I don’t know if it is possible to burn down a concrete house or not but Soeur Black gave it a try on Sunday. Here is what she wrote about the incident:
We invited two of the Elders over for dinner after church on Sunday, and I started the chicken before we left. I went over to the stove and turned what I thought was off on the stove but instead turned it up to high. When we got back with Elders Niambe and Howard, Seraphin, our guard, was so excited and talking “shotgun” French. He was relating the whole scenario about the smell coming from the apartment, the smoke coming from the pot on the stove and how he got the window opened and turned off the gas. I think I told you about the bars on all of the windows here so it was not an easy task. I had left the window open by the stove with the screen pulled so he managed to get his hand in through the bars and reach the stove controls. Luckily, I had some left-over spaghetti and some rice cooked so I made a rice salad to go with the spaghetti, cut up some fruit and filled everyone up. If nothing else, it entertained the Elders! I think that I will make another effort to find a crock pot. Of course, then the electricity will go off when I need it the most.
We not only had a nice dinner but a nice fragrance to go with it — Essence de poulet brulle (burnt chicken.) We will probably have that around the house for a while. We just hope our clothes don’t smell too bad when we go out. If no one will let us in we will start to get suspicious.
Sunday was election day here. No national elections, just neighborhood kinds of elections but they definitely generated excitement. Beginning early in the week, we began to see campaign rallies about town. Generally the rally consists of a brigade of motos traveling at top speed with the riders blowing whistles, waving signs, littering the road with fliers and whatever to attract attention. All of this built to a crescendo on Friday evening when it seemed like about every turn there was a rally of some kind. We were glad to get home and close the gate before dark and could only imagine what it might be like on Saturday and perhaps even on Sunday for the election. Much to our surprise, Saturday was about the quietest day we have seen and Sunday was even more quiet. It was most amazing. I guess there is a law that you are not allowed to campaign after Friday night and apparently that is one of the laws that is strictly enforced. In fact, we even got close to some of the enforcement. On our way home Saturday afternoon we were stopped for a light on a crowed street when we saw a policeman toting a machine gun and a billy club looking our way and making his way through the motos towards us. He didn’t look any too friendly either. That was enough to make Soeur Black hyperventilate. He walked up to a moto driver just off our left front fender and promptly grabbed the cap off his head and returned to the street corner. The moto driver drove on without his hat and with no argument. After asking some of the natives about that on Sunday, our supposition is that he must have been wearing a campaign cap contrary to the law. We will have to try to remember and not wear any hats with campaign slogans. Another noticeable thing about the Saturday and Sunday law was on Saturday when were out and about, the streets were free of campaign litter. On Friday there were papers everywhere and plastered on buildings, walls, etc. and I have no idea how it was all cleaned up over night.
Monday was transfer day. Elder Niambe was transferred to Ghana and will have to learn English. Elder Carter was transferred to Togo. That takes out our two best French speakers. Elder Niambe is from Ivory Coast and Elder Carter is from Montreal Canada and both English and French are native languages to him. The other companionships were rearranged also so everyone has a new companion now, excepting us and the Southams of course. We kept our same old companions. We will be down to 3 teams of Elders here for awhile and will miss Elders Niambe and Carter, whom we have learned to love and appreciate. Elder Carter is an accomplished singer and his wonderful voice will be greatly missed. His parents were called to be the mission president of the Toulouse France mission so he will stop off there to see them for a few weeks on his way home in about a year.
Soeur Black has contacted a nasty African stomach bug and has been down for a day or two. I have been gone with the Elders some to provide transportation and help them get moved, etc., but other than that we have been sticking pretty close to the house. Gratefully, this week has been pretty good thus far for the water and electricity staying on. The nice thing about our mission is that we can pretty much make our own schedule and come and go as we please. The general conference will be on Saturday and Sunday. We have the disks for French but are worried about the English ones.
Before leaving Elder Niambe needed a new pair of shoes in the worst way. I took him and his companion down to the market place to try to find some. I have learned that there are two times when it pays to not be able to speak French. One is when a policeman approaches and the other is when elders are in the process of negotiating the price on something. As we explained before, at the market place there are no prices on anything. Elder Niambe found a pair that interested him and began the process of determining a price. With him being a native elder, I was quite interested in how that would work. The asking price was 16,000 (about $35) and quickly came down to 10,000. Getting it to go lower was quite a process. They wanted to deal with me probably because I looked easier and richer but since I didn’t speak French, they had to continue with Elder Niambe and his companion. I think we walked away three different times but not so far as to be out of hearing range and be called back for more negotiations. When it was all over, we gave them 5,000 for the shoes. Even after we paid for them, they still were trying to persuade Elder Niambe that I should kick in another 1000 or so because he got such a good deal. It was all just part of the process. Elder Niambe actually felt like he paid too much. The shoes, as most all shoes here, appear to of American or European origin, used but with new soles and polished up to look almost new.
I have been working some with the member here that is in charge of family history. His name is Issac and he has been a member for about 10 years being one of the first that was baptized here in Benin. The branch has a computer not unlike the ones the wards and stakes have in the US. He has done quite a bit on the PAF program and has the family history of a number of the branch members as far as they know it. Without any written records, family history work is almost impossible except for what can be remembered by those who are living. Nevertheless, Issac has persuaded and helped a number of the member to record what they can and has two or three generations on a lot of the branch members. He has done a good job with PAF but doesn’t understand the computer enough to be able to delete old files, fix or move files, etc. I have been working with him on that and we have done a lot. We are getting by and it is fun to do. The African names are interesting. First names you can usually handle but the last names – not even close in most cases. I am glad it seems to be okay here to call members by Brother or Sister and then their first name. Otherwise we would have some work to do.