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.

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