Fabric at Missebo Market; How to Punish a Thief

Church yesterday was another experience. On Saturday we had a baptism. Her name is Liza but the is “i” pronounced like and “e”. She is from Liberia, another English speaking country, but was married to a Beninese man. Just after they started to investigate the Church, her husband passed away, so she has had to do it on her own. She is quite a large woman but Soeur Black got her all outfitted in a white suit, and Elder Southam baptized her. Just before meeting started, I was asked to confirm her. I was glad she wanted it done in English. Mary, another English speaker and an investigator whom we have been helping the Elders teach, taught the English speaking Sunday school class from the Book of Mormon. If that is going to continue, we probably should get her baptized. During Priesthood meeting time, I decided to go to the Young Men’s class and see what was going on there. They didn’t have an instructor. One of the boys seemed to be in charge and had everyone open their copies of the Book of Mormon to Alma 32, take turns reading about faith, and asked them to explain in their own words what each verse was saying. I don’t know if that would happen in a quorum at home or not. There is definitely some work to do with Branch organization here, but it is hard to argue with what seems to be working. President Dil told us that you have to remember that the church is only 5-6 years old here, so Church history wise, we are somewhere in the Kirtland period of time. If you read the Doctrine and Covenants and church history and see the struggles the church went through trying to understand something that was new and different to those people, it helps to not get discouraged when things don’t go exactly as they should here. There are 35-40 men in Priesthood meeting each week. There are 8 or 10 people in the branch that have been to the temple, but President Desiree and his wife are the only couple that have been sealed. There is quite a bit of excitement right now in the Branch as a temple excursion is in the planning stages for the next month or so (I have heard several dates but it doesn’t seem to be firmly set yet) where several more couples will be sealed and others intent to do baptisms. Soeur Black and I would love to go also, but so far that seems to be a member, not a missionary, activity. With just a few exceptions, if you have been a member more than a couple of years, you are one of the oldest members in the Branch. On the other hand, going may also present some problems. The bus system here seems to be some overgrown vans called Trotos (may not be the right spelling). They are about the size of the small school buses we have at home but you see 40 or 50 people loaded and tightly packed as possible inside. With no air conditioning that may be a challenge for us Yovos. There is also the problem of crossing two borders, one into Togo and the other into Ghana. Although we now have visas for both, crossing is rather time consuming for a foreigner, whereas West Africans seem to be able to cross quite easily. There are also some very nice buses, but I think they are much more expensive, probably too much for the members.

Last week I mentioned going shopping for food with the Elders and how much I enjoy the diversion. On Monday we did our food shopping once again and added going to Missebo Market to buy fabric. Now you may wonder why the elders had such a thing on their agenda ,as usually men despise this type of activity. (I am speaking from experience here.) There are many excellent tailors and seamstresses here who make traditional or even not-so-traditional clothes very inexpensively. The Elders want to take African outfits home to their families when they leave Cotonou. Most of them have about a year left and are getting a head start on the project. First, we need to explain Missebo again as this part was different than the tie section we went to last week. It seems as if there is some type of organization to what appears to chaos as in one area you may find dozens of shops selling clothes, then another area selling shoes. The same applies to the fabric stalls. We turned off the main road and went by so many little stalls, all of which were selling fabric – embroidered, plain, multi-colored, more multi-colored and even more multi-colored. But the elders wanted to keep going, as down by the river was where the best bargains were to be found. Almost all of the fabric was between $1.00 and $2.00 per yard, and it takes about six yards to make a women’s outfit plus the head wrap and about 4 yards for a man’s outfit called a boomba. (Sounds like you could really jive in something called a boomba!) Afterwards, it was really entertaining as Elder Phillips showed me the fabric he bought for his mother. It is hard to describe in words but I will try. The background is brown, and on the brown are bright yellow chickens, chicken and rooster heads plus the eggs. The chickens are not little chickens either as I am sure that they could be seen about a half a block away. I laughed and teased him but then as I thought about it a little longer, I decided that chickens were a good choice after all. On every road that I have been on in Cotonou, there are chickens roaming free. Most of the hens have a few little chicks following them and every neighborhood has its alarm clock rooster. I am sure that his mom will love it. Elder Hubbard was a little more conservative for his mom so I couldn’t tease him.

On Tuesday we went to teach a family consisting of a father, a mother and two young girls, one about eight and the other about 14. It was a very interesting family as the mother was from Ghana and spoke English but couldn’t read and the father and the girls could read and speak French. They speak to each other in Fon. Elder Hubbard, Dad and I went with Elders Loveless and Crooks so we divided into two teams. They decided that the English group would go into the living room and the French would stay outside in the patio area. It was sweltering hot inside the house so the father told the 14 year old daughter (named Scholastic) to go inside and set up a fan for us. She came out of the bedroom with the fan and started to plug it in, and then pandemonium broke loose. Most plugs here in Cotonou are not grounded and with the humidity that sometimes gets interesting. When she plugged it in, she got the shock of her life, screamed and fell over with the fan on top of her. By this time the fan was broken and she tried to catch herself on the curtain that divided the bedroom from the living room. That pulled the curtain and the wooden valence out of the concrete wall. So in a matter of a few seconds, girl, fan, valence and curtain were all the floor in a small space behind the couch. That, of course, brought us to our feet and everyone into the house to see what in the world was going on. But fortunately within a few minutes the girl was fine, the curtain and valence were back on the wall, but the fan was history. You never know what surprises each day might bring!

We have been out teaching a couple of times this week with Rebecca. Rebecca is a beautiful African girl, about 22 or 23 years old, who joined the church a couple of years ago, making her an “old” member of the Branch. Turns out she is the daughter of the Cotonou equivalent of Larry Miller in Salt Lake. Her father was one of the wealthiest men in Cotonou. He began by selling salvaged car parts and got to the point where he could buy a car. Instead of selling the car, he took it apart and sold the parts, bought another, etc. Within a few years he has amassed a fortune in the car and car parts business. Being rich in Africa meant he could buy more wives, and he had sixteen of them and 32 children. Rebecca’s mother was only 14 when Rebecca was born and then her mother passed away on Rebecca’s 2nd birthday. Her father then sent her to school in France for about 14 years until pressure from within the family required her to come home where she met the missionaries and joined the Church. She hid the fact of her family being wealthy until her father died last fall. Then it came out who she really was. Since then there have been some attempts by some of the family to cut her out of any inheritance since she left her father’s church. Some of her brothers appear to be quite busy trying to drink up all of their inheritance, but Rebecca is just a special young lady. She and Soeur Black have quite a lot in common, both joining the church under adverse family pressure and losing their parents at a young age, so she has wanted to visit quite a lot. She is also busy getting referrals from among her classmates where she goes to school and we had a really good meeting with one of her friends. She says she has some more almost ready for the missionaries. She isn’t afraid to speak up, and when she goes with us she does a lot of the teaching. It is really fun to go teaching with her.

Thursday we had another few seconds of excitement. Pete took two young men who are preparing for a mission to the doctor for their physical. Elder Hubbard, the Southams, Rebecca, and I went to teach a lesson. Afterwards we met at our house for lunch, and when we were just about finished we heard lots of yelling outside. Our neighborhood has been very quiet and peaceful so I could not imagine what was going on. Elder Hubbard, the young men, and the Southams ran outside to see what the excitement was but I decided my curiosity was not that great. There is an internet café across the street from us, and two young men tried to rob it but managed to escape. After talking to our young African friends, we came to the conclusion that they were the luckiest guys in Cotonou. I mentioned before that vigilantes are alive and well here, and we almost got a first-hand look. Stealing is not tolerated by the general public so everyone takes care of each other. Rebecca told us that if they would have been caught by the local people, the most desirable thing would have been a good beating, probably also stripped of their clothes and paraded around the neighborhood, then given to the police. Rebecca told us a while back someone caught stealing was stripped of his clothes, put in an ape cage on the back of a truck and driven all over town. That might be a good idea to consider at home as well. More serious infractions can extract more aggressive vigilante action – a beating followed by a dousing of gasoline and a match. That was enough to really scare me but all three young Africans assured me that stealing from a yovo was something that could extract the maximum penalty and we have absolutely nothing to worry about. I think they are right as we feel safe wherever we go and no one has tried to cheat us from even the smallest amount of change. People here really seem to respect old yovos. (For any who may not have read previous blogs, Yovo is the Fon word for white person.)

That reminds me of another little experience we had last week. Elder Hubbard told us that we were going to see “the old man” so I was expecting to see an old man who could hardly get around, with gray hair and a cane. Boy, was I ever surprised when we arrived at his house only to find out that he seemed to be younger than we are. After the lesson, I gave Elder Hubbard a bad time about this “old man” because that made me “the ancient one”. Two days later, Elder Crooks was talking about an investigator who was really old, about 54 years old. Another thing that takes on a new perspective in my life here in Africa is age. I can remember the time when 64 years old did seem like the time of the “ancients ones,” but now it does not seem to be that old. We are even more grateful here to be enjoying good health so we can withstand the physical challenges that go along with serving in Africa, even if we are the “ancient ones”.

Helping Godwin and Elvis get their medical taken care of for their missions has been an experience in itself. These are two healthy Beninese boys who have never been to a doctor or dentist in their life. The doctor’s exam was quite uneventful except for the blood draw, which also drew a few comments from the prospective missionaries. The dentist was quite another thing. Somehow Elder Southam located a French dentist who has a nice office and equivalent tools to what one would find in the US. While we were waiting to go in, someone came out with their foot all bandaged up. I told them that is what happens when you go to the dentist. Apparently the stories of Elder Lionel, the last missionary to go, having his wisdom teeth extracted without any anesthesia have not been lost on these two boys either. I think when the dentist put them in the chair and tipped them back to examine their teeth, they were expecting the worst. He gave them an examination and found a couple of small cavities each but thinks the wisdom teeth on both are okay. We have to go back on the 12th of June to get that taken care of and then they are ready to send in their papers. We have had quite a bit of fun with this. We pulled out Charlotte’s leatherman and told them that if they needed the teeth removed we could handle it fine. They are really sharp young men. Godwin has been a member a couple of years now and Elvis is just coming up on one year so he is barely eligible to go but he has also been the seminary teacher for the last while and has really learned the gospel. Both of them like to go with the missionaries as often as they can and enjoy teaching the gospel. They will be really great missionaries.

A week or two ago I sent an e-mail to President Dil asking a question about branch things. The response was that I could ask that question when I went to the PFR meeting in Ghana. Not wanting to appear stupid I didn’t ask for an explanation of that. Yesterday we got word that all of the couples are being asked to go to a Physical Facilities meeting in Accra on June 21. We will drive to Togo, pick up the couple there, and go on to Accra the next day in time to go to the Temple. We don’t know all the details yet but we are excited to get to go to the temple and see Ghana. With Southams leaving, the trip to Accra, and being in a new mission with a new mission president, all coming next month, things should be exciting.

Carole’s Farewell

Elder Ellis going home has generated a few challenges. We now have just 5 missionaries so 2 1/2 teams are trying to cover where 4 teams were just a few weeks ago. That has pressed Soeur Black and me into a little more service as we are officially or unofficially Elder Hubbard’s companion(s). We will probably be a little more busy until this situation corrects itself. We don’t know when that will be. There are only a handful of French-speaking elders in the mission, and I doubt that they will transfer any English-speaking ones over, so we may be like this for awhile. If so, we will work hard and get by.

Before Carole left for her mission we wanted to go out and meet her mother. The story of Carole’s family will have to wait for another chapter, but her mother is an excellent seamstress. She lives out in Calavie, a 30 or 40 minute drive along a crowded road from Cotonou. Her Mother is deaf but can read lips. Unfortunately not English or French lips, only Fon. She is the sweetest person you can imagine. I wish all of you girls could see her beautiful work and the primitive conditions she works under. She has two sewing machines, one has a hand crank on the wheel that controls the needle so when she uses it, she only has one hand to guide the fabric. The other machine is a traditional treadle machine which, of course, gives her more freedom to use both hands. Both are Singers and are in excellent working condition. She was making two blouses which had the entire top portion smocked, The workmanship was very fine and the stitches were perfectly spaced. She has the ability to look at a picture of a particular style and make an exact replica to fit your personal measurements, all without a pattern, of course. She has no electricity, no cutting board, no seamstress chalk; only the floor, a pair of scissors and measuring tape. Southams said her scissors wouldn’t even cut cloth so they had their kids bring her some really good scissors from home when they came over. She was very pleased.

We had a lot of fun as I asked Carole and her mom to show me how to do an African head dress. Her mother immediately found fabric for one and a wrap-around skirt. I got a quick demonstration and ended up looking like a pale faced African with white hair. We and the Southams were also invited to their home for dinner on Monday.

More about church yesterday. During Sacrament meeting the skies kept getting darker and darker. About the time the meeting finished the wind blew and the sky fell. The Aaronic Priesthood hurried to put down the flaps. Outside the chapel itself, there is a large balcony that serves as an extension of the chapel and where the Fon speakers sit. It is covered by a heavy duty tarp stretched over a pipe frame. The sides are normally rolled up for ventilation. When it rains the Aaronic priesthood boys scramble and roll down the sides to keep the rain from blowing in. The last of the meeting was punctuated by lightning, thunder, wind blowing the flaps around and rain pounding down. After meetings it was still raining so we expended some time and effort taking people home. Moto rides in the rain are no fun, especially for older folks. When we finally got home, our guard Saraphine was waiting to see us with news from his sister and her baby (the ones we visited in the hospital a couple of weeks ago). They had been released from the hospital but on Saturday the baby started having convulsions and died. His sister is not doing well either. He doesn’t really know if her situation is physical or just mental from losing the baby. Our evening was pretty well scheduled so we promised we would take Seraphine to see her again on Tuesday. When we got home on Sunday night the evening was cool and moist after the rainstorm. I spent quite awhile visiting with Seraphin and told him our belief concerning life and death was a little different than some religions. I ended up telling him the Joseph Smith story and about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. I told him there were some scriptures in the Book of Mormon that I would really like his sister to read about little children and the resurrection. Perhaps we will have the opportunity to share some of that.

Teaching the gospel is interesting over here. There are so many churches. Almost every block there is some kind of a church–Church of the Lamb, Church of the Firstborn, Glory of God Church or the Evangelical Church of the Savior are a few. If that doesn’t fit try “The Ancient and Mystical Order of the Red Cross,” just to name of few we have seen. In addition there are several large Catholic Churches and some large Mosques for the Muslims. Most of the small Christian Churches appear to be neighborhood churches probably for the most part to provide support for the pastor. In addition most or at least a good number of business are named like a church. Gods Glory restaurant, Praise the Lord butcher shop, Jesus’ love hair salon etc. We probably owe a debt to the Catholic fathers who came here over the years and preached Christianity in Africa. I understand that most of them did not return home and that the average life span once they arrived here was measured in months and not years because of Malaria. Nevertheless, they kept coming and as a result a large percentage of Africa is Christian. It makes it a lot easier to do missionary work. The problem is that sometimes it becomes difficult to get past the church being just another neighborhood church preaching Christ. No one objects to that but gaining a testimony of the reality of the restoration of the gospel and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon requires additional effort.

Somehow I have never thought of Redd’s True Value as a great blessing until I got to Benin. What we wouldn’t give now for a good hardware store. On Monday Soeur Black was in the process of fixing breakfast as usual when an additional flame appeared on the back of the stove, along with a big “poof.” (The stove is not built-in but a unit of three burners that sits on the counter like the one Kenny has in his cabin except the quality is by far inferior.) The problem seemed to be the loose L fitting where the gas hose hooked into the stove piping. Fortunately we had Mom’s leatherman (our only tool) and I was able to tighten the fitting. Unfortunately, the fitting was of such quality that I broke off the hose barb in the process of the tightening. No problem, just send Saraphine out and get a new fitting. I gave him 5000 cfa (about $11), and sent him out to buy a new one. When we arrived home after dark Monday night, Saraphin had arrived just before us. He had spent the entire day going from shop to shop looking for the fitting, spent 3000 cfa on moto rides and still didn’t find a fitting. He had arrived home a little earlier and the neighbor from Quebec had told him he knew someone who could weld the fitting so they set out again. The welder couldn’t weld it but knew someone who could. It would cost 6000 cfa for the welding job. The next day he set out again with another 5000 cfa. When we arrived home that evening, Seraphin was just getting home, in fact, we met him on the street just before we got home. Seems as though the guy that was supposed to weld it had broken what was left in two but after another day searching, a part from another stove had been located along with another repaired one. I almost forgot the most exciting part. Seraphin had also located a roll of Teflon tape which I was extremely grateful to see. After a payment of another 1000 cfa the problem was solved. I carefully installed the part with the tape in place and we were able to cook again.

Monday is preparation day, so it began by taking the Elders shopping, which is pretty entertaining in itself as it is fun to observe their different buying and eating habits. We left for Calavie about noon and by then we had another couple from the branch going also. We left before Southams and had no idea what to expect prior to our arrival as I knew that they had no electricity or running water. Their house was a hubbub of activity and full of people, most of whom were young men and women who were about Carole’s age. Nadia: a member of the branch here in Cotonou, two other young women and at least six young men besides Carole’s brother and sister.

It would help you visualize the home situation, so we will deviate from the dinner at Carole’s and explain a little about the house-building process in Benin. All buildings here are constructed out of cinderblocks and cement. The only wood inside are the doors and cabinet doors if there are any in the kitchen. Also sometimes the trusses are of wood poles with tin nailed on top. In our apartment, the kitchen cabinets are made of cement with a curtain pulled in front and a shelf above the sink. As credit is not available, they only continue the building process while they have money. When the money is gone, construction comes to a halt until they have enough money to continue. Consequently, there are many partially built homes and apartment buildings all over the city. Carole’s home falls into this category. The home is located in a beautiful setting in a quiet neighborhood overlooking the lake but is not finished. The next phase is to get electricity into the home. The sewing area is by the living room and the future kitchen. There is a large opening with ragged cinderblocks, the floor is cement and there are some makeshift shelves in the kitchen. There is a hallway going from the living room to the back of the house and outside the backdoor Nadia and the other girls were cooking. There is also an open well where they draw their own water up with a bucket.

Boy, did it ever smell good. A huge pot of rice was cooking on one charcoal burner, a tomato sauce with cabbage on another and fish were cooking in a wire grill over another. Nadia turned them frequently and basted them with a tomato piment sauce. Nadia also had made a huge batch of beesap, a favorite local drink made from the dried flowers of a tree. I think that we mentioned beesap before. It is really good. So good that we buy six bottles from her every week. Before we leave, I need a beesap and cooking lesson from Nadia. Dinner was not quite ready so I helped cut pineapples and mangoes. (The mango season is on right now and we eat at least one every day. Yum, yum!) There were only places for six at the table and Southams, Lokosus and we were invited to sit there. We were served the food I described cooking outside and then everyone else was handed a plate and the food never did run out even with the hearty appetites of the younger guests. It was absolutely delicious, and we thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon.

We went back near Calavie on Tuesday, along with Elder Hubbard, to visit Seraphin’s sister, a much sadder occasion. We turned off the main road and wound around for quite awhile in a more rural area, still people everywhere but there were gardens and greenery. Finally Seraphin’s brother-in-law, Marcel, met us with his moto and led us to their house. The roads on the reservation made these roads look like a major highway, and I was thankful we were in a pickup. We were invited into a nice home to visit. We later found out that the home belonged to their landlord as their home was too small for all of us to be in. They showed it to us and it was one square room about 12 feet by 12 feet and no furniture, only a mat on the floor for sleeping. Seraphin’s sister, Celestine, had not eaten for five days and looked so emaciated and sad. It was a difficult time for me as a mother as I know how much I loved each of my babies. Seraphin’s family are good Catholics so our purpose was simply to show them that we cared and give them a message of comfort. Elder Hubbard and Dad did an excellent job of that, and I tried to express my feelings but with much difficulty. In fact, tears come to my eyes now as I am writing. Be thankful we live in America where medical care prevents us from losing the majority of our babies. We have helped some with their hospital bills as they have so very little and seem to be such wonderful people.

This is getting quite long and we haven’t even covered any of our regular teaching experiences this week but a couple more things before we get this sent off. One real highlight of the week was saying goodby to Sister Carole going to the MTC in Ghana. Size-wise, Carole is about as big as half a minute but her spirit is a big as all outdoors. She speaks both French and English as well as Fon. Yesterday (Friday) morning as she left with the Southams, we were just finishing our planning at the Elders’ apartment. The Elders’ apartment is just across the street from the Southams. Each has a nice balcony and the street is only 15 or 20 yards wide so you can holler across easily. We all went out on the balcony and sent her off with a rousing chorus of “Appeles a Servir Notre Pere” (Called to Serve). Sister Carole, who had never shed a tear throughout the whole process, finally just broke down. I think the song took on new meaning for her right at that moment. I’ll have to admit that I couldn’t sing part of the song either but that is natural for me. I have no doubt of the quality of missionary that Soeur Carole will be. Two others are following close behind. We have doctor and dentist appointments scheduled for Elders Godwin and Elvis this week to move their paperwork along. When they go, it will give us 4 good missionaries serving from the Branch.

We have promised (or threatened) the Southams that we were going to take them out to a nice dinner before they left as a going away present. Even though they still have 4 weeks left, one of those weeks a son in coming to visit, and you never know when it will rain, so we determined to take Friday evening and go. The Marina Hotel, where we stayed the first night in Benin, has a really nice buffet dinner out by the beautiful pool. Also one of the members often entertains there with his guitar and singing on Friday (so we thought). The weather was perfect. The warm humid air in the evenings is as wonderful as the hot humid air on a sunny day is uncomfortable. The buffet was also fantastic. More good food than you could imagine. (we were a little disappointed they didn’t have any goat intestine stew). The member wasn’t playing that night but they had a band that was magnificent. They played some African beat music and some Mexican and American music. They had a better Louis Armstrong than Louie himself. We stayed for quite awhile after we finished eating and just enjoyed the evening and the music. It was wonderful. Also expensive. It makes you feel a little guilty to spend on one meal two or three times what some families spend for a month’s rent but we lived with the guilt and did it anyway.

Mma’s Ebo Cuisine

I think I may have overdone it a little on authentic African food this week. In order to understand some of the happenings of the week, we need to introduce you to Mma. That name may sound a little different. It is for these people also. To say it you have to say the first M with your mouth closed (as if you were humming) and then say a sharp ma. Mma is Nigerian and lives out in Akpakpa across the river. She lives next to a member who introduced her to the missionaries. She is from an Ebo tribe and is learning French but is a native (as native as Nigeria gets) English speaker. The name Mma is Ebo and means beautiful. That name fits somewhat as she is a good looking gal and wears heals about 3 inches tall when she dresses up. Since Mma is Ebo, her English name is Crystal Rose if you prefer that.

Last Saturday, Elders Phillips and Ellis asked us to meet them at the church and help them to teach Mma. If they are teaching a single woman, they try to have someone else with them. We met her and gave her a lesson on the plan of salvation that went very well. She then stayed to the baptism and asked Soeur Black several questions about that. She was also to Church on Sunday. On Monday the elders asked us to take them to Akpakpa, which I did while Soeur Black was doing other things. I hadn’t connected that the first meeting was with Mma and when I found that out decided I better stay for that meeting. Mma had been working in a restaurant but was not making much money so she has decided to start her own. You don’t have to have much to start a restaurant here. If you have a little burner, a table and chairs, and a few dishes you are in business. The place she is starting doesn’t even have electricity. We sat out in front under a little lean-to shade and visited just a little when another guy showed up. She had previously told us that she had been going to another church nearby but had become disenchanted so was looking for something better. She introduced the new guy as an elder from her previous church. Whether that was arranged in advance or just coincidental I don’t know. Anyway, he joined us and we introduced ourselves and after pleasantries we told him who we were and began introducing the Church. He seemed very interested, especially in the Book of Mormon. We invited him to church on Sunday and he said he would come. We promised him that if he did, we would tell him more about the Book of Mormon and give him a copy. I hope he comes. Before leaving I suddenly decided it would be a really good idea to give her a little business for her restaurant as it seemed to be a little short of customers. None to be exact. I told her if she would have lunch ready tomorrow we would bring the elders and come out and eat. She had a sign out front saying “EBO FOOD IS READY”. She asked what we would like to eat and without thinking I told her to serve us Ebo food. That seemed like a good idea to me.

Now for the rest of the story from Charlotte. According to the previous day’s arrangements, we picked up the Elders and drove to her little restaurant for lunch. Elder Phillips told me the night before that I was in for a treat the next day so I was looking forward to the meal with anticipation. She had obviously prepared for our meal very carefully as she showed us the kitchen with the little charcoal cookers on the floor with different things cooking. It didn’t smell too bad. So far so good. She invited us sit outside at the table and brought us some pop to drink. Still so far good. She said she would begin with the first course and brought out bowls of soup. Elder Phillips said in his big enthusiastic voice, “What’s that?” The response from Mma was goat intestine soup. Dad looked at me and I at him and we did not need to say a single word as the look of the soup told it all! Immediately all of the etiquette lessons I gave to the youth in Blanding over the years were completely irrelevant. Did I actually say, “If it doesn’t kill them, it won’t kill you, so eat what you are served.”? I knew without a shadow of a doubt that if I ate that, I would be flying home in a pine box. Besides the goat intestines, there were generous hunks of goat liver. We did manage to eat the broth which was mixed with some green leaves and was hotter than a “firecracker”. As we were eating the soup Elder Phillips said, “You HAVE to be kidding!” He was chewing away on some intestine when a fly flew into his bottle of pop. He tried to get it to come out with no success. Dad offered to pour some of the pop out on the ground and dump out the fly but Elder Phillips said, “That doesn’t work. The fly is always the last to come out.” So he just drank the pop anyway. He needed that to wash down the soup. I guess the Elders are experienced in such things. The fly made its way out at last and he tossed it aside. I was amazed at his determination to chew through that piece of intestine so he could swallow it down. It took him at least five minutes of chewing.

The main dish was served in two bowls. The first was fried cassava root. That was in a big blob that slightly resembled the fofo we told you about previously. It came with a bowl of some sort of fish sauce. You took a hunk of the cassava root and dipped it in the fish sauce. I think that the fish had been brined as it was very salty. It actually tasted pretty good but I don’t think that I will try to bring the recipe home. I leaned over to Elder Ellis and said, “If my kids could only see me now!” After the main course, Mma brought us a nice fruit salad of a mixture of tropical fruits. Now that was delicious!

They say if you laugh a lot as you eat it helps to digest your food. I guess that must be true or maybe it was the goat that got the last laugh but we didn’t have an ill effects from our first brush with goat intestine soup. Maybe Charlotte’s etiquette lessons were correct after all. I hope Mma wasn’t offended. Dad explained in a very considerate manner that the soup was just a little too different than what we were accustomed to at home. We tried to be as gracious as possible and compliment her on the cooking but will have to confess that most of the stew went back uneaten. As she was taking the bowls away she just started to eat the soup out my bowl so we know where the left-overs went! Sanitation isn’t a big deal over here. Last evening one investigator we visited brought a large cup full of cold water and we just passed it around. Luckily even though a cup is round, it has 4 sides.

After we went to bed that night, we laid there and laughed and laughed about our experience of eating Ebo food. Pete said, “Just think, we could be at home watching the news and never have had a day like this.” So much for Pete’s good ideas!

Eating Ebo Food

Eating Ebo Food

Anyone for goat intestine stew?

Anyone for goat intestine stew?

On Tuesday, I had a meeting with President Charles Briga. He is the Elders quorum president and I wanted to go through the member list with him both to start getting an idea of whom we need to visit and also if there are potential Aaronic Priesthood holders who should be recommended to the Branch Presidency to be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood. As we visited I found out that he was baptized in France and afterwards attended the branch in Angouleme. Since that is where I spent 15 months of my mission we had a lot in common. All of the people I knew in Angouleme have either moved away or passed away by now, but we had a pretty good bond anyway. Interestingly enough I don’t have any trouble at all understanding his French.

We found out that it can storm here in Cotonou. Last Thursday it clouded up and really turned loose. In a matter of minutes, all the streets were running full with water. All of that was accompanied by a good wind and appropriate amount of lightning and thunder. When we left to go over to the chapel that evening, our cake lady’s tree had blown over onto the road and we could barely get past. There is a lady who has a little cake stand out under a tree by the road between our little house and the main road. She makes some excellent pound cakes and we have enjoyed them as have the elders. I guess we ought to find out her name so we wouldn’t have to just call her the cake lady. She is always nice and waves to us even when we don’t stop to buy a cake. Adaptation is the rule here in Benin, however. The next day she was still in the same place with an umbrella over the cake stand.

Elder Ellis, a missionary from Wyoming, has been plagued with excruciating headaches for about eight or nine months. He has been unable to work several days just since we arrived in Cotonou. The Southams have taken him to several doctors, had numerous tests done on him, one of which was a brain scan but as might be expected they are not able to do much for him over here and it seems to be getting worse. After more consultation with President Dil this week it was decided to get him home. Yesterday we spent some time at immigration getting him all legal to leave the country while the Southams took him to do some last minute shopping and helped him pack. Last night he left for Paris then on to SLC. The reverse route of how we came two months ago. We sure hate to lose him. He was a really good missionary and knew French well. Maybe some clear cool Wyoming air will fix him up but it could also be something more serious. That puts us down to five elders so I may be doing some regular missionary work for a day or two.

Church today was packed as usual. Not when we started but before we ended. It is almost uncanny the relationships that can be drawn between Cotonou and the reservation. It was Soeur Carole’s missionary farewell and her mom was there. More on that later. Also the father of the Dike family is back from Nigeria and was there. It was good to meet him. Mma was there but the preacher did not show up.

A Dead-End Road, A Street Meeting, and Cinderblock Chairs

While Soeur Black was at home sick last week, I needed to find my way to the airport to take care of the expenses of President Dil’s stay at the hotel. I put the deposit on my credit card and because of that they weren’t willing to give him back the extra money from the deposit. It took some doing and explaining which stretched my French to the limit but I finally got it resolved. On my way down I turned on the road I thought went to the airport and it turned out to be a dead end road so I turned around and finally made it to the airport and hotel. I realize this isn’t newsworthy, but what was exciting was the dead end road I found by mistake. This little street is the nicest one we have found in Cotonou. There are no less than three nice super markets on the street along with a very nice open air market down at the end near a nicely landscaped turn around. That market has the nicest fruits and vegetables we have found so far in Benin. The prices are just a little higher than in the one described in week one or two, but it is well worth it since it is clean and nice and not crowded. Almost the direct opposite of the other one. I took Soeur Black down the next day and she was even impressed with my find. It is also not far from our house so we don’t have to drive clear across the city and since it is on a dead end street there are not a whole lot of motos and other traffic. There is even grass in front of some of the homes and businesses along the street. Also a few restaurants that appear to be nice and clean which we will have to try out as time and circumstances permit. When President Dil was here he gave us an assignment to find a nice restaurant where the couples can go out to dinner next time he comes. Now that is an assignment we can live with.

Our neighbor here in the same compound where we live is from Canada and works for Oxfam Quebec. I have been visiting with him a little as we pass in the yard from time to time. If I understand correctly, Oxfam is a government funded enterprise to help developing countries like Benin increase their agricultural production and consequently their standard of living. At the end of the street, across from the open air market I also found a sign and the neighbor’s parked car. I mentioned to him that I had inadvertently stumbled across his office and he told me that the market is one they are sponsoring to help people sell their production. It is a small world even here in Cotonou. I think the market now has a new customer.

We have been able to do some missionary work this week along with a goodly number of administrative duties. Elder Southam has turned most of the bill paying over to me at this point. That in itself takes some time and effort. There is some equalization in the finances as we pay the mission $810 per month for our apartment and car rental. We also pay our own utilities and fuel for the vehicle. All of the couples do that and then the mission takes care of all the rent, purchases the vehicles etc. The mission also has an account from which we pay all of the utility bills for the chapel, both apartments where the elders live, any maintenance required on any of the apartments or the chapel, the elders’ living allowance they receive every two weeks, expenses of transfers, any medical, etc. The electric bills are quite easy as they seem to be on a central computerized system so we can go into any one of several places and pay all the bills. The water is a little different. I guess each area must have its own little water district because you have to go to three different places in three different parts of the city to get the water bills paid. After that the telephone bill is paid in another place still then by the time you get the mail every day or two at the post office on the other side of the city, go to the airport again if any packages come, and cover all the extra things that seem to come up it just requires quite a bit of running around dodging motos all the while.

Yesterday one of the Elders was sick so Soeur Black and I more of less took his place and were out most of the day which included some fine experiences, most of which I will let Soeur Black explain. In the morning I was with Elder Phillips, and some of our appointments fell through so we were just kind of looking for someone to visit with. We were driving down one street thinking about where to go next when I saw a man walking and thought he was carrying a bible. He looked at me with a kind of “I would like to visit with you” look so we stopped and he came over. We introduced ourselves and told him we had a message about Jesus Christ which we would like to share with him. He said he would really like to talk to us and had heard about the Church and even knew where the chapel was located. We pulled the pickup over into the shade of a mango tree, put the tailgate down and started to teach him about the Church. While we were there, a street vendor (one of the guys that go up and down the streets with a cart selling extension cords and other such hardware) came up and started to listen. Then a moto driver stopped and came over. That is the closest thing we have had to a street meeting so far. The street vendor eventually wandered off but we had a really good discussion with the other two and invited them to Church on Sunday and made an appointment to talk more at the Church Sunday afternoon. We will see if they show up. I hope they do.

After lunch we picked up Soeur Black (she had been staying with Sister Southam and the Elder who was ill) and went to take some other appointments. The variety of experiences you have while teaching never ceases to amaze us. It is never boring. (I guess by now you can tell that Dad and I both write something in each week’s message about our life in Benin. Most of the time we do not identify who is writing so you will have to guess.) Our first destination was back out to the lake where had visited Zashaie the week before. Once again we walked around trash and pools of water to the house of a sixteen year old boy by the name of Amos. He is very bright and speaks good French. (Many of the people who live at the lake only speak Fon) Before reaching his house, we were already being followed by a bunch of little kids. I might add that the little kids around here wear few or no clothes and it doesn’t bother them one little bit! He was ready for us and so were all of the kids! This time I counted 17. Again we seemed to be the entertainment of the day. There was a bench in front of his house for us to sit on and in front of the bench was another bench with two guys sitting on it tying weights on new fishing nets. Amos insisted on singing a hymn so that also caused a lot of interest not only from the kids but from the lady with a baby who was waiting for her husband to tie the fishing lines and the fat lady in the house next door who was stirring dinner in a big pot. Amos’s mother sat behind us the entire time in the door step listening but not saying anything as she is mostly a Fon speaker. Since we were outside there was a continual stream of people walking back and forth plus papa pigs, mama pigs and too many little pigs to count plus a dog or two herding, or being herded by the pigs. It was really hard for me to stay focused on trying to understand the French and anything spiritual. But Amos had been to conference the Sunday before and knew all of the speakers and what they spoke about. Boy, was I ever impressed. When it was time to leave, Amos insisted on singing another hymn of his choosing and to be quite honest I would rather have missed that as we had such an audience. That is the first time we have sung Silent Night to kids, fishermen, ladies, pigs and dogs on a sweltering May Day in Africa. Well, we did come here to have experiences!

Our next stop was to teach a man by the name of Edgar. Before we went to visit Edgar, the Elders told me that we would be sitting on cinder blocks for seats and I was OK with that but they did not tell me the rest of the story. Edgar is the manager of a construction site which was very interesting in itself and the meeting would take place at his work site. Everything is done by hand. The first thing we saw was mixing cement and it made Pete wish he could have given them an old mixer he used to use at Hurst Construction. There was a pile of small pebbles on the ground, nothing unusual about that, but then one of the workers opened a bag of cement and poured it over the pebbles, threw on some sand, turned on the hose, mixed it up with a shovel and then scooped it into bucket and it was carried to the place they needed cement. We still had not come across the cinder block chairs and I wondered where we could go to find a spot but it was soon apparent that is when the rest of the story comes into place. Edgar appeared and Elder Phillips followed him with Dad and me behind past the pile of mixing cement, past a guy cutting pieces of metal strips by hand and into a small corridor filled with construction rubble of broken cement and rocks. Still OK so far, but then we had to climb up on a make shift scaffold with a board across the top, go across the board which was Edgar\'s construction siteabout 10 or 12 feet long but it ended abruptly. The next step was more of a challenge for a 64 year old grandma in a skirt! You needed to step off the board onto the unfinished cement floor of the apartment building under construction and walk a few feet but then you came to a solid cement wall and had to put one leg on the other wide of the wall and pull yourself around to the next part of cement floor. We had do that three time before we found our little cubicle with the cinder block chairs. If you miss going around the wall it is about a 4 foot fall to the construction rubble below. The cubical was a nice quiet shady little space so that made the exciting walk worth it. What a contrast to the experience at the lake! Retracing our steps to get back out was a little better because I knew that I could make it!

There are some advantages to age over here. Sometimes we can get away with things that the elders can’t because of our age. Age seems to be respected as it is in the Japanese culture. The life expectancy in Benin is much less than in the US and only something like 3% of the population is 65 or older. A few of those we have seen and they are not out doing missionary work so Soeur Black and I are in a somewhat select group. We also visited Kohl. Kohl is a young man about 13 years old who comes from a polygamist family. His father would also like to be baptized but the Elders can’t teach him because of the polygamy. He was there for our meeting and is supportive in that he encourages Kohl to go to church. That was about where the support ended, however. Every opportunity he would cut the boy down telling us how stupid he was and how he couldn’t learn anything and couldn’t even answer a question, was disobedient and whatever else he could to belittle the boy. I tried to counter a little that it was not unusual for a boy that age not to fire answers back to every question and that Kohl was a good boy and that he tried hard and was learning a lot. That only seemed to spark more severe condemnation. Finally at the end of the lesson, Kohl offered a nice prayer and that wasn’t good enough for his dad either. By this time the boy was literally in tears which also put Soeur Black into tears. I asked the father to go outside out of ear shot of Kohl and told him as nicely as I could (even though I would have preferred to punch him in the nose) that he was Kohl’s father, not me, but I wanted to give him some counsel. I explained that in studies that show how children learn, it is as much through encouragement as teaching. I told him to just find some little thing that Kohl did that was good and praise him for it. Let him know that it was good and that he really did a good job or understood well. I promised him that if he would do that, he would see almost immediate results. I think he understood well and seemed to be grateful for the counsel. I hope it helps. We’ll see.

Well today is Sunday and we need to finish up and get this sent. For Church the chapel was packed as usual. The meeting was conducted in French. James (baptized yesterday) was confirmed in English. Paul Dansou blessed his baby in Fon. Testimonies were a mixture of everything. One sister stood and said how grateful she was that her husband had made the last payment on her to her family and that now she hoped they could get ready to go to the temple – maybe a little more teaching to do there. Hope everything is great at home.