Well another week in Benin and another full slate of cultural experiences although I will have to say that we are experiencing much less culture shock now and are really beginning to appreciate the culture and ways of the Beninese. Not that we are totally over the shock, just more assimilated into it than we were when we arrived.
The branch cleans the chapel on Saturday each week. The cleaning is passed around among the Priesthood, Relief Society, Branch missionaries and the youth. We have been going over most Saturdays to help out and also to become better acquainted with some of the members. This week because of the general conference being on Saturday and Sunday, the cleaning was done on Friday. All the floors are tile and it is quite a job to move all the benches, sweep out all the sand and mop the floors and dust everything. You don’t have to work very hard here to work up a good sweat. If you are not careful, by the time you get it done, it is time to start again. It sure doesn’t take long to track all the sand back in again. Anyway, of Friday we were there with about half a dozen members when one started to hum a hymn. I guess it was the power of suggestion but soon everyone there was humming, whistling, or singing a hymn. They were scattered throughout the building so you could hear all of these hymns coming from everywhere as we worked. It was a neat experience. The members here just love the hymns and love to sing them. You just can’t keep them down. A couple of weeks ago in sacrament meeting, two members sang a hymn as a special number. Before they finished, most all the congregation had joined in the special number. The same was true today in general conference. The Tabernacle Choir added quite a few voices on the familiar hymns they sang.
The conference yesterday and today was really great even if it was a few weeks late. We had to use all of our resources to play the conference. We needed to have it in both French and English but the branch only has one CD player and one TV. On Saturday, we put my computer to good use in the Relief Society room for the English version and used the branch TV and CD player in the chapel for the French and got by fine. Today we had to bring the Southam’s TV over from their apartment and the elders managed to hook it up in tandem with the other TV so we had one in the outer chapel for the overflow. Again, my computer served for the English until about the last half hour when it mysteriously refused to finish the conference so we had to wait until the French was finished and then complete the English session in the chapel. I think the CD drive on the computer may have overheated but I don’t know. It just refused to play anymore. I keep forgetting that we are on the cutting edge of the gospel here. On Saturday, after the afternoon session President Desire stood up and dismissed everyone until Sunday morning. He had forgotten about the Priesthood meeting. We decided to have it next Sunday during Priesthood meeting and then stay for an hour after. I was kind of glad after sitting on our wood benches for 4 hours. It sounded like a good solution to me.
Most every morning when I go out I visit a little with Seraphin, our guard. Earlier this week he told me that his sister had had a baby. The baby was premature and had to be taken C section and his sister was in intensive care. He was quite worried about it. I took him over to see the baby and visit once last week but we were busy and Soeur Black was sick so I just dropped him off and promised that when she got out of intensive care, we would take him again and take time to visit his sister. We decided that today would be a good day to do that so after the conference we came home and ate lunch then braced ourselves and asked him if he wanted to go over to the hospital. We had no idea what to expect. The room his sister was in was up one floor and had as the sum total of furnishings, three beds with a door opening to the walkway outside something like a motel room arrangement. The stairways etc were extremely dirty and unkept but the room itself was better than expected – not clean but acceptable by African standards. His sister was sitting up in bed and appeared to be doing quite well. Seraphin’s mother was there and also his sister’s husband along with the husband’s sister. We were well introduced and well accepted by all although we were taken a little aback when they offered to show us the incision and operation. I don’t think that would have bothered her even a little but we declined as graciously as possible hoping that we weren’t tromping over any cultural norms. Soeur Black diffused the situation somewhat by telling them that she had had our last child C section also so she knew something of what she had been through. They were quite excited about that. It even caught the attention of the other patients in the room.
Without ever asking for money directly, Seraphin has kept me informed in all our conversations, about the financial stress of being in the hospital. It costs 5,000 cfa per day or a little over $10 for the baby in the care unit and 4,000 or about $8.50 per day for the mother. With the cost of the operation and all they now have a bill of about 160,000 cfa that needs to be paid. That would be somewhere near $350.00, or a small fortune for these people. We are thinking of recommending to all our daughters and daughters in law to come over here next time there is a baby expected in order to minimize costs. On the other hand…
We determined to give Seraphin 20,000 to help out the family. He gave it to his sister and we were properly thanked by everyone. They seemed to be really truly grateful. The mother is from a village a long way from Cotonou and only speaks Fon, the native dialect. My total inventory of Fon words thus far is exactly two. (I guess three counting yovo or white people which the children love to call us.) I have learned how to say Abofongea (not the actual spelling but it means hello or how are you) and Adabo (again not actual spelling but meaning goodbye). One highlight of our conversation, such as it was, with Seraphin’s mother was when we got ready to go I said “adabo”. It took two or three tries before she finally got it but when she did she was extremely pleased with my feeble efforts. There are quite obviously no dentists in the village where she lives but she sure seemed like a sweet lady.
When we entered the hospital, we saw people laying on the floor, or on benches. It was dark and dirty, the floors need to be swept and mopped and the walls needed a good scrubbing. My first thought was, ”Oh my lands, don’t they have beds for these poor people to lie down on?” Then it became apparent these people were there so they could be closer to ill relatives. There are no motels around for all the good that would do as these people are so poor that a motel would be entirely out of the question. His sister’s room was shared with two other women and each had an army style cot and some African fabric on the cot for sheets. I would not be surprised if they brought the fabric from home. One more thing about the room, we could not see any sign of a bathroom. I told Pete if I need to go a hospital put me on the next flight for Paris (six hours away), and let Dr. Pierre Lazares take care of me. The Southams have told us, however, that there is a real nice, clean hospital by the American Embassy. (On Monday I learned that the bedding and also the food for the patients are provided by the family.)
Before we left, they offered to let us see the baby so the father of the baby and Serafin’s mother took us down the stairs, across the courtyard to another building. Serafin told Dad that we could see the baby through a window. Now that sounded just like in a nursery at a hospital back home but once again, not so. Seraphin meant a window in the literal sense. We walked to an outside window, knocked and the nurse opened the window and curtain and allowed us to take a quick peek at a very small little baby girl. The nursery looked much cleaner than the above-described hospital room. The nurse was very clean and had her hair covered and latex gloves so there is hope for those little preemie babies. Once again we are counting our many blessings! (Our first medical experience in Cotonou was much more positive as the laboratory we took Elder Carter to for a malaria test was spotless and the needle was in a one-time use sterile package.)
Speaking of medical experiences and malaria, Elder Howard was sick on Friday and was counseled by Dr. (Sister) Dil to get a malaria and other tests. Turned out he had malaria among other things and has been down for a couple of days. I guess malaria is not a big deal if you get it diagnosed and start treating it right away. Just the same, We would prefer not to get it if we have our choice. The Church keeps a doctor on staff for the missionaries and members but he is in Ghana so he is only available to us by e-mail and telephone but it is somewhat comforting to have him there anyway. I worked with Elder Hubbard quite a lot on Friday and Saturday and Charlotte stayed home to get caught up with domestic duties. We could write another long weekly about that but we will have other opportunities and this is getting quite long so I better save that for another time.
On Saturday the Southams needed to get away for a little while as their apartment is like Grand Central Station. Elder Southam has not been feeling too well and needed a little diversion so we drove out to the beach. I think it was good therapy for all of us! The sun was just setting and there was a beautiful misty, hazy sunset. The beach faces south so the sunset was off to our right and the waves were extremely high as they splashed on the sandy beach. We were mesmerized by the constant rhythm of these huge waves. It was so fascinating as we could see an extra large wave coming toward us and thought it would be the biggest one yet and then be surprised that it would die down somewhat before hitting shore. Then a wave that would give no indication of being very big at all would make a humongous splash. We thought we were on very high ground when all of a sudden one of the big unexpected waves caught us off guard and gave us a pretty good soaking. Got us real good. It even got the bottom of my skirt wet! There were a couple of large wooden fishing boats on the beach that are used by the locals for ocean fishing. I know that I would not want to be out on waves like we were watching in one of those boats. It was great to be in a place that was not filled with thousands of people and motos and enjoy the beauties of nature. We may have to try that again. It is not far from our house.