asking for was a Bic pen. I gave one of the kids my only Recapture Metals free promotional pen and felt badly I didn’t have a case or two from Costco to give them. Then I made the mistake of giving a couple of cute little girls a 100 franc coin to take their picture. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I had plenty of other potential subjects for pictures. Luckily everyone got back on the boat and we took off before I got mobbed. On the way out and back, we passed numerous little boats mostly with women going to and from the mainland, paddling all the way. How would you like to have to paddle a canoe 5 miles one way in order to go to the store?
On Tuesday, after a couple of visits with the Elders who needed transportation, we arrived at the Southams to find Elder Carter sick. His companion, Elder Hubbard went with a young man from the branch who is getting ready to serve a mission and Soeur Black and I stayed at the apartment with Elder Carter. Since he had some of the symptoms of malaria, Sister Dil instructed us to take him and get him checked. Seems as though Sister Dil has also affectionately earned the title of Dr. Dil from the missionaries since she attends to physical health while President Dil attends to the spiritual things. Since Elder Southam was still in tourist mode with his children, the lot fell to us to get it done – another cultural experience. I started out at the American Embassy where they gave me the name of a couple of good Doctors. Fortunately we knew the city well enough to find the doctor’s office after we asked directions a couple of times. The receptionist sent us over to a nearby clinic for the test. Surprise!! It was spotlessly clean and sterile. They took a blood sample from the end of Elder Carter’s finger, we paid them about $8 and we called back an hour or so later for the results which turned out negative. Try that in the USA for the same price. By Thursday everything was fine and everyone was back to work.
On Wednesday while Elder Carter and Elder Ellis (in the same apartment were recuperating, Soeur Black and I went with Elders Hubbard and Crooks and made some visits. At lunch time, they went to a little African restaurant where they quite often eat lunch and we ate foofoo for the first time. I will let Charlotte tell you about that culinary delight when she gets time. In the afternoon I went for a few more visits, and Charlotte stayed at home (by herself if you can believe that, how’s that for being comfortable with your surroundings?) and did some house things and fixed a birthday dinner for Elder Loveless who turned 20 on Shauna’s birthday. We had several really good visits but one of the best was to a young man name Dieudonne. Translated literally that would be Godgiven – not an unusual name over here. Also the days of the week are popular. If you have a son born on Tuesday, you just name him Tuesday, etc. Anyway, Dieudonne is a young man of probably about 19 or 20. The missionaries were actually teaching his aunt who lives in the same house and he got hold of some of the brochures they left and showed up at church last Sunday on his own. By Wednesday, he had read everything in the house and all but begged for a copy of the Book of Mormon. We gave him a lesson on the origin of the Book of Mormon and read some scriptures from it, then one of the elders let him keep their personal copy until we could get him his own copy. I keep telling the Elders here they have it so easy. In France many years ago, I would have given my right arm for even one investigator like the ones these Elders teach here all day long.
Today, we set out to find a place to get Charlotte a haircut. She wants to get it cut a little shorter and I am looking a little shaggy myself. Hair cutting over here in a hot climate isn’t much of an art. Basically one size fits all, you just shave it all off. Soeur Black is not quite that far into the culture yet. We are going to try the tourist hotel where we stayed the first night. We understand there is a beauty parlor there that caters more to western styles.
Well we found the hotel and also the airport. That made Charlotte feel better since she now knows where the airport is although it will be a while before we have need of it. We did pass our 1 month mark yesterday but who is counting. Made a hair appointment for Monday and know the city a little better than before. Also found a good clean restaurant and had a nice dinner. I guess today is kind of a down day and we are looking forward to a good weekend.